Monday morning, dancers at the Kentucky Ballet Theater are hard at work preparing for the 26th annual Ballet Under the Stars. The air in the National Avenue studio is stifling, but no one seems to notice as they concentrate on KBT artistic director Norbe Risco's instruction.
Principal dancer Jorge Barani is particularly focused, as Ballet Under the Stars is a special event for him. The show marks the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Kentucky from Miami, where he danced for Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida. Barani's girlfriend, dancer Meisy Garcia, also joined the company a year ago.
Barani is a rising star in the ballet world. This year he was invited to Korea to compete in the Korea International Ballet Competition, where he won a silver medal. In 2013, he was awarded two gold medals for both solo and pas de deux performances and pas de deux categories at the World Ballet Competition. He has also won several awards in his native Cuba, where he trained at the National School of Arts in Havana.
Barani, 21, began his training at age 9 and says he knew right away that he wanted to seriously pursue a ballet career.
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"I knew on the first day of class," says Barani, who got his first break as a professional dancer at the National Ballet of Cuba, where he danced important roles in ballets like Fairy Doll, Romeo and Juliet, La Fille Mal Gardée and Dracula, among others.
Risco says Barani's Cuban training is part of what makes Barani the "whole package" for the company.
"Speaking for myself and what I have seen in 35 years of experience, Cuban training is very unique because it combines the beauty of the dance with the strength of the ballet dancer," says Risco, himself a Cuban native, along with his wife Rafaela Risco, KBT academy director.
"Cuban dancers are very good because their technique is strong, they can partner very, very well and they can still perform," Risco says. "By perform, I mean the way that they get into a role — their acting — they give that to the audience in a way that you just have to see. Those are things that are crucial to male ballet dancers: that you can partner, you can dance and you can act."
When asked if there is any role he dreams of playing one day, Barani has an immediate answer: Don Quixote, a 19th-century Russian ballet based on the book by Miguel Cervantes.
Risco says KBT hopes to produce the work one day, but it will be a monumental undertaking as the show is four acts instead of the usual two to three.
"We haven't got to do it yet, but we have plans to adapt it for KBT in the future," says Risco. "I told Jorge, if you're still around, you'll be able to do it."
Barani says it is his favorite ballet because of the history, style, and scope of the drama.
"It's very demanding technically, so it's really important that you have a strong technique, which he has," Risco says.
For now, audiences can catch Barani this weekend, where he will perform in the Russian pas de deux Flames of Paris, alternating partners with principal dancer Kelsey Van Tine Thursday and Saturday and with Garcia Friday and Sunday. He will also be portraying noble knight Jean de Brienne as the company performs the third act in the Hungarian-flavored Raymonda.