Relishing the Royal Ballet in Havana

By Irina Echarry, Photos by Caridad

Open air live screening of the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta on the steps of Havana’s Capitolio Building.

HAVANA TIMES, July 17 – The stairway of the Capitol Building was the site selected Wednesday evening for the live projection (on improvised screens supported by old trucks) of the performance of the Royal Ballet of London that would take place in the Garcia Lorca Grand Theater.  Around 7:30 p.m. people began milling around looking for a comfortable place to enjoy this unique presentation alongside friends and strangers.

Gradually the space began filling with children, men and women, the young and old who didn’t want to miss the chance to somehow take part in the first visit to Cuba by The Royal Ballet.

Sure there were a lot of people who had no idea of what they were going to see.  Jose Antonio, 25, who lives in Centro Havana, thought that it was some activity in support of people with AIDS. “Sometimes on this stairway they set up those little “Carts for Life,” to give talks to people and hand out pamphlets about AIDS.  I don’t like the ballet, but since I’m already here and the atmosphere’s nice, I’ll stick around.”

While the light in the summer sky still hadn’t faded, but with the street lights already on, the function began.  Monica Mason, the director of the British company, said a few words to pay homage to the legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso after expressing the joy that visiting Cuba and performing for the Cuban people represented to the Royal Ballet.

She also announced that her troupe would perform with the dancers of the Cuban National Ballet, which would demonstrate that in the world of ballet they all are one big family.

The work Chroma, with sensual and contemporary choreography, drew smiles on the faces of some; the music transmitted harmony.  Occasional passersby drew closer; most looked for a while before continuing on their way.

Open air live screening of the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta on the steps of Havana’s Capitolio Building.

“I was in the theater on opening night on Tuesday, it was touching.  I wanted to come today to see Carlos Acosta again.  I like the fact that they have this alternative, not everybody is adapted to the seriousness of a theater hall; and for performances as important as this, tickets are difficult to get a hold of.  Here you can relax more; it’s cool, last night inside the theater the hand fans were fluttering to the rhythm of the music.  I believe it’s great that they think about everyone,” said Mariela, as she highly acclaimed duo of Tamara Rojo and Joel Carreño.

It’s funny to be seated high up on the stairway, to look down at the street, watching people running to catch the bus (which stopped short of the bus stop), while hearing the cadence of the sounds of Tchaikovsky.  Likewise, the dancers seemed like surrealistic figures amid the nighttime bustle of Prado Street.

Open air live screening of the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta on the steps of Havana’s Capitolio Building.

Francisca, a woman pushing 50, doesn’t seem so pleased: “Ballet is synonymous with stylization. This huge screen reduces the figures of the dancers, it deforms their image, it’s a real disaster, truly… and they’re taking the shots from too high up… couldn’t they have tested it beforehand?  I think we deserve something better, sometimes people settle for “a good intention,” but I believe that people need something more than “good intentions,” we want things to be done right.

“I’m sure that they thought the public wouldn’t notice anything wrong because it’s an achievement enough that the performance is being projected live, for the general public, for a show that is super expensive.  It’s true that it’s an achievement, but this general public is made up of all types of people; some don’t know anything about ballet, but others do.  I think they should keep that in mind!”

Open air live screening of the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta on the steps of Havana’s Capitolio Building.

It’s a fact that the dance technique could not be appreciated in all its splendor, that the fervent lovers of ballet would be left with their desires to experience more than just seeing the pas de deux of The Black Swan.  Nonetheless, I’m sure that Marius Petipa never imagined that his Corsario, interpreted with passion by Carlos Acosta, would hover over the Payret Cinema to be seen by crowds in front of the Capitol Building.  He would ask, “Are they enjoying it so they can talk about this to their kids? This is history, The Royal Ballet in Cuba my friend, this is for all of you…”

The atmosphere was pleasant, despite the sound being better than the image.  Later, some of the dancers (British and Cuban) came out to join the crowd, humbly and happy to offer their respect to the public.  It was undoubtedly a unique night and quite an experience for all.

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