Hamilton Celebrates Family Day, Dancers’ Performance in Havana

The city of steel had ample reasons to be in a festive mood. Hamilton commemorated Canada’s Family Day. It welcomed a distinguished delegation of Cuban government officials. It opened its heart to the members of the world-famous Cuban National Ballet. It demonstrated its pride for the awesome accomplishments of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble.
On February 26 Hamilton Place once again filled to capacity with ballet  lovers. And once again Hamiltonians gathered to celebrate in grand style the magic of the classic dance. Once again the evening became way too short for the hauntingly beautiful performance. Because of the enthusiasm surrounding the event. Because in honouring the performers the elegant audience had no reservations displaying their love and enthusiasm for their own children.

It mattered not that a violent snowstorm lashed at the city. Well over fifteen hundred people came to the theatre. The elements would not deny them the pleasure of enjoying the classic ballet Hansel and Gretel, a most appropriate vehicle to celebrate Family Day and to pay well-deserved tribute to the children of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble and to the stars of the Cuban National Ballet after their extraordinary January 2010 triumph in Cuba.

Only a month and a half had passed since both dance companies brilliantly concluded their historic rendezvous. They had performed The Nutcracker for the first time in the astonishingly beautiful Salon Garcia Lorca’s Gran Teatro in Havana. For three consecutive days the theatre was sold out. For three consecutive days the superb dancers astonished the Cuban crowds. For three consecutive days the public rewarded them with prolonged, well-deserved standing ovations.

Back at Hamilton Place the talented children with the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble and the consummate professionals with the Cuban National Ballet combined their extraordinary talents in Hansel and Gretel under the brilliant direction of Eduardo Blanco, a rising young star among ballet choreographers.

This time, once the final curtain came down, the people of Hamilton stood up cheering and applauding the magic evening. Non-stop.  Hamilton was returning the Cuban accolades extended to their children in Havana. They were embracing both companies as their own. They were showing their appreciation for a magnificent spectacle and their profound gratitude for the enhancement of the cultural links between Havana and Hamilton. It was a touching, sincere demonstration of unconditional love, respect and support.

“Hansel y Gretel has surpassed all our expectations,” declared Belma Gurdil-Diamante, Executive Director of the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble. “The wonderful meeting of our two cultures has certainly become a constant source of inspiration. It challenges us to continue with our goals of bringing people together in dance and with taking the beauty of ballet to all segments of society. It has certainly inspired and encouraged us to return to the Gran Teatro in Havana with our young performers next year.”

The lavish event was highlighted by the attendance of an impressive delegation of Cuban Government official headed by the Deputy Minister of Tourism the Honourable María Elena López Reyes; Jorge Soberón, Cuban Consul General in Toronto; Raúl Delgado, Cuban Consul in  Toronto, Jesús García, Director, Cuban Tourist Board in Toronto and Miriam Vila, Director, Cátedra de Danza in Havana and dance coordinator between the Cuban and Canadian ensembles.

In Hamilton the Cuban delegation was welcomed by Mayor Fred Eisenberg; Sophia Aggelonitis, Minister of Consumer Affairs y Member of the Provincial Parliament for Hamilton Mountain; David Adames, Director, Hamilton Tourism; Wendy Cormie, Directora, Marketing and Sales,  John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, Attorney and Art Benefactor Juan Carranza and Connie Smith, Host and Producer of the program Crossroads Television System of Burlington. Ms. Smith filmed a three-part video in Havana and Hamilton  documenting the co productions of The Nutcracker by the Cuban National Ballet and the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble.

Prior to attending the evening’s performance the Cuban and Canadian delegations held business meetings aimed at furthering the tourism and cultural links between Hamilton and Havana, and initiated exploratory talks in preparation for the Panamerican Games, which Hamilton and Toronto will host in 2015. The meeting concluded with a dinner at the elegant Old Mill restaurant in Ancaster.

At the conclusion of Hansel and Gretel, Vice Minister López Reyes was obviously impressed by the warm reception Hamilton extended to the distinguished guests and by the ballet´s superb performance. “Everything has been exquisite. I am taking back some wonderful memories of this day and of this evening. I loved the snowfall. Hamilton´s  scenery looks more beautiful than the most splendid postcard. On the other hand, the ballet was simply marvellous. I feel immensely proud of our Cuban National Ballet and I congratulate the amazing young Canadian dancers for their impeccable artistry. They can be sure that we’ll wait for their return to Havana with open arms,” said the Cuban Vice Minister of Tourism just before heading back to Cuba.

Altogether it was a most an extraordinarily successful evening. Cuban warmth momentarily melted the frigid Canadian winter night. Family Day carried on in style. Cuban and Canadian dancers once again merged in brotherly embrace. The unforgettable staging of Hansel and Gretel demonstrated that as good will and cultural ties grow in strength neither limits nor borders or language barriers can contain the human spirit. On this occasion Cuba and Hamilton have renewed the bonds that keep that spirit alive and prospering.

* Senior Scholar, York University

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