On classical ballet being elitist
Ballet does not have to be an elitist art form. If the public have access to a good ballet show, they will greatly enjoy it. Cuba has worked for years to attract new audiences, through lectures, conferences and demonstrations in workplaces, schools and even in army units. We also have television and radio shows that support and spread the art of ballet. In Cuba, ballet is a popular art, which has large audiences from all sectors of society. Furthermore, since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, the government has supported it completely.
On supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba
Due to very deep personal convictions, I felt and I still feel obliged to contribute to the development of the culture of the country where I was born. It is a moral principle, to be aware, at all times, of what your moral duty is.
On Castro creating the company with an initial $200,000
Even before the triumph of the revolution, when there was fighting in the mountains, a friend of ours, Dr Martinez Paez, brought Castro a project for the reorganization and development of ballet in Cuba when the revolution triumphed. It is true that I was dancing in the United States with the American Ballet Theatre when the revolution occurred, but I returned to Havana as soon as I could. There was a lot of feverish work in the early days of the revolution – everything was dedicated to plans for the reconstruction and development of the country. It’s true that President Fidel Castro, Maximum Leader of the Revolution, took a personal interest in supporting the development of our ballet company.
On the dancers’ personalities
One of the great things about classical ballet is that it allows for the development of great personalities.
When I work personally with young dancers, I try to discover their personality. For example, if it’s a female dancer, I don’t try to make her dance and project herself like I did. I leave it up to her to decide whether to adopt my way of interpreting a character. I show them within the style and drama, the different ways that they can be seen. And they choose, with my help, what best fits to the their physique and temperament. Otherwise, it would be like creating dancers in series with great monotony and artistic impoverishment.
On what makes dancers of the Compañía Nacional de Cuba special
All major companies have their own personality, which is formed by their school, their artistic line and the idiosyncrasy of their dancers and choreographers. Ours is a national company, formed by Cubans all from the same school. It’s up to the audience and critics to discover their characteristics.
I can tell you that they come from a strong classical heritage, and we care very much to keep the style of each piece. The dancers perform, with a high degree of drama. These are young people with strong technical backgrounds who cherish very much the joy of dance.
It’s a company composed of highly technical, strong young dancers with great expressive force, who express in their performance the great joy they experience when dancing.
On dancers defecting
Those things happen sometimes, and it is very sad. From an early age, these young people receive free training, are trained with love and care. It is expected of them to join a tradition, to hand in their efforts to the company of their country, which helped them to become artists. Some, very few, go on to sell their work elsewhere. We worry very much about it because most of the time they are lost as artists. Very seldom does it help their artistic careers.
But notice that these defections are covered with unprecedented propaganda. In all companies in the world, there are dancers who leave the group, sometimes inappropriately. But when it happens to the National Ballet of Cuba, they make it a media event, and sometimes even try to give it a political meaning.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.