Everybody sweats in Cuba

9 Jan

Earlier this year the Royal Ballet made a historic maiden visit to Cuba, and subsequently a documentary was made to…document the whole sha-bang.  This documentary was filmed and produced by the Ballet Boyz, former leading Royal Ballet dancers (and now award winning filmmakers) Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn.  This recent venture in Cuba was broadcast on More4, a UK channel that…well, as an American I’m not really sure what they’re all about, but they do some programming on the arts.  I don’t know how accessible this channel is to the average household in the UK, but it’s certainly not accessible in the US and so I was overjoyed when the twittervines had announced its magnificent appearance on YouTube.  And not just excerpts, oh no…the WHOLE thing.  Someone took the time to capture, compress, upload and process an hour long documentary for the benefit of people they don’t even know.  Feel loved, because people care!

And if you’re American, feel ashamed.

Okay, maybe ashamed is a strong word, but don’t other Americans out there feel a twinge of humiliation when they see (or I guess don’t see?) how other nations treat the arts?  It’s so rare for PBS to broadcast anything dance related, and when they do it’s usually something historical (like the American Masters series on Jerome Robbins…I believe there was one on Balanchine at some point, but the Robbins one was broadcast more recently…well, over a year ago), while the UK is actually broadcasting current documentaries, not to mention a few live broadcasts from Covent Garden on BBC (the BBC?).  Even cinemas show ballets, as I’ve read that the recently filmed performance of Mayerling starring Ed Watson that is to be released on DVD soon is actually being shown in theatres.  Some theatres here “try,” but when all you get is a Swan Lake and a Nutcracker it’s like being stranded on a deserted island and trying to build a raft to escape out of toothpicks.  Even in Cuba, the audiences loves their ballet, dancers make the news, and even your average barber will go to the town square to watch a live broadcast of the Royal Ballet projected onto tarps, not even getting to see the performance itself live! Sometimes I wonder, especially during the misery that is winter, if it would be worth giving up this capitalist environment for hot weather, public healthcare and good mangoes.  I know things aren’t perfect in Cuba…but perfectionism is a disease anyway (I don’t search for perfect…just fit).

Despite the constant reminders that ABT and NYCB are virtually inaccessible to the American public outside of the apparent fortress of Manhattan (ABT had a similarly historic visit to Beijing and there were a couple of measly articles, but nothing in national newspapers that I know of.  I mean really…does either company care about increasing their reputations at home before going abroad?  Can they really call themselves national icons if it’s probably safe to say I could survey people on the streets and the vast majority won’t be able to name a single principal dancer with either company, and maybe not even KNOW of either company?)  and that our system of funding for the arts is…not entirely crappy but could definitely use improvement (as goddess Rojo herself would tell you, singing the praises of the British system), I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary.  I thought it was so well done to appeal to both balletomanes and new viewers alike, neither condescending nor trite, with significant excerpts from the dances they performed (except Manon).  It looks like it was the same program to come to Washington DC that included Manon, Chroma (the one that got away) and A Month in the Country (the one that I’m now thinking REALLY got away).

This documentary really had everything though…rehearsal footage, performance footage, excursions into the heart of Havana, lots of sweating…a thorough yet simple look at the tour, with plenty of drama and a tasteful sense of humor.  Oy the drama!  Some dancers got swine flu, a last minute injury saw Jonathan Cope coming out of retirement to perform A Month in the Country, despite the fact that he hadn’t been in a class for two years (and yet he could still do a quadruple pirouette en dedans, and stop in attitude.  Seriously?).  Lots of drama for Tamara Rojo too, although none of it was her fault by any means.  I have to say she was totally bad-ass for many reasons, because she performed double duty in the gala by doing the Don Quixote and Le Corsaire grand pas de deux, and not only did she do them but DonQ was with only one half hour rehearsal with a man she had never danced with before and Corsaire was the pressure cooker because Carlos Acosta, homecoming king, was her partner for that so it had to be spectacular.  Not to mention she would surely do the lead in one of the performances of Manon, so I’m guessing she was rather frazzled and stressed.  She’s pretty poised and maintains her calm, but my favorite moment is when the generator dies (and thus, their stage lights) and she drops an f-bomb.  The best people in the world are the ones that are always giving you reasons to like them more.  I love that she contributed to the program’s advisory for coarse language.

Great fun to see Carlos Acosta in his element as well…he was so excited in their post-performance trip to the downtown square to greet the fans who watched the projections.  Plus, watching him interact with his fellow dancers is doing wonders for my Cuban accent.  It’s interesting to see them get the rockstar treatment though…some might abhor that and call it improper, but I say…why not?  There isn’t one way to dance…there shouldn’t be one way to be a fan.  Certain etiquette is to be observed, but when the curtain is down and it’s time to celebrate the performance I say have at it.  I think dancers should be able to do both hugs and bouquets or shaking hands and playing the crowd.  Really, the sky is the limit…but don’t do anything that might result in a restraining order.

Be sure to watch The Royal Ballet in Cuba, in all glorious eight parts, beginning with this one:

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2 Responses to “Everybody sweats in Cuba”

  1. Christopher January 11, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    You might interested in: http://www.opusjazz.com/

    • youdancefunny January 12, 2010 at 4:23 am #

      Yes I definitely am! I can’t wait for it to air on PBS!

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