CRITICAL ZONE: People’s Art, Real Art

Folk dancing for the stage faces a huge challenge in Cuba: to renew itself without betraying its principles.

The great masters, the founding masters of folk dance for the stage went first to the focus, to folk festivals, to the temple houses, to the celebrations and rituals of a tradition. That was, still is, and will be an irreplaceable, huge, strong inheritance; a reference, a source to which creators must always return to.

But those maestros were not satisfied after drinking from those waters and reproducing what they saw on stage. It was (and still is about) recreating that reality (or magnifying it, like so many times have said maestro Manolo Micler, director of the National Folklore Ensemble), to shed light on a new art, with deeply popular roots, alright, but a new art , side by side with the best and most innovative of the world choreographic art.

That is the basic condition of professional dance, inspired in the folklore of the nation: that’s not the focus, it can’t be: it must be stylization, aesthetic, and integrative expression, involved and intentional recreation of that living heritage.

Starting from that, we can understand which should be (which are, in fact), the goals of professional companies that do folk dance for the stage. Documentary passion should never cloud the artistic calling. And the people has its own art (folklore), but the stage has its codes, demands, needs, responsibilities, rules ... that can’t be overlooked. And embracing them does not mean betraying that art of the people.

It may sound very easy, but artists know that it’s a complex process. Right now, in Cuba there are circumstances that influence the exercise of artists and companies. Some are domestic, they are related to the creative practices and routines.

We must investigate more, much more ... and we must be aware of the current trends in the professional show. It’s time to overcome common schemes and places.

But other dilemmas somehow transcend the creators: in the training system there are difficulties with the teaching staffs, not all dancers have the necessary conditions, and spaces for promotion in the media aren’t enough, nor specialized and committed criticism of these expressions of art.

It’s necessary to establish a climate that fosters permanent dialogue on this subject, because dance will never be a static art, a museum object.

There is an audience for scenic folk dance, they come, mostly from the very founders (that would be another interesting topic: how scenic practices have influenced popular practices), there are unique approaches to tradition (companies in the provinces are an example), and the teachings are more than valid today.

The paths and challenges posed by folklore must still concern and occupy the creators of the dance. Folk dance for the stage should not be taken as a folkloric stamp: it has to be at the front of national choreographic creation.

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Cubans bid farewell to Alicia Alonso

Thousands of Cubans converged at Havana´s Great Theater on Saturday to bring flowers and bid farewell to the legendary ballet star Alicia Alonso who died in Havana on Thursday at 98.

Multiple floral wreaths, led by those sent by Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro and President Miguel Diaz-Canel, escorted the coffin which was placed in front of the Theater´s grand staircase. The auditorium, which currently bears her name,  was the venue where she first performed 69 years ago, with her first company.

People from all walks of life, authorities, ballet students, artists, intellectuals and admirers lined up to file past the artist’s mortal remains.

Since the announcement of the ballet star’s passing, numerous events have been held island-wide to celebrate her life and legacy. A planned performance of the National Ballet of Cuba, scheduled to inaugurate the newly refurbished Sauto Theater in Matanzas, went ahead Friday evening as planned, in tribute to the Prima Ballerina Assoluta’s concept of the show must go on.

A live national television broadcast started at 9 am carrying images of the funeral of the founder of the Cuban National Ballet, of the Cuban School of Ballet and one of the most extraordinary figures of world dance art of the last century.

The burial ceremony was scheduled for 5 pm.

A declaration issued by the National Unmion of Writers and Artists – UNEAC, stated  that Alicia Alonso "was and will be one of the most intimate symbols of national culture."

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Dance Schools, Learning How to Dream with the Feet

The teaching of dance in Cuba has a center of elementary level in each province and five academy level centers throughout the three domestic regions.

To dance is to dream with the feet, sang Joaquín Sabina, and that is a truth that seems Cuban, because in this island you live and dance with the same passion. We recently evidenced that in the TV show Bailando en Cuba (Dancing in Cuba) that monopolized audience rates for several Sundays of competition.

However, there is a far greater reality, made up by culture centers, community projects and, the very core of it: artistic teaching. As for dance, this specialized education comprises centers spread across the entire country.

