In what might come as an alluring surprise, Tuesday’s Wolf Trap performance marks the first time in Ballet Hispanico’s 41-year history that the troupe has toured with an all-Cuban program. All three works are created by Cuban Americans and set to Cuban music. Eduardo Vilaro, the choreographer who took over the New York-based company in 2009, says the first reason for the milestone is simple: No one else has ever asked for it. The second reason is a little more complicated: timing.
“Who knows? This is an interesting trial run,” Vilaro said. He’s amused by Wolf Trap’s marketing slogan, “special all-Cuban program.” “It’s sounds like we are going to be having mojitos with you,” he said, laughing, but then he turned serious. “But I think that really instead of a Cuban night, it’s a Cuban introspection night.”
As tensions ease between the United States and our neighboring island nation, Cuban American dance leaders such as Vilaro; Lourdes Lopez, newly appointed artistic director of Miami City Ballet; and Septime Webre, the artistic director of the Washington Ballet, are conscious of the role dance can play in diplomatic relations and the public consciousness.
“Cuba has always loomed large in the American psyche,” Webre said. “Cuban music, culture and dance is just so vivid. And add the mystique of it being out of American’s reach for the past 50 years, and it has almost become fabled. . . . We are in such an interesting time, with change coming in relatively big doses, in the relationship between our two countries. Americans are just naturally interested, and that’s before we’ve even danced a single step.”
Geoff Thale, a Cuba expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, credits the Obama administration’s ease on trade and travel restrictions with an overall increase in curiosity about Cuba. “The cultural thaw is a long way ahead of the political thaw,” Thale said, speaking by phone from a restaurant in Havana, where a band was playing in the background. “It’s been much easier in the last few years for cultural workers and artists from Cuba to travel to, study and perform in the U.S., and vice versa.”
For the third time this year, Thale was leading a research trip to Cuba for academics, politicians and think-tank experts. By day, the groups may visit with Cuban officials and give advice to businesses trying to privatize. On their evenings off? Thale recommends an outing to the Cuban National Ballet, the famed company founded by Alicia Alonso. Webre calls Alonso “the second-most-famous Cuban in the world.” Second most famous after Fidel Castro, that is.