I recently highlighted a new book based on the influence of the Cuban Ballet by Octavia Roca. Roca was born in Havana & is a former music & dance critic for The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and the Miami New Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Roca studied at Emory and Georgetown Universities and taught philosophy, as well as lecturing on arts at the Smithsonian Institution. He grew up watching his ballerina mother dancing in Cuba’s Ballet de Pro-Arte Musical, and has been involved with ballet & the Cuban dancers his whole life. Featured in his book are Cuban sisters Lorena Feijóo (now dancing with San Francisco Ballet) and Lorna Feijóo (with Boston Ballet).
The book, with it’s beautiful & engaging cover and many black and white photographs throughout, is part Alicia Alonso’s story (founder of the Nacional Ballet de Cuba)/ part history of the Cuban Ballet and part bright hopes for the future. Looking at these historical facts through the eyes of Roca you get a distinctly American flavour, and it’s interesting to hear of the Cuban dancers now exiled, largely working in America that we are less familiar with in the UK.
The impact of these defections is clearly felt at home, but the strength of the Cuban School and the talent rising through the ranks leaves Alonso unconcerned – indeed the irony is that the very company set up by one of Fidel Castro’s supporters is now responsible for the spread of the Cuban style and technique around the world. In 2003 there were 20 defections; one fifth of the company, but after half a century of defections the company remains strong. There are now Cuban’s dancing at American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Houston Ballet and Miami City Ballet, to name a few.
And let’s not forget the wonderful, inspiring Cuban teachers who work around the globe from Paris to Buenos Aires.
Roca talks about Cubans who have recently defected : Yosvani Ramos (English National Ballet) Joan Boada, Carlos Miguel Guerra, Luis Serrano, Hayna Guitierrez, Carlos Quenedit, Adiarys Almeida, Gema Diaz, Cervilio Amador, Taras Domitro, Miguelangel Blanco, as well as Lorena and Lorna Feijoo (with Lorna’s husband Nelson Madrigal) , who both grace the cover and of whom the author talks fondly. You will also find Rolando Sarabino, Victor Gili, Jorge Esquivel and Igor Yousekevich. Domitro has not yet been allowed back to Cuba following his 2008 defection, though he was a favourite of Alonso’s and now dances with San Fransisco Ballet).
The Cuban men have a chapter of their own, of course ! Carlos Acosta is mentioned, though had the book been written in the UK, there would have been a greater emphasis. Acosta is described as “the most artistically voracious of all these Cuban men.”
Roca says that “dance is freedom lived in the body.” His book is a thorough history of Cuban Ballet with a nod to the future – which Alonso admits is unknown.