Jorge Mesa

Jorge Mesa

Great Celebration of Cuban Culture Ends in the US (+Photos)

With the last presentation of the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), a major festival dedicated to the Caribbean nation that combines music, dance, plastic arts, design, theater, and cinema ends today in the US capital.

The classic Giselle, one of the most demanded works within the company's repertoire, will be a luxury closing for Artes de Cuba: from the island to the world, the event inaugurated last May 8 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, where some 400 artists from the island and other countries came together.

Dancers Viengsay Valdés and Dani Hernández will incarnate this afternoon the leading roles of the pinnacle of Romanticism, which already had four functions since last Thursday with other figures of the company such as Grettel Morejón, Sadaise Arencibia, Patricio Revé, Raúl Abreu, and Rafael Quenedit.

In addition to playing the main roles in this last day, Valdés and Hernández interpreted the central characters last Tuesday, when the BNC began its presentations at the event dedicated to the Caribbean country with the work Don Quixote, which was also staged on Wednesday.

The Opera House of the cultural institution is the space that has hosted each of these staging, which had the special incentive for those present to have the presence of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, director of the BNC and one of the most eminent dance figures worldwide.

Together with this company, which in its different functions has won great cheers from the capital's public, Artes de Cuba had previous days with the presence of two other dance groups: Malpaso, with its contemporary style; and Irene Rodríguez centered on flamenco dancing.

Likewise, the music had a great presence, with proposals ranging from classical works to jazz and popular dance, with the Lyceum Mozartiano from Havana, Yissy and Bandancha, the group Los Van Van, the López-Nussa Family and the Miguel Faílde Orchestra, among others.

The plastic arts also had a great impact, with exhibitions by some of the most prominent creators of the island, including Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo, and Roberto Diago; and talented figures who reside in the North American territory, such as José Parlá and Emilio Pérez.

The group El Público, with Las amargas lágrimas de Petra Von Kant (The bitter tears of Petra Von Kant), and Argos Teatro, which proposed the play 10 millones (10 million), were the exponents of that branch of performing arts at the event, which according to the organizers, more than a festival, constituted a celebration of Cuban culture.

An exhibition on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, the parade of the Art and Fashion project, and an exhibition of posters were also included among the numerous activities of the event.

  • Published in Culture

Are humans causing cancer in wild animals?

As humans, we know that some of our activities can cause cancer to develop in our bodies. Smoking, poor diets, pollution, chemicals used as additives in food and personal hygiene products, and even too much sun are some of the things that contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

But, are human activities also causing cancer in wild animals? Are we oncogenic -- a species that causes cancer in other species?

Researchers from Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences think so and are urgently calling for research into this topic. In a paper published online today in "Nature Ecology & Evolution," Mathieu Giraudeau and Tuul Sepp, both postdoctoral researchers in the lab of ASU life sciences professor Kevin McGraw, say that humans are changing the environment in a way that causes cancer in wild animal populations.

"We know that some viruses can cause cancer in humans by changing the environment that they live in -- in their case, human cells -- to make it more suitable for themselves," said Sepp. "Basically, we are doing the same thing. We are changing the environment to be more suitable for ourselves, while these changes are having a negative impact on many species on many different levels, including the probability of developing cancer."

In the paper, Giraudeau and Sepp and a team of international researchers, point out many pathways and previous scientific studies that show where human activities are already taking a toll on animals. These include chemical and physical pollution in our oceans and waterways, accidental release of radiation into the atmosphere from nuclear plants, and the accumulation of microplastics in both land- and water-based environments. In addition, exposure to pesticides and herbicides on farmlands, artificial light pollution, loss of genetic diversity and animals eating human food are known to cause health problems.

"Cancer in wild populations is a completely ignored topic and we wanted to stimulate research on this question," shared Giraudeau. "We recently published several theoretical papers on this topic, but this time, we wanted to highlight the fact that our species can strongly influence the prevalence of cancer in many other species of our planet.

"Cancer has been found in all species where scientists have looked for it and human activities are known to strongly influence cancer rate in humans. So, this human impact on wild environments might strongly influence the prevalence of cancer in wild populations with additional consequences on ecosystem functioning," he said.

Even something such as artificial light and light pollution, as well as food meant for humans, are negatively affecting wild animals.

Sepp said: "It is already known in human studies that obesity and nutrient deficiency can cause cancer, but these issues have been mostly overlooked in wild animals. At the same time, more and more wild species are in contact with anthropogenic food sources. In humans, it's also known that light at night can cause hormonal changes and lead to cancer. Wild animals living close to cities and roads face the same problem -- there is no darkness anymore. For example, in birds, their hormones -- the same that are linked to cancer in humans -- are affected by light at night. So, the next step would be to study if it also affects their probability of developing tumors."

While these scientists are urgently calling for studies on cancer and its causes in wild animal populations, they realize that this is no easy subject to study.

