PASTOR VALLE-GARAY / HAVANA /
Havana – It was a remarkable moment. More so because it was absolutely unexpected. Wonderful. Genuine. Delightful. Truly emotional.
Inside the vast lobby of the Melia Cohiba hotel two long rows of Cuban children accompanied by their parents anxiously awaited the arrival of the Canadian children and their parents. It resembled an honour guard ready to welcome visiting dignitaries.
Each of the Cuban children held a single rose in their hands. Everyone was unusually quiet. It seemed as if the young dancers from the Cuban School of Ballet were too disciplined, too excited or too nervous to say anything. Perhaps they were aware of the momentous significance of this most unique, historical occasion. Perhaps all of the above.
Meanwhile the Canadian children, members of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble, had exited the buses bringing them to the hotel from Jose Marti’s International airport.
Upon entering the lobby the otherwise noisy Canadian kids suddenly stood still. Practically frozen on their tracks. For an instant you could hear a pin drop. They were in awe, speechless, at the reception waiting for them. An instant later they could hardly believe the thunderous applause welcoming them to Cuba.
As they made their way between the two neat rows of children each Canadian child was handed a rose by their Cuban hosts. Overcoming almost immediately their initial shyness everyone broke out in smiles, hugs and all the chattering generally associated with children everywhere in the world. It did not matter that they spoke different languages. Children understand each other beautifully regardless of linguistic or cultural differences.
As if to emphasize that point, the Cuban children led their new Canadian friends to an enormous hall where they entertained their guests with a polished, one-hour performance of traditional Cuban music. Soon after, Cubans and Canadians put aside inhibitions and started dancing with each other.
It marked the auspicious beginning of a week of activities that most likely will remain in the children’s hearts and minds for the rest of their lives. For the first time in history a Canadian company had been invited to perform in the Gran Teatro, Cuba’s magnificent temple to the arts and the honour fell on the cast of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble.
For three consecutive days the Canadian children would perform the classic ballet The Nutcracker sharing the stage with the Cuban children from the Cuban National School of Ballet and with the international super stars of the National Ballet of Cuba, hailed by critics as one of the five best ballet companies in the world.
Every performance of The Nutcracker was completely sold out. Every performance received long, standing ovations from the knowledgeable Cuban audience. Every performance represented a triumph of the true spirit of friendship and cooperation between Cuba and Canada. Every performance was a major source of inspiration for the Canadian and the Cuban children. In fact for the farewell matinee performance of The Nutcracker, dedicated to the children of Cuba, the Gran Teatro filled to capacity with children who cheered the dancers with the unrestrained delight that only children can muster when they truly love something.
The staging of this extraordinary event was the brainchild of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, founder and artistic director of the National Ballet of Cuba and Belma Gurdil-Diamante, CEO, The Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble. Their vision, their determination and their firm commitment to their art overcame every imaginable challenge and accomplished a phenomenally successful spectacle.
The children’s participation will be long cherished in Cuba and in Hamilton, proud home of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble and it certainly promises to leave the doors open to future artistic endeavours. CBYE President Lucy Stawiarski, who enthusiastically coordinated the logistics involved in the venture, summed it up best “We are absolutely thrilled with the performances and with the generous, warm reception we received from the Cuban people. I know that many of the parents and friends who accompanied our children to Cuba will make return visits to this beautiful nation. I certainly will”
Obviously the tour has been a most successful love affair between Cuba and Canada. The children of both nations accomplished it. Hopefully it will happen again. Soon. It’s worth it.
Cuban and Canadian dancer in The Nutcracker
Cuban children dance for Canadian children
* Senior Scholar, York University