For more than two months this spring, several locations in New York City will host more than two-dozen Cuban artists taking part in the festival “¡Si Cuba!”
Scheduled to run from March 31 to June 16, “¡Si Cuba!” is perhaps the most solid proof that the cultural relations between the US and the Caribbean island are warming back up.
Settings as diverse as Carnegie Hall will be graced by music, film, dance, painting, theater, photography and literature from the dozens of performers and artists who are expected to come from Cuba for the events.
“We felt that this was the right time to do this, and New York the right place,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is the driving force behind the festival and will host many of the events. “There’s an optimism in the air about freeing up more interactions, which makes things feel very different than they did during the Bush administration and offers an opportunity for all of us to present work of a really high level in concentrated form.”
The Cuban rumba and dance outfit Los Muñequitos de Matanzas will perform in New York after nearly a long absence; Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, a group founded in 1959 that mixes Afro-Caribbean dance and classical European ballet will visit the US for the first time, as well as the socially conscious photographers Adonis Flores and Cirenaica Moreira.
“Among aficionados of drumming and Santeria, this really is the premier group, and people have been asking me for years when they were going to be coming back,” said Robert H. Browning, artistic director of the World Music Institute, which is sponsoring Los Muñequitos de Matanzas’ May performances at Symphony Space. “We tried to bring them again two or three times, but Cuba was always on the bad list.”
The Cuban artists participating in the festival include a few fairly familiar names, like the National Ballet of Cuba, led by the 90-year-old Alicia Alonso.
But the Big Apple will also see less known bands like El Ballet Folklórico Cutumba and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba; “We’ve been trying to invite this company for quite a long time, because they are very well trained, and their repertory is really quite fantastic,” said Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce Theater. “They’ve had some training in Martha Graham technique, but their choreography really has developed without much influence of American choreographers, so we think New Yorkers will want to see what the dance scene there is like.”
Cuban-American artists like Cristina García, the author of “Dreaming in Cuban” and other novels, have also been invited to participate in festival events and literary readings. “I plan to stay in New York for three or four weeks to partake of these riches, which are not the kind of thing you normally have any real access to,” she said. “And I think it’s wonderfully advantageous for them too. Not only are they desperate for connections and influences and eager to see what is happening in all the different realms of the art world here, I also think they want to strut their stuff. I’m sure they are thinking this will lead to other invitations and travel, if things go well.”
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