Canto Vital, cor Azari Plisetski
“In the rest of the world, dance is a business.
In Cuba, dance is passion.”
This is the dramatic and visually beautiful story of the Cuban National Ballet that, 70 years after its founding, continues to thrive… and has recently been declared by the Cuban Ministry of Culture to be a Cultural Heritage of the Nation. At first glance it might look like a film about ballet but it is actually a tribute to the beautiful people of Cuba and all involved in dance.
A driving force of this film is the passion, ferocious determination and world class talent of the BNC’s founders, Alicia, her first husband Fernando, and his brother Alberto Alonso. At age 97, Alicia continues to devote herself entirely to the company. The company has trained generations of dancers that have landed on the stages of top international companies.
The Cuban National Ballet and contemporary companies like the very popular Acosta Danza, and Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, tour worldwide and the company continues to build its repertoire of choreography and dance techniques. Now, as more artists leave Cuba, their talent is recognized globally more than ever. Some of the most legendry teachers in the world have taught in Cuba, and been hugely impressed with Cuban talent. Teaching focuses an ability that is already there. The desire to excel… as in baseball… is ever-present. Aurilie Dupont, Director of the Paris Opera Ballet, articulates part of the mystique that the film explores.
“From the point of view of teaching and learning, the Cuban National Ballet School is considered one of the best ballet schools of the world. And I would like to know, if the teachers are very good or if Cuban people are born to dance.”
A main component of this story is the biannual International Ballet Festival of Havana, initiated by Alicia. Since 1948 it has given the Cubans the opportunity to see famous companies and dancers from around the world – and given the companies the chance to dance in Havana and to experience the warm and welcoming Cubans.
One of the highlights of the Festival is for the visiting companies to take class with the Cuban teachers and for Festival members to observe class in the famous ballet School building with its stained glass doors. The film will explore the impact of the Festival over the years, and the extent to which it has it contributed to the exchange of talent between Cuba and the world.
What sets Cubans apart is their overwhelming love of dance and enthusiasm for life. Even when Cubans stand still, they exude a sense of rhythm. They run towards risk, rather than away from it, and wring every drop of enjoyment they can from each moment.
Alicia popularized dance widely in the soviet tradition – having performances in factories and for people unlikely to have ever seen it, thus growing and educating a following. The audience is very knowledgeable, and everyone goes to the ballet, whether a street cleaner or politician.
Politics are interwoven with dance in Cuba. The Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) and the National Ballet were profoundly linked. Alicia refused to dance for 3 years during the revolution, siding vocally with the people. They refused to be bribed by the Batista regime – closing the Company rather than capitulating to the ‘blackmail’ funding offer from that government.
When the Revolution ended triumphantly, Alicia and Fernando obtained the goodwill of Fidel Castro and government support for the continuance of the Company. However, severe travel restrictions meant dancers were not given the chance to dance in other countries, so some left with Alicia’s blessing and others defected – thus becoming Cuba’s greatest export. Cuban ballet tradition, technique and teaching is considered a gem throughout the world. The Cubans have consistently won dance competitions worldwide and their massive repository of original choreography and performances on international stages are legend.