- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
- Buy A Single Issue
- Give A Gift Subscription
The Dancer’s Guide to Cuba
The state of dance in an evolving country
The state-funded Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is increasingly inviting foreign dancemakers. All photos by Quinn Wharton.
Dance is central to the cultural life of Cuba, a country of balletomanes and social dancers, innovators and classicists. For two decades, I’ve been one of very few choreographers from the United States to work with Cuban companies, including the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba. But at this exciting moment in U.S.–Cuba relations, it’s getting easier—though not easy—to travel between the two countries. Dance is exploding across the island and more dancers and choreographers are embracing international collaborations. While I was there this spring, I witnessed a huge upswing in international students, and an electric energy charging the arts. What can you expect if you make the trip?
Most of Cuba’s major arts academies—including the National School of Art, the university-level Superior Institute of Art, ProDanza Ballet Academy and the famous National Ballet School (Escuela Nacional de Ballet de Cuba)—offer intensive workshops for foreigners. As travel restrictions ease, more American dancers are able to take advantage of these opportunities.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Havana’s Gran Teatro was recently renamed the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso after BNC’s indomitable founder. However, Señora Alonso’s celebrated, state-subsidized company is in need of strong leadership to go forward with a vision as grand as that of the prima ballerina (now 94) who is still at its head. Home of exquisite classicists and technical wonders, such as the incomparable Viengsay Valdés, BNC has recently lost several excellent dancers to Carlos Acosta’s new company.
Carlos Acosta’s fledgling project, Acosta Danza, is housed in a well-appointed Havana storefront where avid fans watch rehearsals from the street. He has hired both former BNC and Danza Contemporánea artists to create a company of more than 20 exquisite Cuban dancers, performing a mix of contemporary and classical ballets. So far, the repertoire includes Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, contemporary Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero’s Alrededor No Hay Nada, Acosta’s own Carmen, as well as excerpts from ballets like Swan Lake and La Sylphide.
Major Contemporary Collaborations
The state-subsidized Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is widening its repertoire by inviting foreign dancemakers like Israeli Itzik Galili, Colombian-Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Spanish-born Rafael Bonachela, while also nurturing homegrown choreographers. Meanwhile, Ronald K. Brown has championed Osnel Delgado’s Malpaso, which now regularly tours the U.S. featuring works by Delgado, Brown and Trey McIntyre.
Osnel Delgado (right) collaborating with American dancer Jordan Reinwald
Some Havana Hotspots
Centro de Danza de la Habana: This dilapidated building is home to several prominent companies, including the theatrical Danza Combinatoria and the ever avant-garde DanzAbierta, currently directed by Spaniard Susana Pous.
Although Cuba still struggles with economic challenges, it remains rich in dance.
Danza-Teatro Retazos: Isabel Bustos’ renowned contemporary troupe enlivens Old Havana with dances spilling out into the street.
Compañía de la Danza Narciso Medina: Located in the crumbling Favorito Theater (next to a cigar factory), this company and
school are planning to transition into a center for choreographic development.
Escuela Nacional de Ballet de Cuba: Freshly painted and bursting with young talent, the school needs new windows, pianos and musical equipment. But that is no deterrent to thousands of children who audition every year, or to the few eager foreigners allowed to join their rarefied ranks.
Cubans have recently been celebrating their Spanish roots by presenting more flamenco. Rhythmic intensity drives the powerful unison work of Lizt Alfonso, the fusion styles of Eduardo Veitía and Irene Rodríguez Compañía, and the flamenco puro of Compañía Flamenca ECOS. Enrique Iglesias’ 2014 hit video “Bailando” features flamenco dancers from Lizt Alfonso.
Myriad smaller groups across the island fill all 15 provinces with dance. For example, Camagüey in central Cuba, the longtime home of the esteemed Ballet de Camagüey, also houses the adventurous Ballet Contemporáneo Endedans. In a move symbolic of the loosening of diplomatic restrictions, Cuban-American choreographer Pedro Ruiz was named associate artistic director of Endedans in 2015. Professional flamenco, salsa, Afro-Cuban and hip-hop dancers also grace the stages of this midsized metropolis.
On the eastern end of the island, Santiago de Cuba boasts a rich tradition of mixing African, Cuban, Spanish, French Haitian, carnival, cabaret, social and theatrical dance forms. In a country of dancers, Santiago holds special pride of place for its intricate Afro-Cuban dance culture.
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba
Ongoing festivals showcase Cuba’s commitment to innovation in dance. Havana boasts the Días de la Danza, Habana Vieja: Ciudad en Movimiento, and International Ballet Festivals, all of which include foreign dance artists. Cuba’s city by the bay, Matanzas, hosts a biannual duet festival called Danzandos, highlighting the confident creativity of Cuba’s well-trained and passionate dancemakers—Esteban Aguilar, from the dance-centric city of Guantánamo, swept the last Danzandos festival, winning performance and choreographic awards with his witty brand of daring physical theater.
Suki John, associate professor of dance at Texas Christian University, is the founder of CubanArtsMatch.com and choreographer of Havana Love Letters.
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.