Lester Tomé

Biography

Spring 2015: Peggy Rockefeller Visiting Scholar, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies

Cuban Ballet: Cosmopolitan Dancers, Nationalist Gestures; A Study in Ballet and Globalization

Project Description

Cuban Ballet: Cosmopolitan Dancers, Nationalist Gestures; A Study in Ballet and Globalization

The inception of the National Ballet of Cuba in 1959, with state support of the government of Fidel Castro, brought the opportunity of aligning the local practice of ballet with the Cuban Revolution’s ideal of a racial democracy. A chapter of my book manuscript on the history of the Cuban ballet discusses multiple aspects of this situation. I examine racial integration in the National Ballet of Cuba, as the troupe acted as a pioneer institution at the international level in transforming ballet into a multiracial field. Yet, I consider how the participation of black dancers in an art adhering to notions of bodily beauty modeled upon whiteness proved to be ridden with tensions and obstacles within the ensemble. Moreover, I analyze the development of a repertoire of culturally hybrid works that integrated ballet vocabulary and thematic, musical and movement material from Afro-Cuban sources. Such choreographies promoted a nationalist aesthetics in ballet by celebrating the mixture of European and African heritages as the essence of Cuban culture. But while these works provided eloquent metaphors of mestizaje and enriched the Cuban ballet stylistically, they neglected to depict the contemporary social reality of Afro-Cubans. Finally, I scrutinize interracial partnering in some of these ballets for its political symbolism, reading the choreo-erotic interactions of opposite sex white and black bodies vis-à-vis a national discourse that since colonial times has related interracial dancing to miscegenation taboos. 

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