A dream for all times
Laura Burns reports on an exciting dance project in Cuba
SIMILAR to events held throughout the world after last year’s September 11 attacks, Cuba’s Contemporary Dance Company recently presented their first Concert for Peace and Against Terrorism, featuring three ballets.
The Company’s aim: to make audiences aware of the consequences of terrorism, the struggle to obtain freedom and the message of peace and humanity. The three chosen works are Omawe - illustrating indigenous peoples’ fight against colonialism; Fabio, commemorating the death of an Italian tourist killed in a Havana hotel bomb attack organized by the Cuban-American mafia in 1997; and El Soñador, choreographer Jorge Abril’s latest work, aimed at breathing life into José Soberón’s sculpture of John Lennon, situated in a Havana park on 17th 26 and 6 street, Vedado. (see GI 51, 2000)
A TRULY CUBAN COMPANY
Contemporary dance was first introduced to the island by maestro Ramiro Guerra (yes, his former pupils really do call him “Maestro”). Cuban-born Guerra was a member of Martha Graham’s Company in the United States; when the Revolution triumphed he returned to his native soil and began teaching modern dance techniques.
Out of those lessons grew the Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna (National Modern Dance Group). As the Conjunto’s director he developed a repertoire whose objective was to create genuinely Cuban dance - utilizing Cuban/Caribbean roots in a racially mixed company. “El Maestro” left after 12 years; the company went through several name changes until it became Cuban Contemporary Dance, now under the direction of Miguel Iglesias.
IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE
The Beatles are very popular in Cuba, a fact that surprised me when I first arrived here (“You’re British, so do you like the Beatles?” “Who?”). Leo Brouwer, one of Cuba’s best known living contemporary composers wrote a Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra entitled From Yesterday to Penny Lane in the group’s honor and included them in From Bach to the Beatles.
Two Cubans filmed their pilgrimage to the Liverpool Lads’ recording studio in London, calling it Return to Abbey Road.
On December 8, 2001, a concert was organized for the anniversary of Lennon’s death, at Havana’s José Martí Anti-imperialist Tribunal.
If this continuing popularity demonstrates the universality of the Fab Four’s appeal, then the words and images of Lennon’s “Imagine” have taken on a renewed post-September 11 meaning for many.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Early December 2001, the Cuban Young Communist League called Miguel Iglesias at the Contemporary Dance Company’s offices in the Teatro Nacional asking if their repertoire contained any choreography on the Beatles or specifically John Lennon.
The answer was “No”, but at that moment Jorge Abril happened to be standing by the phone...and thus a new ballet was born.
Abril, who graduated in 1981 from the National Art School, danced with the company until 1985 when an accident caused him to retire for a year. He returned to concentrate mainly on choreography, creating ballets including La goma (The Tire) reflecting illegal immigration; an adult version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; La Piedra (The Stone), illustrating how to avoid and overcome life’s obstacles.
That same night after the phone call, Abril thought about what he could do with the Lennon theme and thus began an intense, very short period of research - listening to Beatles music, reading up on the group’s history and above all looking at many, many photos of them.
His central idea was directly inspired by the Soberón sculpture: his aim “to bring to life John Lennon’s thoughts and the group’s work” circa 1960-70s, seeking a way to bridge both the international and local theme of the work; maybe Lennon was never in Havana, but he is now. “I tried to treat the theme of the sculpture as a learning process. Sculptures aren’t for touching, they’re for looking at and appreciating. So you look, close your eyes, let the image enter your mind and dream of it. This is what I felt.”
The result is what he describes as a “synthesized collection of aspects of Lennon’s life, using humor (never far from Abril’s choreography; nor is surprise) alongside sentiment and a touch of romance. All in a 15-minute piece.” He didn’t intend El Soñador to be an in-depth study of the four musicians’ well-publicized conflicts; instead he chose to define one definite personality - Lennon and his pacifist thinking - whilst the other three dancers would represent an amalgam of the remaining three Beatles.
The biggest challenge of all was that he had just one week to mount the performance - the premiere was November 8, 2001, as part of the concert marking Lennon’s death. Even on the night the piece lacked a final title.
After the concert, where the ballet received the praise of Arts Minster Abel Prieto, it was decided it should be included in the company’s repertoire, in its new season beginning January 2002.
Although El Soñador only lasts 15 minutes, it manages to convey the spirit of the times it represents and the Beatles’ trajectory in an extremely moving and concise way. The piece revolves around a park bench, paying homage to its inspiration; it unfolds like a series of black and white photos of four dark-suited “mop-tops” in a versatile display of agility and emotions, highlighting the excellent technique of the four dancers (Alain Rivero, Julio César Iglesias, Dianko Carralero, Nilder Santos).
Abril has chosen the music well. Instead of taking the easy route and using well-known Beatles music, he opts for his “element of surprise”, using two little-known numbers and - taking the “beat” generation aspect of the Beatles - some Brubeck jazz which he says gave him the feeling of Lennon’s ideas and rebellious stance. Recalling the group’s flirtation with Indian philosophy he also includes a piece of Hindu music. Particularly enjoyable is the “Lady Madonna” freeze-framed sequence, a pastiche of their swift rise to fame. Drawing on images from the Abbey Road album cover and reminiscent of the wacky surrealism of the Liverpool Lads’ first film A Hard Day’s Night (by Dick Lester), it exposes the show business razzle-dazzle they were subjected to.
The inevitable tensions and Lennon’s subsequent withdrawal are poignantly conveyed but not dwelt on in a touching finale that utilizes well the four dancers’ dance and acting skills.
ON THE ROAD
Over the next few months the Cuban Contemporary Dance current season’s program can be seen in three theaters in the capital: the Mella, the Nacional and the Gran Teatro’s Garcia Lorca auditorium.
Premieres and other popular works by both Cuban and invited foreign choreographers are included. In May they tour the island with the Concert for Peace performances, whose unified theme, like the Lennon sculpture, transcends the boundaries of the local to reach the universal.