About this system of institutions, CubaSí talked with Lídice Garrido, Director of the National School of Dance: “The National School of Dance is a reference center for methodological training that supervises 17 elementary level dance schools at a national level, from Guantánamo, to the Isle of Youth, also five schools of the High School level.”

The quality of teaching is similar in the whole country, assures Lídice and she explains: “The entire supervising is carried out through a methodological strategy designed by the methodological technical team together with the counseling technical team. The supervising exercise consists of visits at the beginning of the academic year to check how all the necessary conditions have been set to start and ends with the meeting of preparation for the new academic year scheduled for July.”

Specialists work supported in three regional centers, from end to end of the island “we have methodological teams and elementary level schools where boys and girls, since age 10 can enter the teaching of dance”, says professor Garrido who makes perfectly clear that the equality of opportunities and demands don't necessarily mean restrains, for example, “even when folklore teaching is delivered to the letter as it comes in the program, the identity of each province is imprinted in each class.”

The elementary levels that include primary and secondary schools, comprises 17 schools, one in each territory, while the intermediate level is given in five academies located in Havana, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. In Havana also work three educational groups: the Lizt Alfonso Ballet, the Spanish Ballet of Cuba and Acosta Dance.

From the first years of studies, the competition is in this system becomes an excuse for the exchange and the professional growth, says Lídice Garrido: “In February take place the regional competitions, after the competitions held at the schools of elementary level and in March we have the International Encounter among Academies for the teaching of Dance, where intermediate level schools and the educational groups taught by the artistic teaching participate.”

The Director of the National School of Dance also offered her thoughts about the quality of the educational process of this artistic discipline: “Today the country has a very stable teaching personnel, we still have lack of materials, the government is doing a huge effort to keep dance floors fit for use, that is really expensive, because students get their gears from slippers, the stockings, the leotards, resources that are very expensive and are also given to students for free. In addition they receive at the same time general education classes and those of the specialty.”

Contemporary Dance of Cuba: Two Islands, a Single Drive

Fleur Darkin, one of the most interesting figures in the new wave of British choreographic, will premiere a play with the Contemporary Dance of Cuba.  

In the stages of the Contemporary Dance of Cuba (CDC) work is unstoppable. The company is one of the main laboratories of Cuban arts: every year important present-day choreographers go through this venue nurturing and getting nurtured of a cast of “all-terrain” dancers. That is the case of the British Fleur Darkin which as part of the program Creative Islands, arrived in Havana a few months ago with the intention of preparing a show. And right now, about to run it for the first time, is still awed by the quality of the performers.  

"Not every day one has the chance to work with so professional dancers - comments a few minutes before the beginning of the rehearsal. They can dance everything and they dance it very well. It’s interesting the way in which they approach new rules. It has been a very rich work that has taught me a lot."  

What Darkin says is very much alike to what choreographers who have worked with Contemporary Dance of Cuba have said, as part of this collaboration project the company has developed with the British Council for three years.  

It’s all about spreading more bridges between two distant and very different islands, but in the field of choreographic creation and dance in general share a history of some time already.  

Darkin run by the Scottish Dance Theatre has enriched the CDC repertoire now with Equilux, a work in which the creativity of dancers is essential.  

"It has shown us new paths – assures dancer Andrés Ascanio -, another way to using the body and channel our impulses. In the end we are ourselves, with another way of saying."  

For another of the performers, Thais Suárez, one of the good fortunes of belonging to Contemporary Dance of Cuba is to be able to interact with so many choreographers, of dissimilar origins and styles. "I loved the assembly process, to get adapted little by little to another vision of dance."  

Equilux will be premiered at Mella Theater between Friday 10th and on Sunday November 12th. According to Miguel Iglesias, director of CDC, this is one of the best scenarios for the dance in Cuba. Although the theater has needed some repair for a while, the technicians of the company work hard to have everything ready in time. It’s a theater they know perfectly.  

The program will be completed with the replay of Coil, the most recent work of the Cuban Julio Cesar Iglesias for the group, premiered last summer in July.  

