Crickets and Climbing Vines—All in a ballet festival day's work

November 5, 2008

It’s day two of the Festival Internacional de Ballet de La Habana and my head is full. At this event, one minute you’re listening to the French choreographer Michel Descombey (now in Mexico, formerly of the Paris Opéra Ballet) say that he’s nervous about how the Cuban people will respond to his new work, Che, premiering here on Saturday; and the next, you’ve stumbled onto Ballet Nacional de Cuba principals Joel Carreña and Anette Delgado rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty. Then after a walk in the clear Havana sun along the Malecon, the famous seawall where giant waves wash over the edge every few hundred feet, you’re in the converted movie theater (Teatro Mella) giving Seville-based flamenco artist María Pagés a rousing standing ovation.

I could have capped the day with a performance of said Sleeping Beauty (and most here did), but Pagés had my blood pumping. I wanted to let her fierce postures and wing-like arms seep further into my brain. The woman dances flamenco with technical skill and and creative flair as I’ve never seen it. Yes, there is the signature bravado and footwork, but it’s the way she uses her arms that sets her apart. They’re like vines, writhing and entwining your psyche. You can see their roots planted deep in her lower back where the movement starts, then winds her entire body like a spring.

And may I just say the clothes are to-die-for gorgeous? Ruffles, fringe, body hugging lycra—I lost count of the costume changes.

Late in the show, she brought out the finger cymbals and her fingers became an entire chorus of chirping crickets.

Similar to trading eights in tap dance, in one segment she challenged her male dancers, Emilio Herrera and José Barrios, with rhythms of escalating complexity—she using the cymbals, and they tapping two canes each. Their responses were both funny and incredible.

I’m meeting with Pagés today to learn more about her work and to hopefully videotape a short segment to give you a taste. Look for it soon on Until then, check her out at