News: Dance Cuba

Friday 18 March 2005

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight is being screened as part of the Constellation Change Screen Dance Festival. Featuring Royal Ballet principal Carlos Acosta and Alicia Alonso, founder and Director General of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight was produced and directed by Cynthia Newport, the founder and president of illume productions. The film, also referred to as Dance Cuba, was shot in both the USA and Cuba over a four year period. Despite the political obstacles Newport gained access to individuals and institutions in both Cuba and the USA. The film features an impressive range of archive material including footage of a young Alicia Alonso dancing on a number of separate occasions, and Carlos Acosta winning the Prix de Lausanne at the age of 16. Considering the political and cultural barriers between the two countries Dance Cuba reveals the dedicated and personal involvement of all concerned in the project.

The documentary feature film presents several personal stories telling separated but intertwined journeys linked by their passion for dance and for Cuba.

Dance Cuba centres around a cultural exchange in Havana between two ballet companies: the Washington Ballet and Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Septime Webre is son of a Cuban mother and American father. His story is double edged: through his role as Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet he brings the first American company to perform in Cuba in over 40 years – and on a personal level he and his siblings search for clues to the life their family led in Havana before being exiled during the Revolution.

Featuring interviews with Alicia Alonso, founder and Director General of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and her husband Fernando Alonso, the film reveals the crucial role these legendary figures played in creating and building the ballet scene to the status it enjoys today.

As the film drives towards the historic meeting of the two companies, and the questions around how they will respond artistically to each other, we hear the individual voices of those who are trying to pursue their ambitions and potential as dancers.

One of the members of Webre’s company, Laura Urgelles, defected from Cuba to work in the United States. Although prevented from travelling with the Washington Ballet due to visa restrictions, she tells of her dream to dance once again in Cuba.

During the making of the film Cuba’s prima ballerina, Lorna Feijóo, leaves the Ballet Nacional for America. Unable to reach her while still in Cuba, Newport had to wait to hear Lorna’s story once she was in the USA.

Carlos Acosta, currently a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, was born in Havana, and trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba. The only element to the film that is not directly linked to the Washington Ballet or the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Carlos’ story provides a counterpoint to the focus on the relationship between Cuba and the USA. Unlike Laura, Carlos is able to return to Cuba as often as his hectic schedule allows.

With all these distinct stories presented alongside each other without a dominant protagonist guiding the film, it becomes slightly confusing as to the way each relates to the other and the progression of each individual’s journey. However to a certain extent this does not matter. There is a clarity in the re-occurring themes that resonate throughout the film.

At the heart of Dance Cuba is a fascination and desire to return to Cuba. From Webre rediscovering his cultural heritage, to Laura Urgelles wishing to visit her home country once more, and Carlos Acosta finding the only place he can recharge his energy and spirit is in Cuba and through being with his family, there is a two way pull with each of these stories – a determination to pursue their dreams, and yet the wish to come back to their cultural roots. Through this celebration of dance in Cuba the film hints that there is more to this than simply a story of people growing up and leaving home. There is obvious frustration from the Cuban dancers in the United States at the political and artistic barriers preventing them from returning to Cuba to dance. However it leaves the question as to why they leave. Fernando Alonso expresses his feelings of pride and delight for the success of these talented Cuban dancers all over the world, and also his regret of their loss to the company. There is the sense that he knows why they go, and it is linked to the political climate within the country and the ballet company.

Coming away from the film with questions still hanging in the air and the sense of having discovered something new and yet not truly finding the full story, it seemed that the point of the film was not to provide all the answers. Instead it was all about having a glimpse into the current dance scene in Cuba. It prompted the wish to personally see, hear, and feel what it is like to be in Havana.

Dance Cuba was shown in London at the Curzon Soho cinema as part of the Constellation Change Screen Dance Festival. (CCSDF)

Dance Cuba had its world premiere in Miami in February 2004. The film screened at CCSDF in March 2005 in London, and due to the U.S. Treasury Department granting a rare embargo-exception license Dance Cuba will be screened in Havana Spring 2005.

Related links:
CCSDF programme
illume productions
Cast details

Other booking details:
See Carlos Acosta perform at the Royal Opera House
Box office: 020 7304 4000
Season details & booking

Ballet Nacional de Cuba performing at Sadler’s Wells 16-21 August 2005
Box office: 0870 737 7737

Sarah Golding, one of the team, saw Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight at the Curzon Soho on 16th March 2005.

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