After the season in Havana, Contemporary Dance of Cuba will travel to one of its strong scenarios, Mexico, since by the end of the month they will perform at the National Auditory Carmina Burana, with choreography of George Cespedes, one of their most awarded shows in the last years.

Amilkal Labañino Valdés / Cubasi Translation Staff

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YOUNG AND ARTIST: “I would like to dance without having to go through rehearsals”

Lisandra Gómez, first dancer of the Contemporary Ballet of Camagüey, is a delegate to the World Festival of Youth and Students. I interviewed her after a rehearsal at her company’s headquarters.

At the art school, Lisandra studied the technique and style of a more academic dance, but life took her through another course: for several years now she has been first dancer of a company, where you do not have to stand on your tips: The Contemporary Ballet of Camagüey.

—Do you miss you never danced a classic? Would you have liked, for example, to dance Giselle?

—I would have liked a lot to dance Swan Lake, which always was my favorite classic. Although I had the opportunity to do it in Peru, after having been dancing contemporary ballet for eight years.

—Why contemporary ballet?

—That was not a choice, it was a need. And it was the possibility to go on dancing. I could not continue dancing classics because of health problems. I had iron absorption problems and rigorous diets did not allow me to continue dancing a more academic line.

—It seems you took on contemporary ballet without much desire….

—Of course, I took it with all desires! What I liked most was the possibility to come closer to very diverse languages. The freedom I felt captivated me, not only while dancing, but also while creating myself. I could break barriers I had from school, sometimes ballet teaching is pretty closed. An arabesque is an arabesque, but in contemporary dance you can “fracture” that same step and take two or three new ones with the same basis.

—They say dancers are too engaged in their world. How is your life beyond dance? What are you interested in?

—Of course, I am very passionate about photography. I would like to devote myself to it at some point in my life. My family is a vital topic for me. I like to spend time with my son, to arrive home and forget the problems of my workplace, simply to be that concerned mother, who sits next to him to help him with his homeworks.

—But you live with another dancer at home. What’s so good or bad to be married with someone who does the same job as you?

—I haven’t found anything wrong yet. And it’s been five years. At first, people used to tell me to be careful, that a relationship like that could not be healthy, because we spent too much time together, at work and at home, and that many things were going to mix… Certainly, we take work problems to the house, but I don’t think that will deteriorate the relationship. Jesús (Arias) is my support. He’s a person who knows me, who I do not have to take poses with. He’s the man who understands me when I arrived home very tired, because he knows from his own experience how difficult it is to develop a career like ours.                                                                          

—What do you feel seconds before a performance begins?

—I get very nervous…

—How do you handle that nervousness?

—That only lasts some seconds, just the moment before coming on stage. After I am out there, it’s magic. I stop being myself and begin to feel differently. I cannot explain it to you with words, it’s ineffable.

—Is there any ballet, any character which you have particularly felt comfortable with?

—Yes, it has happened with “A él” (To him), piece by Pedro Ruiz. I love characters that demand from me not only a technique, but a feeling, a commitment, a psychology as well… That ballet demands so. And if you add that the character is Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, because I consider her the best. I always identify myself with that woman. She was absolutely revolutionary; she always went beyond her time.

—A dancer’s career is usually short…

—I have never thought about the sadness of finishing. When you love art, dance, your career is forever, because there are many ways to go on contributing. The day when I cannot dance any more, I am not going to feel sad, because I will keep the desires to create. I feel a very strong need to teach. Right now, I lack time to investigate; perhaps I will have it when I stop dancing. I would like to venture into photography more frequently.

         With her husband and co-worker, first dancer Jesús Arias.


—When did you know you were going to be a dancer?

—In the last years at elementary level. Earlier, I just wanted to dance. When I was a girl my mother took me to watch a ballet performance and I fell in love with the tutu and ballet slippers. I wanted to dance but I was not very aware about what a profession meant. When I was in fourth year, I realized that in addition to pleasure, dancing implied great responsibilities. It was like a revelation. And hence, I knew that I wanted to be a dancer.

—I know what you are going to answer, but anyway I ask you: what do you like the most, the stage or the rehearsal room?

