Cuban-flavored classical ballet takes the stage at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater May 14 and 15. Led by guest stars of international repute hailing from top-tier companies including the San Francisco Ballet and the English National Ballet, the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM) presents traditional ballet at its most grandiose. “The new Russia is Cuba,” remarks CCBM Artistic Director Pedro Pablo Peña, referring to his company’s potential to woo an audience of balletomanes with carefully reconstructed story ballets and wow the public with virtuosic and expressive dancing.
Proudly upholding ballet’s centuries-old tradition in their stagings of “Paquita Suite” and the company premiere of “La Fille Mal Gardée,” two works of French origin, Peña believes it is Cuban cultural influence that has primed residents of Miami to appreciate this art form that’s deeply beloved and understood in his country of origin. With principal dancers Lorena Feijóo, Rolando Sarabia, Fernanda Oliveira, and Arionel Vargas leading the cast, which includes dancers born in Cuba and trained at the Cuban National Ballet School, CCBM offers a prime sampling from the rich and diverse artistic contributions of the Cuban diaspora.
“Small island but big art” summarizes Peña’s view on why so many Cubans love ballet, which has a proportionally much smaller following in the United States. Compared with other countries big on ballet, though, Cuba has a more compact history cultivating the form.
In 1948, prima ballerina Alicia Alonso (who will celebrate her 90th birthday this December) co-founded the company now called Ballet Nacional de Cuba, which gained the patronage of Fidel Castro’s government in 1959. Alonso had already reached international stardom as a dancer by the time she founded the Havana company and, a couple of years later, school. Retiring from the stage at the remarkable age of 74, she continues to direct the Ballet Nacional de Cuba today.
Numerous graduates of the school who have left Cuba populate the highest ranks of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies. Why are these Cuban dancers so desirable? “Because the technical excellence is important for [any] company. Strong technique, strong artistic quality, strong emotion,” Peña says. “This is important, the feeling when you’re dancing. Fuego — fire in the body.”
Peña wishes to expand and strengthen the reach of the Cuban ballet tradition established by Alonso and others through his own vision. He trained at Alonso’s school and danced with her company, but also worked in opera and musical theater in Cuba and for seven years choreographed dances for the Univision TV show Sábado Gigante Internacional. The tireless Peña also directs the International Ballet Festival of Miami.
Through CCBM, Peña aims to preserve the classical ballet repertory and showcase the talent and distinctive artistry of Cuban dancers.
Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami’s Program I-II runs at 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater (1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach). Call 800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.
First published in Miami New Times.