For the first time in 50 years, American Ballet Theatre performed
in Cuba as part of the 22nd Havana International Ballet Festival.
In addition to performances on November 3 and 4, which honored Alicia
Alonso on her 90th birthday, ABT had the opportunity to see some
of the sites of Havana and interact with artists from many nations.
Corps de ballet member Eric Tamm chronicled ABT's
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eric Tamm; corps de ballet
dancer with American Ballet Theatre. For the past three weeks I,
along with the rest of my colleagues at ABT, have been rehearsing
and eagerly preparing for Ballet Theatre's upcoming tour to Havana,
Cuba. We have been invited to perform for Alicia Alonso's 90th Birthday
in conjunction with the 22nd International Ballet Festival.
Eric and Blaine Hoven en route to Havana.
My mind has many questions as to what Cuban culture, cuisine, architecture,
and ballet include, and I look forward to the next few days of various
dinners, events, and performances to better my understanding of
As I boarded the flight destined for Havana, the energy from the
dancer's was palpable. All that was visible was the amber sunset
paving the way towards a memorable week ahead.
After eating breakfast and exchanging money into the Cuban Convertible
Peso, the currency for foreigners, I boarded the 10:30 AM bus to Playas
del Este. I had already heard great things about the beaches, but
was eager to discover their beauty for myself. The bus pulled up to
a brightly painted Hotel Atlantico, where everyone was immediately
greeted by a live band and mojito bar! After everyone received a wristband
for the beach, we all migrated to the ABT section where they had laid
out white lounge chairs and large umbrellas. The rest of the afternoon
consisted of laying out in the Cuban sun, followed by swimming in
the incredibly warm, crystal blue Caribbean water. Some dancers kayaked
and took paddle boats out onto the water, some enjoyed massages on
the beach, and many including myself enjoyed going out on this wind
propelled glider that was generously navigated by one of the hotel
recreation employees. A lunch buffet was served at their beach side
restaurant where coconuts were opened with machetes, and whole fish
were grilled and served with lime.
Leann Underwood and Eric at Playas del Este.
Isaac Stappas, Eric, Kristi Boone and Jennifer Whalen at
the reception at the U.S. Interests Section.
It was a feast in true Cuban style. I think I speak for all the
dancers when I say that I could have spent an entire week enjoying
the luxuries and beauty of Playas del Este. As we all boarded the
bus after a long afternoon of fun, not a single dancer returned
without a big smile, and a little sun, on their face.
This evening, I will be attending the cocktail reception, hosted
by the United States Interest Section. Four hundred guests have
been invited, so it is sure to be the perfect finale to an already
amazing first day in Cuba.
My morning consisted of a quick breakfast, and then off to the gym
to start to get my body in order for our first rehearsal day at Karl
Marx Theater. But before any dancing would be done, a group of dancers
and myself decided to explore Club Habana, a local beach club.
Eric at Club Habana.
A shuttle bus took us only five minutes from our hotel, where again
we enjoyed swimming in crystal blue water and lying on warm, white
sand. The highlight was a beach volleyball game that broke out amongst
the dancers. No score was kept, but we all enjoyed a little physical
activity outside the dance studio. Before we knew it, it was time
to return to our hotel and prepare for the rehearsal day.
Company Class scheduled for 4pm and then followed by various rehearsals
for Theme and Variations, Seven Sonatas and Fancy
Free, the ballets ABT will be presenting on Wednesday and Thursday
nights. The Karl Marx stage itself is very expansive, and the Company
had little trouble filling the space. Everyone seems anxious for opening
night, and awaits the reaction of the Cuban audience. It has been
good to get a feel for the stage and before opening night so we can
put on the best show possible.
Rehearsal onstage at the Karl Marx Theater
Tonight the Company is invited to a post rehearsal reception hosted
by Jay Rodriguez.
Within a five hour period at the Karl Marx Theater, we experienced
three electrical blackouts. We had been warned of this, but had
yet to experience any problems. Thankfully, the theater was fully
prepared for this to happen and was able to restore the lights very
quickly. All of the dancers hoped that come performance time, this
would not occur again, but of course, no promises could be made.
I guess this is part of the charm of performing in an old theater!
Jose Manuel Carreño, Alicia Alonso and Kevin McKenzie
onstage after ABT's first performance in Cuba.
Photo: Katsuyoshi Tanaka.
Alicia Alonso attened the sold-out performance for ABT's opening
night. In addition to the 5,000 attendees in the auditorium, the
performance was broadcast live on Cuban national television. The
energy was high and I would attribute that to the sheer size of
the audience we performed for tonight.
Following this incredible experience, the entire company attended
a dinner reception at the restaurant El Aljibe in downtown Havana.
From the moment I entered the arched doorways at
the Escuela Nacional de Ballet it was clear that I had entered into
a magical world of marble staircases, pink and white ornate moldings,
and high ceilings. The ABT dancers and I received the grand tour
of every ballet studio, academic classroom, physical therapy rooms
etc. Towards the end of the tour we all gathered into a large open
rehearsal room to watch a short program presented by the students
themselves. They danced their hearts out in impressive excerpts
of Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, as well as
a newly choreographed group number. ABT's own Xiomara Reyes was
there, so it was a special day of nostalgia as she watched the next
generation of Cuban dancers perform in front of her very eyes.
Laura Alonso and Xiomara Reyes.
Photo: Katsuyoshi Tanaka.
Isabella Boylston takes a bow with David Hallberg after her debut in Theme and Variations.
Photo: Katsuyoshi Tanaka.
At 8:30 PM, ABT raised the curtain on their second and final performance.
All eyes were on Isabella Boylston, as she made her debut in the
principal role in Theme and Variations. She danced with fire and
femininity, while her partner, David Hallberg, brought clean, point
precision technique and a clear command of the large Karl Marx stage.
The rest of the evening consisted of beautiful dancing by all Company
members as ABT neared the end of their time in Cuba. The post-performance
reception, hosted by the 22nd International Ballet Festival, put
on a memorable party with a Cuban feast of food, drinks, and music.
All of the dancers were clearly enjoying themselves after weeks
of hard rehearsals and incredible anticipation as to what this tour
would bring. Cuba certainly surpassed my expectations, and has carved
it's own special place in my mind as one of beauty, history, and
great culture. I only hope this is not the last time I am able to
dance on Cuban soil.