Lester Tomé, noted ballet scholar, discusses esthetics, sensuality in Cuban National Ballet

Responding to a special invitation issued by Belma Gurdil-Diamante (CEO, Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble), Lester Tomé, eminent art critic and professor of dance history and theory at various US Universities, will arrive in Canada to deliver a Ballet talk and a Ballet Conference on a subject most dear to his heart and mind.
Professor Tomé will deliver two talks at two different venues honouring Cuba’s Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, founder and artistic director of the Cuban National Ballet when Madame Alonso pays a return visit to Canada in December.
His first Ballet Talk is scheduled on Tuesday, December 8, and will take place an hour before the 7:00 PM performance of An Evening with the Stars of the Cuban National Ballet in Hammerson Hall, Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Drive, Mississauga, Ontario.
The Ballet Talk features a Question and Answer format moderated by Michael Crabb, the distinguished Toronto Star art critic and it is free to the public with admission to the evening’s performance. Reservations for the Ballet talk and performance can be made by calling (905) 306-6000; or 1-888-805-8888 or by contacting lac.boxoffice@livingsarts.on.ca


Professor Tomé will give a second Magisterial Conference on “Sensuality in motion: Musicality as a Defining Element of the Cuban Ballet.” This conference will be held on December 9, 2009 at 5:00 PM in the Studio Theatre, Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario. Attendance to the event is free however reservations are required. Call (905) 512-1453.

Professor Tomé will focus on the role of musicality in Alicia Alonso’s individual style and her representation of a Cuban cultural identity in ballet, drawing on examples from Alonso’s most masterful interpretations of the classic ballets Giselle, Swan Lake and Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.  

Professor Lester Tomé teaches at Smith College and at the Five College Dance Department, which comprises Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire Colleges and the University of Massachussets at Armherst. He previously taught at Bryn Mawr College, Temple University and the University of the Arts.

According to Professor Tomé “Throughout her long career, Alonso received international praise for her sophisticated sense of musicality. Her dynamic use of contrasting tempos and the flowing legato of her movements were tools in her eloquent characterization of the title roles in Giselle and Swan Lake.

Alonso has explained her musicality as an intrinsic aspect of her Cuban culture, which synthesizes the rich musical traditions of Africa and Spain. For the ballerina, such heightened sense of musicality has been one of the defining elements in the aesthetics of the Cuban ballet, a feature that distinguishes Cuban dancers from their international peers. She claims that she and her Cuban disciples relate to the music sensually, following the music rather than the rhythm.

Professor Tomé became acquainted with the Cuban ballet in Havana, where he worked as a dance critic for four years for CMBF-Radio Musical National. Since then, he has researched the figure of Alicia Alonso and the history of the Cuban ballet. At the moment he is working on the final chapter of his PhD dissertation, which analyzes Alonso’s formulation of a Cuban cultural identity in ballet, at the intersection of cosmopolitan, postcolonial and nationalist forces in the Island.

After leaving Cuba, he moved to Santiago, Chile, where he became a dance critic for the prestigious newspaper El Mercurio. In this daily, he published in-depth interviews of leading choreographers and dancers such Alicia Alonso, Paul Taylor, Glenn Tetley, Moses Pendleton, David Parsons, Damien Woetzel, Julie Kent, Svetlana Zakharova and Paloma Herrera to name just a few. He was also a South Cone correspondent for Dance Magazine, reviewing performances in Chile and Argentine. In 2001 he relocated to Philadelphia.

His research and dance criticism have appeared in Ballet (Cuba), ArteBallet (Chile), Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana (Spain) and the Durnham Herald-Sun (US), among other publications. Also he has been a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Ballet (London, 2007), the Dictionary of American Philosophers (New York, 2005) and Alicia Alonso’s Dialogos con la Danza (Mexico, 2004). Between 2003 and 2006 Professor Tomé wrote the program notes for the Ballet de Santiago, in Chile.

In 2004, Professor Tomé was a fellow of the New York Times Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts at the American Dance Festival’s Institute for Dance Criticism, at Duke University. He regularly presents his research in international conferences of the Society of Dance History and the Latin American Studies Association.

Professor Tomé´s conferences promise a rare insight for the lovers of Alicia Alonso’s artistry and of the Cuban National Ballet. For Canadian ballet aficionados and fans of the wealth of expressions of the Cuban culture, the conferences offer a unique opportunity to listen from a scholar on the subject about the Cuban diva’s creativity and to participate on this well-deserved tribute to Madame Alonso and to her extraordinary artistry and phenomenal achievement of placing and maintaining the Cuban National Ballet amongst the top five ballet companies of the world.  

*Senior Scholar, Universidad de York

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