Monday, June 11, 2012

I Went to Cuba: And All You Get Is This Lousy Blog Post

For most the world, going to Cuba is not an unusual or remarkable event.  But for Americans it still remains a challenging place to legally travel to.  When the opportunity arose to do an arts based trip to Cuba I jumped at it.  I'm not one for tours especially but it seemed a worthwhile sacrifice to make to get to go to Cuba. 

Organized by the Junior Associates at MoMA this trip was centered around the Havana Bienal.  Although the Bienal had been running for a few weeks we saw numerous installations and exhibits.  As part of our travel visa, we were to engage with local Cubans and so we met a number of local Cuban artists.

This trip covered the artistic gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous.  I wanted to share some photos and video of my trip.  I have broken it up into the visual and performing arts because of the large numbers of photos.

Our focus was largely on visual arts in Cuba but we did manage to squeeze in a little bit of the performing arts.  There would have been more--I was scheduled to see the National Ballet perform--but due to massive power outage the show did not go on.

Because education is free and artists are king in Cuba (what now? Seriously.  The most well-payed folks in Cuba are artists and parents actually try to get their kids in the art schools.  Lawyers are at the bottom of the career pile) we met essentially some of the young elite in Cuba.  Though I imagine no one would call them that there.  Because the artists get to keep money they earn overseas and they get to travel outside Cuba there is a greater chance for earning potential.

The youngest group of artists we met were students in the National Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba.  The students were 17 and were not yet part of the touring company.  They had been training for years moving up through regional schools to get into the national school.  My camera was not fast enough to really capture the grace, elegance and power of the students.   I hope these photos gives you a taste of the work being done by these young dancers.

We were not permitted to take video so I could not capture the imperious teacher (on the right) who would clap her hands rhythmically, violently, and furiously to guide the class along.  With her long finger nails and sharp tone, I was a little scared of her.  She would shout to the sound operator or to the drum player in the room as to the beat she wanted.  But every once in a while she would soften with her instructions to him.  Maybe she was shouting about puppies.  Everything was in Spanish and my high school French again was useless.


This was the rare part of the class where the students got to interact with each other and act out a performance.

I think their personalities came out a bit more.

Oh depth of field, point of focus...

Hello. Defying Gravity!

During one of our evenings off, we visited the famous Tropicana Night Club founded in 1939.  A hangout for gangsters and celebrities before the Revolution, now it is a tourist attraction for what appeared to us to be mainly tourists from Latin America (they called up people by country onto the stage and let me tell you the group from Mexico was definitely the largest and most eager to dance).  It is far too expensive for regular Cubans to visit.  I did not realize until we arrived that it was outdoors!  Under the almost full moon and stars, we sat down to a "special" evening.

It was mostly dance but occasionally there were acrobatic acts.  I was a little obsessed with the acrobat act.



I have no idea before or after or just crazy.
And Tada!

For the most part, the show was feathers, elaborate costumes and lady butts.

A number of costumes had elaborate bead work around the crotch-le area.
We were sitting at the edge of the stage and lady butts were inevitable in the photos.

There was a very strange "narrative" interlude about a Romeo and Juliet style romance between a zebra and a lion or something.  It involved the female zebra leaping off a high platform into the arms of the dancers below.  Scary stunt.

We were sitting so close to the stage I thought I would get smacked with one of the staffs.  The hottest male dancers they put far from the stage.  They had dance moves that made you think they were gonna rip of their pants.  They NEVER did. #disappointment.

So close to stripping.
I never understood the one leg bell bottom.
Crotch-le beading

They moved a giant chandelier into position over the stage at some point.  I should have known what was coming next.

Can you guess?

Suddenly the music became very familiar.  People stepped out wearing capes and carrying candelabra.  Then choreographed to Phantom of the Opera, two acrobats performed.  It is hard to see in my terrible video but the man was wearing a Phantom mask made of paper and sparkles.

The craptacularity of Tropicana was not to be beat.  We went out a couple of nights to hear some live music: salsa at Casa de la Musica and jazz at another spot.  Although there were lots more prostitutes at these venues, there were a lot less lady butts. 

The crowd at Casa de la Musica.
Stay tuned for my next post about Cuba's visual arts and architecture.  Less butts, more art.

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