A conversation with doctor Miguel Cabrera, historian of the National Ballet of Cuba, about his close relationship with a group where he has worked more than half of his life…
If there’s anyone in doubt, or needs any data on the ballet in Cuba, there is a person who can be of great help: historian Miguel Cabrera. Famous for being an open and accessible man, prove of this is the affability he showed when he receives us and answers our questions.
What has meant for you to be the historian of the National Ballet of Cuba for so long?
First, I have to tell you that it has been a great honor, because I studied history, and I had my first contact with the National Ballet of Cuba precisely in the year of its twentieth anniversary, in year 1968. Since then I started a systematic work with the company. On year 1969 we created the radio show Ballet and in 1970, the magazine Cuba in Ballet. It was a superb job, because everything was starting fresh. It was like changing into a living thing, in something useful everything that had been kept in the files of Alicia Alonso, a patrimony zealously kept by a woman with huge influence in this history, named Angela Grau.
"I worked doing the records, ordering. First I began logically with Alicia's work. But it was a multiple task. I didn't just do that in the company. I had to do a very diverse work, but basically were the things related to the history.
I faced a beautiful work, as are all the foundation works, I had to organize and establish the repertoire of the company, Alicia's career everything, and the career of the main figures of the company: like Fernando, Alberto, also the four jewels of Cuban ballet. But they also gave me the task of working in the magazine, in the radio show, of delivering lectures, of giving courses at the National School of Art, in the University… All in all to do what I consider is the most beautiful part in my life: this work of making ballet more popular that has led me from Maisí to Mantua.
"But when you ask me the question, I remember a recent interview to doctor Olga Portuondo, when she said that her appointing as historian had not been official, there is no ordinance that declared her historian of Santiago de Cuba, but it was rather by her own right. Something similar happened to me. There was a person working in Propaganda, that person was in charge of writing the shows; one day she stepped into my office and told me: “I have a surprise for you, and put me on a show, and in the show I was presented as: Miguel Cabrera, historian. Hence, my name appeared for the first time, as historian. I asked: What about this? And she replied: Alicia said to put it this way.
“The appointing as historian could not be more honorable if the founder of the company, the key figure has decided so. I have always been presented like that: our historian. My most important status. I have received several distinctions in Cuba and abroad, but for me that detail of seeing my name in the show in the early 70’s (and still on air) it’s something that honors me".
The history of the National Ballet of Cuba is written black on white especially thanks to your work. What has it implied for you that responsibility?
When you are set to the task of pioneering, it’s something very big. I have always believed something I repeat to myself many times, I said it when my book National Ballet of Cuba was premiered. Half century of glory, in 1998: I belong to a very prestigious company, next to people who have been supreme, and I have always thought that the shows are made, the glory nights pass by, the applauses fade into silence, flowers wither, but that fact must stay. That has been my modest work. With great passion, with almost a sickening passion for justness, to write down history as it was, without alterations.
"When I published a more recent book, named Ballet in Cuba. Historical notes, a person who right now occupies an important position in this country, phoned me, and said: that book is one of the prettiest gifts I have ever had, only you could have written it, because it has everything with everyone.
That has always been my concern: everything with everyone.
"That makes a foundation, which is a starting point.
"I inherited something from a beloved old friend whose name is almost forgotten he is José Antonio González. He left me the foundations. I took advantage of them. But when I look at the Ballet of Cuba, I see its dancers, I see Alicia's career, that of Alberto, Fernando, and the four jewels, the three graces, the choreographers, when I see I was able to capture all that in books, I think that is a source.
"Immodesty is really bad, like fake modesty. I know I have left very valuable books, but not because I wrote them, but for the greatness it carries what I have gathered. My task has been to be next to that. What does it make me a unique historian? Well, many historians are very good, they are devoted to study the sugar industry, but have never walked into a sugar cane factory. And I have written those books from inside, I am a member of this company. I have seen those choreographers grow, those dancers. I saw that generation that began in 1968, in the summer. I gave my first lecture on September 25th, 1968 here. So since that generation, I have seen them all enter. I saw the jewels become acclaimed figures. I have seen entire generations of dancers grow. I have been the chronicler."
Which has been the contribution of the three founders of this company to the Cuban culture?
I am a very lucky person. I graduated from history, but when I came here my true university began, from Alicia's hand, Fernando and Alberto. Do you imagine the honor that such personalities believe in you? That they turn everything you have inside? Imagine that those people give you the technical, aesthetic and ethical reasons that have ballet in Cuba…
"Alicia, Fernando and Alberto are the foundations of ballet in Cuba. I struggle a lot, as outcome of my investigations, to bring together their roles in the history. It is not true (only someone who doesn’t know history would say) that Alicia is just the great dancer that Fernando is only the great teacher, that Alberto is only the great choreographer… that is a limitation on the greatness of them three.
“Can somebody say that Alberto Alonso, the director of the Ballet School of Pro Art, since 1941 until 1961 who has been teacher in the musical theater who trained Josefina Méndez and Loipa Araújo, was not also a great teacher? Fernando was also a dancer, and a person who passed on his experiences. He knew a lot about kinesiology and muscles, but he knew it mainly because he had felt it in his flesh and blood.
"And Alicia? What can we say about Alicia? Of course, the classroom was filled mainly by Fernando, but one is not only a teacher when giving a chronology or a class, but when one sets the example. And Alicia did that and even more, she did it when she made corrections to the other dancers, when she offered lessons on style…
"I believe that the most beautiful thing about this I heard it from Fernando Alonso. One of those days, when listening to those polemics of people who love gossip (I have always been in the party of those who unite), Fernando said: do you know who made the National Ballet of Cuba and the Cuban School of Ballet? They were created by the Cuban people".