Festival reflects sounder footing for diplomacy
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Italians, English and US dancers with Latin flair and Afro-Cuban sensuality, its style has also been criticized as outdated.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.
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.