In 1990 when I was invited to photograph at the International Ballet Festival of Havana, I had no idea what a large role Cuba would play in my life. I was immediately captivated by the island and its people. Dance is like another language in Cuba, through which people express themselves, often using it to convey what they cannot say because of political restrictions. Dance is an escape from the harsh everyday conditions into a world inspired by music, movement, the ability to tell a story. The passion to jump higher, spin faster, float on air, leads them to a prowess which is inspirational. Cuban dance has a special kind of energy and inspiration that is recognized worldwide.
I was so impressed by Alicia Alonso’s life story, and by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba dancers, that I decided to make a film that would share the story of how ballet came to Cuba, and how the dance company became one of the top 5 in the world. Over the course of 6 visits to Cuba, I collected 3 decades-worth of exclusive material through my close and trusted association with the BNC.
Fire Under Our Feet follows an unstoppable Cuban trio – a blind ballerina, her mad scientist husband and his football player brother – as they dare disrupt a centuries-old white-centric tradition. Ballet pioneers in the U.S., they return to Cuba to transform it into the “world’s dance miracle of the 20th century”. Their epic mission unfolds during Castro’s Revolution through today, when a new female lead must now reconcile a glorious past while appealing for the return of defectors back home.
I sort of ‘fell into’ film making after meeting the Nrityagram Indian Dance Ensemble and Protima Bedi. I was driven to do something with the stunning footage I had shot of their New York performances, and at their dance village in India. Before I knew it I was knee deep in making a documentary! No-one was more surprised than me when Nrityagram: For the Love of Dance went on to screen in over 25 film festivals, and win 6 awards to date.
As anyone in the know will tell you, documentary film makers have a hard row to hoe, as raising funding is almost a full time job and there is never enough financial support to go around. One has to love ones project passionately to keep at it!
Lawrence “Reed” Hansen 1932-2020
I was also a principal cinematographer on The Sacrosanct Accompanist, a film by Terese Capucilli. This documentary honors the amazing life of Lawrence ‘Reed’ Hansen, who was Martha Graham’s personal accompanist, and accompanied classes at the Juilliard School since 1958.