Last night I saw the New York City Ballet at the Havana International Ballet Festival.
They did excerpts from:
Stars and Stripes (Balanchine)
Liturgy (Christopher Wheeldon)
Into the Night (Robbins? Balanchine?)
*some American suite with a selection of songs by Gershwin (Balanchine?)
There was an injury in the company so the program was shortened by two pieces. It was about 2 hours long with two little intermissions.
There was a very enthusiastic applause, especially for Stars and Stripes. The friend of a friend (who is a Cuban ballet enthusiast) praised the Wheeldon choreography (which happened to me favorite, very modern-looking duet with music by Arvo Part) but he said it was very badly danced.
Allison, my friend from NYU who came with us to the performance, made a good point: Cubans equate technical virtuosity with "good". Thinking back to the works that I saw from the Cuban National Ballet, it was evident that their technique was in top form and the pieces they chose to perform displayed it to the greatest degree. Allison expressed how glad she was that we have these type of cultural exchanges for the very reason that the Cubans can see our differences: that, at least by Cuban standards, American ballet is less oriented towards technical brilliance and more oriented towards "artistry". Please forgive me, because I'm really not a ballet critic and I'm trying hard to remember my ballet history class. But I think she has a point. The Cuban we talked to, somewhat of an authority on ballet in Cuba, was not especially impressed by the Americans.
I think it speaks to Cuban artistic culture in general. In order to be successful, you have to be the best. You have to have the best technique in order to be good enough to leave! They're creating monsters of technique rather than creative artists. That could be the reason that our cultural "expert" Fernando told us that the biggest disadvantage facing Cuban dance is its real lack of distinguished choreographers.
In any case, it was very moving being in a crowd of Cubans enthusiastically applauding something as American and nationalist as Stars and Stripes. I really did get a sense of the historical nature of the moment. Whether people intuited that in the crowd or not, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is the large contingent of bejeweled upper-west-side NYCB patrons/fans who came to the performance. It was SO bizarre seeing NYC in Havana. It has a distinct look. And it was pretty shocking to encounter mixed in with the cultural-consumers of Cuba. Who, by the way, bought tickets to see the NYCB for 20 pesos Moneda Nacional. That's about 75 cents. And that's what yours truly paid, too.