—Obviously: the stage! I would like to dance every day of my life without having to go through rehearsals. But well, that’s impossible. Staging and rehearsing processes are indispensable. You must have chances to make mistakes without big consequences; you have to know your character, you have to work on the cleanness of your performance….

—Do you dream that you dance? Are you a better or worse dancer in your dreams?

—A lot! I see myself doing turns I cannot do in normal life.

—You are a delegate to the World Festival of Youth and Students. What prospects do you travel to Russia with?

—Those of the exchange with young people from all over the world. I might answer questions about the life of a youn person in Cuba and would like to know about the reality of other places. Dialogue will always be the most important thing.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

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Cuban Ballet Group to Close 2016 Dancing in Cuba

The Lizt Alfonso Ballet of Cuba, a ballet group recently awarded with the International Spotlight Award in the United States, announced that it will close its 2016 performing season with a show called ''1..2...3...Everybody to Stage'' in Cuba.

All the generations of the ballet company including its professional current staff will take part in this show, in which the audience will be able to watch the children and adolescents dance.

The Avellaneda Room of the National Theater, will be the host of the show on December 9, 10 and 11.

Lizt Alfonso, director of the ballet company, received The International Spotlight for Arts and Humanities, from the hands of US First Lady Michelle Obama.

The International Spotlight is awarded by the White House every year.

On the month of November, the institution held its 9th tour on the United States, during which they acted in cities such as Chicago, Lewisburg, Detroit, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina and California.

The ensemble, founded 25 years ago by Lizt Alfonso, teacher and choreographer, has been applauded in over 200 cities around the world by its shocking style of fusion, mixing elements of flamenco, ballet, contemporary dance, folklore and different folk dances.

The company has been the only dance company of Cuba that has managed to act in the popular the Latin Grammy ceremony, and in the year 2008, won the International DORA Award in Toronto, Canada, for best choreography in a Musical Work in the year, with the show called 'Vida'.

The Lizt Alfonso Ballet Group seduced audiences over the world over when it appeared in the video clip of the song 'Bailando', composed by Descemer Bueno Cuban and sung first by the local duo Gente de Zona and later by the Spanish Enrique Iglesias.

For 2017 Alfonso plans to realize the world premiere of 'Latido', a work musically arranged on music composed by one of the leading exponents of Latin jazz around the world, the Cuban saxophonist César López.

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Contemporary Dance Ensemble celebrates 57th anniversary with dance extravaganza

Cuba’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble is celebrating its 57th birthday with two weekends of shows at Havana’s Grand Theater Alicia Alonso as of Friday.

The programs are set to include the main pieces of their current active repertoire. The first week’s programs include pieces by Cuban choreographers: El Cristal by Julio César Iglesias; Laura Domingo’s Cenit and Matria etnocentra by George Céspedes. The second week the ensemble’s dancers will perform Reversible by Belgian-Colombian choreographer, Annabelle López Ochoa; Tangos cubanos by Billie Cowie; and the much acclaimed Mambo 3XXI by George Céspedes.

With more than 300 premieres throughout its long history, the company, directed by Miguel Iglesias, has been at the avant-garde of the island’s dance scene since its establishment on September 25th, 1962, performing a repertoire of the most varied aesthetic values, styles and tendencies.

Edited by Damian Donestevez
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Habanarte 2016 Festival showing Intense Dancing Program

Habanarte 2016 Festival reaches its third event through an intense dancing program which includes the presentation of different national dancing companies such as the local Danza abierta one, Raíces Profundas one, Malpaso one, Banrrará one and the Spanish Ballet from Cuba, respectively.

Likewise, local García Lorca room of the Gran Teatro (Great Theater) of Havana city will present Malpaso dancing company, which is directed by young choreographer Osnel Delgado, along with a wide-program concert.

On September 16th, Rosario Cárdenas will be performing on Mella Theater's stage through the performance entitled 'Antología Danzaria' (dancing anthology) that includes the most important milestones of her personal career.

Havanarte 2016 festival, which is regarded as the great cultural festival of the Cuban culture, will run until September 18th, along with an intense program of activities that unites all the artistic representations from the Cuban archipelago.

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