"Frivolous"; "pert"; "amusing"; "densely powerful"; "intensely erotic" descriptions of Ysmercy Salomón on the stage are unusually broad-ranging. She has played an over-the top, chain-smoking blonde with the mannish, tragic air of a transvestite (Sidonie von Grasenabb in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant) and a demure young Athenian princess whose love is selfless and pure (Aricia in Racine's Phaedra). And this 29-year-old woman's strength as an actress has clearly not yet built to its peak.
A rising star in Carlos Diaz's Teatro El Publico troupe, Ysmercy was born in Havana's working-class Santo Suarez district in 1981. A group of professional actors worked with the neighbourhood children, and from the age of 7 or 8 until she was 12, Ysmercy was swept up in their work. She developed a magnetic personality and as a teenager often initiated spontaneous productions by younger kids from the neighbourhood. "My father was a journalist and when I was small he would put a stick in my fist and have me play with it like it was a microphone," she says now, laughing. "He told me stories and I would narrate them to the other kids in the kindergarten. But my mother says she's 'an artist in the kitchen', so my roots as a performing artist come from her."
Although she specialised in science in high school, Ysmercy went straight to Cuba's Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA) and studied theatre with Carlos Celdran, a monument of the Cuban stage. After she graduated she stayed at the ISA as a teacher, but two years later another legendary director, Carlos Diaz, called her to work with his troupe. The Publico had just instituted its "day of German theatre" a regular day set aside for readings of German literature and productions of German plays.
The first was Dea Loher's Klaras Verhältnisse (Klara's Relationships); Ysmercy's grace and self-possession in the role of Klara brought her a prize for best young actress. "That's how my life with the Publico began," she says smiling. "And then I grew within the role, because if there's one thing that characterises the Publico, it's that we do 100, 150 shows of the same play. So we have seven, eight, even nine months to work on the same script."
She calls Carlos Diaz "a master of beauty, of work, and of regularity and constancy on the stage... The way he approaches plays interests me; whether they're German or French or Polish, you know the public senses that a Cuban drama is being born, because these circumstances become the circumstances of our Cuba."
With The Bitter Tears, in which Ysmercy played a compelling Sidonie, the Publico troupe travelled for the first time to Miami to participate in a festival in 2010. "It was a very strong experience for me, only the second time I had left Cuba in 2006 I went to Costa Rica to teach a class but this was the first time as an actress. And it was a very powerful moment because all the Cuban actors who live there, and very many Cubans who live in Miami and Florida, came to see our work with an intense desire to see the kind of theatre we were doing.
"My overriding passion is the theatre," Ysmercy says. "It's what I always wanted to do, what I wanted to have done, what I want to keep doing every day of my life." And she continues to teach. Sometimes her students marvel at her ability to keep acting the same role for the 100th or 150th time. Her answer: "Can you be tired of living?"