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ABT IN CUBA
A Daily Dancer Blog

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 historic journey.


Day One - October 31, 2010
Travel Day

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 Celebration

Eric and Blaine Hoven en route to Havana.
in conjunction with the 22nd International Ballet Festival.

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 Cuban life.

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.


Day Two - November 1, 2010
Playas del Este


Leann Underwood and Eric at Playas del Este.
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.

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.


Day Three - November 2, 2010


Eric at Club Habana.
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.

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.


Rehearsal onstage at the Karl Marx Theater
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.

Tonight the Company is invited to a post rehearsal reception hosted by Jay Rodriguez.


Day Four - November 3, 2010
Opening Day

Pre-performance
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.

Post-performance
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.


Day Five - November 4, 2010
Escuela Nacional de Ballet


Laura Alonso and Xiomara Reyes.
Photo: Katsuyoshi Tanaka.
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.


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.