Celebrated Performer Returns to Roanoke Ballet in Leadership Role
It’s a busy time for The Roanoke Ballet Theatre, with different shows through the rest of 2021. This fall also marks the return of a renowned dancer from Cuba, who now takes on a larger role with the company’s vision and outreach.
Rolando Sarabia is helping spread the word about the company, as it prepares for October 30 productions of Dracula at the Jefferson Center, and its 'Black Box' series next month at the studio theater in Roanoke.
He has been known as the 'Cuban Nijinsky', after Vaslav Nijinsky, the early 20th century dancer and choreographer known for his giant leaps and interpretations.
He said Nijinsky was the first to promote male dancers in the ballet world, learning later that the New York Times had made the comparison, calling it "a great moment in my life."
Sarabia has been dancing since age five. His father, also named Rolando, was with the Cuban National Ballet for 37 years.
"The first time I get into a theater, I thought, I love what these people are doing right now, and want to be part of it. I fell in love with ballet," he said.
Sarabia's background also includes stints with not only the Cuban National Ballet, but American Ballet Theater in New York, Washington Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Miami City Ballet.
After a few injuries, Sarabia said he's happy now to promote the efforts of the dancers with in the Roanoke company.
"I'm blessed, I'm happy, I can't ask more," he said. "I danced when my body let me. I'm pleased with that."
A Cuban defector, he said he's proud of his country, but Sarabia said he left because he felt the company was trying to move him anywhere it wanted it.
"We are born to be free, and this is what we need in Cuba," he said. "I want to show the world that I was a happy dancer. I wanted to experience something different - new people, new cultures, new choreography, new theaters, and a new audience. That was the biggest impulse that I had. I was sad, because I left behind my beautiful mother, my family, my friends. At the same time in life, you have to have a balance."
Sarabia says Coppelia remains his favorite time on stage as a dancer, performing it for the first time with the company in Cuba, sharing the stage with his father at age 16.
"It was very, very beautiful," he said.