Arts & Entertainment

Cuban dance adjusts to the pandemic’s new normal

By Yeny Garcia

Havana, Oct 23 (efe-epa).- Cuban dance is once again raising the curtain this weekend at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro with a show seeking to reignite the intense cultural life in the capital, which has been virtually dormant for the past seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba dance company, which merges Spanish dance and “criollo” or native American rhythms, will be featured in the show, with the dancers “super emotional about returning to the Gran Teatro and for being the first” program on the agenda, company director Lizt Alfonso told EFE The program for Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be dedicated to the 29th anniversary of the ensemble with an overview of its career, including fragments of iconic shows like “Fuerza y compas,” “Elementos,” “Latidos” and “Alas.”

“We received a call from the director of the Gran Teatro asking us how much time we needed to prepare ourselves (to perform). I told him to give us 21 days,” Alfonso said.

The season at Havana’s Teatro Marti last February and the training and rehearsal regimen at home during the quarantine kept the dancers well prepared and with “living choreography,” despite not having actually set foot in the rehearsal hall for six months.

Given the restrictions implemented in Havana, all such shows will be put on with only a half-capacity audience and with social distancing measures in place, something that “at first could shock the artist, who will see only a half audience, but it’s a very necessary start.”

“It’s necessary to break, begin, keep moving forward and try to take care of ourselves as much as possible,” the acclaimed dancer and choreographer said.

“I never thought it would be such a big thing,” said Alfonso – born in Havana in 1967 – regarding the company’s 29 years, a period during which it has carved out for itself a well-earned niche among the main dance companies in Cuba, where dancing is as natural as breathing.

What was born in 1991 as a Spanish dance group called Danzas Ibericas rapidly changed direction, becoming more and more Cuban, with centuries of Hispanic presence and the mixture of other cultures, yet with its own strong identity.

“We didn’t have to imitate when we were able to be authentic and, at the same time, do something new,” said the artist, who created a fusion with its own stamp after her training at the prestigious Cuban Ballet School and her knowledge of regional Spanish dances.

Shortly after that, the company expanded its horizons with vocational workshops, two children’s and youth ballet groups and official recognition as an educational center by the Cuban artistic teaching system. “We were not only a company, but also a big school with more than 1,000 students,” the “maestra” said.

Although their shows filled theaters around the world, the turning point came in 2014 with the super-successful “Bailando” show, which solidified the career of Enrique Iglesias, catapulted the dance company to fame and served as a showcase for the dancing and interpretative talent of Lizt Alfonso.

The company also has a musical group and produces from the ground up events like the gala for the Spanish king and queen on their historic visit to Havana in November 2019. “This isn’t stopping. Our headquarters is always an anthill of activity,” joked Alfonso.

But with the arrival of the coronavirus in late March on the island, Alfonso’s anthill in Old Havana became deserted.

Cubans began to live behind closed doors in a shutdown that lasted for months, particularly in Havana, which was under restrictive measures that lasted even longer than elsewhere on the island.

The Cuban dancers changed their open practice halls for corridors, rooftops and any space that was big enough where they could train and not lose their edge. They interacted virtually only over the social networks.

“We went from being ‘full’ to not doing anything. But I said to myself: It can’t go on like this, we have to keep going and in the best way possible. Thanks to the Internet, which here in Cuba is very expensive and practically unsustainable, but we made an enormous effort, and we stayed in contact” Alfonso recalled.

Within the company, classes continued via Whatsapp, through which students and dancers received their training regimens and schedules. “Most of the dancers live in very small spaces and it was a lot of work to practice, but they did it,” she said.

With the greater flexibility in the restrictions in Havana in early October, the company returned to its studio, where only the use of facemasks and hand sanitizer gave proof of the new normal.

The performances of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba at the Gran Teatro in the Cuban capital will be the start of a gradual reopening of cultural life in Havana. The first things to open up were movie theaters on Oct. 10 and now it’s the turn of the dance groups, which in the coming weeks will put on comedy shows and later concerts.

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