"The next step is definitely to go into the field and measure cancer rate in wild populations," said Giraudeau. "We are now trying to develop some biomarkers to be able to study this. I think it would be interesting to measure cancer prevalence in wild animals in human-impacted environments and also in more preserved areas for the same species."

If humans are the cause of cancer in wild animals, then many species may be more threatened than people realize. Yet Tuul said, there is reason to hold out hope.

"To me, the saddest thing is that we already know what to do. We should not destroy the habitats of wild animals, pollute the environment, and feed wild animals human food," shared Sepp. "The fact that everybody already knows what to do, but we are not doing it, makes it seem even more hopeless.

"But I see hope in education. Our kids are learning a lot more about conservation issues than our parents did. So, there is hope that the decision-makers of the future will be more mindful of the anthropogenic effects on the environment."

Dark family history behind Mona Lisa's sad smile revealed in new book

At the age of 15, real-life Lisa Gherardini married Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo – who traded in female slaves shipped in from North Africa, authors say.

Mona Lisa posed with a dark smile because she was married off to a slave trader at just 15, a new book which investigated her family background suggests.

Lisa Gherardini, the real-life model who posed for Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting, was pushed into a wedding with wealthy Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

He “regularly bought” slave girls and shipped them over from North Africa before he converted them to Christianity, with many working as maids in the del Giocondo household in Florence.

But authors Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti, who researched Ms Gherardini in their book, Mona Lisa: The People and The Painting, believe del Giocondo transported more Moorish women than was needed for this work.

“They could not have all remained in his household,” the authors wrote. “Three were too many and one or all of them would have been sold on.”

They suggest he was likely involved in trading the excess number of women he shipped into Florence before and after he married Ms Gherardini in 1495.

Her marriage to the wealthy merchant spawned a life of riches that was also chequered with scandal.

A story circulated that two men from the wealthy Medici family, of whom del Giocondo was a prominent supporter, made overtures to “tempt the honour” of Ms Gherardini – but she rejected their advances.

Her husband feared for his business and standing in Florence and bolstered his support for the pair. They assured him their relationship sound – but they secretly mocked him for his show of weakness.

Ms Gherardini’s sister Camilla, a nun, also stirred up another scandal when she and another sister were accused of allowing four men to touch them indecently, according to Mr Pallanti and Mr Kemp’s research.

The book states: “On 20 April 1512, four men, armed and carrying a ladder, went to the convent of San Domenico, and having climbed the wall, reached certain small windows, where two nuns were waiting for them...they touched the breasts of said nuns and fondled other parts of their bodies, not to mention other indecencies.”

It adds that two other nuns were supposedly “watching with rapt attention, their eyes filled with similar desire”.

The case went to trial. The men involved were found guilty, but all four nuns were absolved.

After falling ill in her 60s, Ms Gherardini spent her later years in the same convent. She died in obscurity on 14 July 1542. The unfinished masterpiece, "Mona Lisa" - or Madame Lisa - did not turn her into an icon until centuries after she died.

As the years passed, word about the beauty of the painting spread. In 1857, the legendary novelist, poet and critic Théophile Gautier sang its praises in an essay, stating: “You discover that your melancholy arises from the fact that [Mona Lisa], three hundred years ago, greeted your avowal of love with the same mocking smile which she retains even today on her lips.”

Her famous portrait, which is the most valuable painting in the world, hangs behind bullet-proof glass in the Louvre in Paris. Millions of visitors are lured from around the world to see the painting.

“Eighty per cent of the people only want to see the Mona Lisa,” former Louvre director Henri Loyrette told The New York Times. The painting is believed to be worth nearly $800m (£620m).

  • Published in Culture

Secret 13ft Robot inspired by Avatar

Scientists have programmed a monster one-tonne robot that can walk and mimic human movements resembling something from Avatar .

The METHOD-1 machine is four metres tall and when it stomps it leaves the ground “shaking”, according to designer Vitaly Bulgarov.

The giant robot, built in South Korea, works by repeating the actions of its pilot sitting inside by moving its enormous arms and legs up and down.

In astonishing video the sinister machine can be seen walking across a laboratory floor using its mechanical joints.

A control room just big enough for a human operator to squeeze in sits where the robot’s chest should be.

It was created by Seoul-based Korea Future Technology but it is unclear how it will be used.

 The designer modelled his high-tech creation after working on Hollywood blockbusters including Robocop, Transformers 4 and Terminator Genisys.

Vitaly is remaining tight-lipped about the robot, but said it could be used to “solve problems” rather than for evil.

He wrote on Facebook: “I’ll just say for now that from a mechanical/software/hardware/electric engineering stand point it was quite an ambitious project that required developing and enhancing a lot of technologies along the way.

“That growth opens up many real world applications where everything we have been learning so far on this robot can be applied to solve real world problems.”

Subscribe to this RSS feed