Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight
American Film Institute's Silver Theatre & Cultural Center
Silver Spring, Maryland
Friday, April 23, 2004
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 26 April 2004
two hours plus of Cynthia Newport's documentary film felt like a double
whammy. The first blow sent you reeling with its cast of 1001 characters,
script of as many incidents and the relentless hop-scotch among them.
The second blow woke you up as you realized that just about everything
Three related stories emerged. Most poignant was that of a political defector
from Fidel Castro's Cuba, a dancer trained by the dictatorship's ballet
school but not allowed to return when her present company from America
is invited to perform in Cuba. The second story is that of an American
family of partly Cuban heritage that, by way of dance, tries to find its
Cuban roots. The third tale is that of a poor kid provided the opportunity
by the Castro regime to become a star, not only in Cuba but globally.
Laura Urgelles is the political defector. Her American company is the
Washington Ballet, directed by Septime Webre. It is Webre and his siblings
who long to know about their family's Cuban past. Their search leads them
to the remains of a burned house, but along the way they stumble across
people who recall their forbearers—remembrances that are dim and
fragmentary but not unrewarding. Carlos Acosta is the international star
who is allowed to come and go freely across Cuba's island borders, earning
renown and money abroad, but finding that lonely.
There are subplots aplenty. One deals with a Washington Ballet dancer
of Hispanic heritage and very aware of Hispanic culture's macho expectations
for men. He has to dance a male love pas de deux in Cuba and for him it
constitutes a coming out. That takes courage, but at least he's not left
lonely. The life and times of Cuba's grand lady of the ballet and all
the arts, Alicia Alonso, can be gleaned from the film. Fernando Alonso,
Alicia's first partner and first husband, ruminates wisely about their
careers and Cuban dance. He recalls Fokine's instructions for Les
Sylphides, that the danseur partners the ballerina not to lift her
but to prevent her from flying away. One of the many dance sequences is
archival footage (shot by Chicago critic Ann Barzel) of Alicia Alonso's
remarkable hops on pointe in Act 1 of Giselle.
The film's bookends are the planning for and successful conclusion of
Washington Ballet's October 2000 visit to Cuba. It touches on protests
and hate mail the company received for accepting Alicia Alonso's invitation
to participate in Cuba's dance festival and Septime Webre's reason for
that acceptance. There are impressions of life in Washington, DC and in
Havana, Cuba—the power and affluence of the former and the poverty
and crumbling beauty of the latter. Among the many people seen and/or
heard are Fidel Castro, Mary Day, Elvi Moore, Frank Andersen, John Goding,
Donald Saddler, Trey McIntyre, Amanda McKerrow and critic Jean Battey
Lewis. Quite a few Cubans are not identified in the film's English version
(there is also a Spanish edition). Dancing includes that of Lorna Feijoo,
Jose Manuel Carreno, Alessandra Ferri, Washington Ballet and in particular
J. Cortney Palomo, Jared Nelson, Jason Hartley, Brianne Bland, Runquiao
Du and Chip Coleman, Cuba's contemporary dance company, the Cuban National
Ballet and the wonderful children of its school. Effective excerpts are
shown from such choreographic works as Webre's ballet about his Cuban
family, McIntyre's Blue Until June, Kenneth MacMillan's Manon
and the classics Swan Lake and Don Quixote.
Perhaps Dreams of Flight should have been several films, but
then could Newport have woven in the stories' interrelations?
Photos (all from the
film's website at Emerging
This page, first: dancers in the company's studio.
Second: Laura Urgelles.
Third : Septime Webre
Volume 2, Number 15
April 26, 2004
Jean Battey Lewis
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
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