Cuba’s Director of the Classical Ballet Complains That Her Dancers Are Only Talked About When They Flee

Regina Balaguer, in the presentation of the National Ballet of Cuba in Madrid. (Casa América)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, August 2, 2023 — There are only four days left for the Classical Ballet of Cuba (formerly Ballet de Camagüey) to finish its tour of Madrid, where it has presented Swan Lake since the beginning of July after its performances in Barcelona. The question, as in any trip of this nature, is whether the entire body of dancers will return to the Island, a question that offends its director, Regina Balaguer — also a deputy in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power — who gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial in which she talks about the regime’s relationship with artistic discipline.

“We did a tour in 2018 and no dancer stayed behind. We all returned to Cuba. Those are things that are not talked about much. They always talk about the one who stays or the problem,” answers Balaguer, to whom the editor submitted a multitude of questions related to the policy that the official wanted to avoid. “We come to Spain and any country to show our art, to do culture, and not to talk about politics,” she reiterates.

The director of the Classical Ballet, however, is the first to mix both topics, although spurred on by questions from Ana Ramírez, the journalist, who urges her to talk about the diplomatic use of dance. “The ballet took root very soon in Cuba with the figures of Fernando, Alicia and Alberto Alonso. Since the triumph of the Revolution, Fidel himself approached them to give them all the support they needed to have a company,” she says.

The official explains that the cultural policy – which she attributes entirely to Fidel Castro – has made an art as elitist as ballet a cross-disciplinary one on the Island, thanks to the free system in which there are even vocational workshops in which there are no aptitude tests – “everyone who wants can enter.” In this way, whomever progresses, becomes professional; whomever does not, becomes a spectator.

In long passages, Balaguer exposes to the Madrid milieu – resorting to mythological remarks, such as the one at dawn when Castro appeared before Alonso with an offer of $200,000 to open the company – the characteristics of the ballet on the Island, inherited from its founders. The official affirms that femininity in the dancer and masculinity in the dancer emerge in the Cuban school, also marked by the Latino character.

This journalist consulted about it with the dance critic Roger Salas, who writes for the newspaper El País, and obtained a devastating response. “As much as the story is embellished politically, the Cuban school of ballet is nothing more than a continuation of the North American school,” he explains. The expert adds the training of Alonso in the US (with Soviet influence) and the very high American percentage (60%) of the members of the first ballet.

The interview continues to delve into the path of politics by reminding Balaguer that in 2022 she denounced the importing of Chinese shoes that were of no use to her students. “We have thousands of boxes of shoes that are not useful,” she protested on that occasion. The deputy denies that that statement, pronounced before Parliament, was a complaint. “What we proposed is that we have to be objective with the things we do. Art education is expensive, but it is free in Cuba,” she underlines.

Balaguer insists that everything in Cuba is free and stresses that, in this case, dance is an expensive discipline “and the State assumes it responsibly… I think that the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban State have been very receptive. As always, they are taking a step forward,” she praises.

But the journalist insists on talking about Chinese slippers. “Those things can happen when material is imported. But the most important thing is that we are here to show Swan Lake,” Blalaguer escapes again, not wasting the opportunity to consider that all the countries in the world have economic problems in these moments.

“Have you solved that problem with the shoes?” asks the editor for the third time. The debate closes with “Of course. Everything is discussed and little by little it is resolved” and the insistence that the will of the State is the best and the controversial shoes arrived during the pandemic, when the inconveniences were, for everything, extreme. The footwear for the professionals is manufactured in the company’s workshops – the imported ones are for schools – but the text recalls when, in the 90s, the dancers themselves mended their costumes and with great difficulty were able clean the toecaps with the bad adhesive that was sold on the island.

When Vigensay Valdés took charge of the National Ballet of Cuba — the first important company on the island — in 2019, there were 40 dancers who had requested asylum in the US and other countries, according to figures from the Cuban Classical Ballet. of Miami. Barely a year ago, in another sphere of dance, a highly commented on mass desertion took place when at the end of July eight members of the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba company left the delegation and stayed in Spain, after finishing the presentations of their tour of Europe.

Balaguer, however, refuses to see it. “They don’t talk about the fact that we did a tour in Spain and Switzerland, and nobody stayed.(…) I think that sometimes you don’t just have to talk about the problems, the ugly things or the inconveniences, but also the positive things.”


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