Fes­ti­val re­flects sounder foot­ing for diplo­macy

China Daily (USA) - - 1 - By REUTERS

A wo­man in a floaty dress wres­tles a mino­taur who re­flects her in­ner demons in Er­rand into the Maze, one of the Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany works that made its Cuban pre­miere this week­end to thun­der­ous ap­plause at the Ha­vana ballet fes­ti­val.

The troupe was per­form­ing in the is­land for the first time since 1941 and is one of seven US com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 10-day event, un­der­scor­ing greater US-Cuban cul­tural ex­change in the wake of the coun­tries’ de­tente.

“The stand­ing ova­tion said it all,” said a beam­ing Cuban spec­ta­tor, 64-year-old Maria An­to­nia Ar­mas. “It was fab­u­lous. I just hope this ex­change will con­tinue to flow.”

The Cuban and US ballet worlds have a deeply en­twined his­tory and the found­ing fa­ther of Cuban dance, Ramiro Guerra, stud­ied un­der Gra­ham in New York in the 1940s.

Yet ties suf­fered dur­ing the five decades of ide­o­log­i­cal hos­til­ity fol­low­ing the 1959 rev­o­lu­tion in Cuba.

“We keep hear­ing there is a Martha Gra­ham world in Cuba that we have been apart from for decades,” the com­pany’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, Janet Eil­ber, said in an in­ter­view.

“We know it has evolved in its own way and in New York we have evolved in our own way, so to come to­gether and meet our long lost rel­a­tives has been very in­ter­est­ing.”

While there have been some ex­changes be­tween Cuban and US dance in the last two decades, the de­tente an­nounced nearly two years ago is en­abling a broader open­ing, Eil­ber said.

For one, it has made trav­el­ing and se­cur­ing fi­nanc­ing much eas­ier, she said.

Cuban spec­ta­tors said the mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary US chore­ogra­phies per­formed dur­ing the open­ing week­end of the 25th In­ter­na­tional Ballet Fes­ti­val of Ha­vana were like a breath of fresh air.

While Cuban ballet has fused the best from the Rus­sians, French, Ital­ians, English and US dancers with Latin flair and Afro-Cuban sen­su­al­ity, its style has also been crit­i­cized as out­dated.

It is based on the ap­proach of the Ballet Na­cional de Cuba’s 94-year-old founder, Ali­cia Alonso, a prin­ci­pal dancer in the 1940s with the com­pany now known as Amer­i­can Ballet The­ater.

Alonso’s chore­ogra­phies to clas­sics like Swan Lake, Giselle and Sleep­ing Beauty fea­ture heav­ily through­out the bian­nual fes­ti­val, which from this year on­ward will be named af­ter her.

Dancers and com­pa­nies rep­re­sent­ing 16 coun­tries will par­tic­i­pate in the fes­ti­val, in­clud­ing for the first time South Korea’s Uni­ver­sal Ballet Com­pany and the lead dancer from the Na­tional Ballet of Mon­go­lia.

ALEXAN­DRE MENEGHINI / REUTERS

Ali­cia Alonso (cen­ter), Cuban prima bal­le­rina as­so­luta and founder of the Cuban Na­tional Ballet, at­tends an event to mark the open­ing of the 25th In­ter­na­tional Ballet Fes­ti­val of Ha­vana, on Tues­day.

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