Sophisticated ballerina Myrna Kamara recently had a chat with me about her incredible career. She also let me in on her plans for the future here in Zürich with balletXtreme, her new dance company.
Meeting Myrna Kamara is like sipping on an energizer drink.
Besides being beautiful - and obviously extremely talented, Myrna carries an aura of charisma. After coming to New York at the age of 14 to study at the School of American Ballet, Myrna became a New York City Ballet member in 1984. During her five years at the NYCB, she performed numerous ballets, from George Balanchine to Jerome Robbins and pieces by Peter Martins, Elliot Feld, and Lar Lubovitch.
Myrna became a principal dancer with the Miami City Ballet, and later a principal dancer with Maurice Béjart's company in Lausanne. Aside from company contracts, this talented ballerina has appeared as a guest artist throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, working with world renowned choreographers and other international performers.
On top of performing, Myrna currently teaches classes near Zürich and has launched balletXtreme with friend, performer and choreographer Aliana Pizzi.
Myrna, why ballet?
Myrna: I started because my sister was taking ballet classes. When I saw her performing, I fell in love with ballet and decided that ballet was going to be my path. I absolutely loved the music and costumes.
There is something special about you which I felt from the second I saw you. What do you think it is?
(Myrna laughs..) This is not up to me so say. For sure, hard work and passion have determined my career. But there is a magical mix of elements that makes each artist different. It is a mix of talent, luck and passion that determines the career of each of us.
When I dance, I do not consider myself. I do not perform for myself, but rather for the audience, for each and every single spectator as I want to give each of them a special gift. If you think you are the vehicle of a performance and it is not about you, you are already half way through. This is what has kept me going and keeps the desire inside me burning after all these years.
What does it take to have such a long career?
Ballet is physical and requires a lot of discipline - not only for the body but also for the mind. Being a professional ballerina means learning to balance these two elements and reconnect with one another.
I go back to class with my teachers and as a teacher of my own, rehearsing something every day. I live for dancing and performing on stage, not for being a celebrity or a superstar. I believe that humility helps a ballerina to be stable in such a long career, and to learn that everything is a work in process.
You can always learn and improve in general. I was also very fortunate to learn and work with such top of the line dancers and artists including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sylvie Guillem, Svetlana Zakharova, Luciana Savignano, Roberto Bolle, Massimo Murru and several others.
Hard work, passion, and luck. As for talent, it is a gift. What is the gift you have received?
Musicality. I received this from my father who recently passed away and was a passionate classical pianist. Learning to be one with the music is at the base of the grace of each ballerina - or dancer - in general.
Musicality helps to respond in a specific way to each beat and note and makes the difference between every performer. This is regardless of whether they are a classical, modern, contemporary, tap, or hip hop dancer. I believe how one interprets the music can transform a performance to another level.
Have your ethnic origins ever been an issue in your career?
I believe that it has played a role in my career, but I have never let that be an obstacle. I am neither the first black ballerina nor the last one. But for me, it is not a question of skin color, it is a question of talent.
There are no black and no white ballerinas. There are good ones and bad ones. This is the reason why I never wanted my career to be centered around this topic. And actually, I am color blind.
What has changed in ballet during the last 20 years?
It is a new generation now, especially with the new media. But things have changed and this is a new world with different expectations. The 80’s was the golden era of ballet for me. Back then, it was easy to collaborate with artists in different genres of art, and these strong collaborations that made dance even more exciting.
The 80’s have been the era of aesthetics and of sensuality of dancing, with precise roles between men and women during the performance. However, times do change and we must adapt and go forward.
What are you most proud of, and what has been most difficult in your career?
I am proud of many things, but most of all I am proud of the people and artists I have met and those who have believed in me. For example, Edward Villella, (former principal dancer of the NYCB and former Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet) believing in me to dance such wonderful diverse roles because I was merely capable artistically and technically. It was Mr. Villella who promoted me to a principal ballerina for the Miami City Ballet.
The most difficult for me in my career is finding where I belong and where I can dance to my fullest potential - to be given that opportunity to perform, regardless of the age. There should not be limits put on ballerinas of age when they can still perform at a high level.
What about balletXtreme?
Aliana Pizzi and I share the same passion for dance and music. As directors, we decided to build something different in the neoclassical/contemporary ballet scene where we could nurture new talents.
Our ballet company consists of diverse international artists that bring elegance, style, and technical ability to the stage.
balletXtreme is an organization dedicated to bringing forward the most interesting facets of dance while keeping grace, elegance, and high levels of technique for every performance. The goal is to give an edge to choreographies while capturing the audience’s attention, and to entertain and amaze with high-caliber performances.
And what are your future plans?
My father passed away not long ago due to that horrible disease, Alzeimers. However, he played the piano from time to time until the very end. One of my goals is to organize a gala fundraiser with other international dancers and artists for the Alzeimers Association - and in honor of my father.
(Photographs copyright Nicole Rötheli)