Dance News
Flamenco students at Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba. Photo by Toba Singer

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba's downtown Havana studios are on a plaza where you see few tourists. A historic landmark, the building is now where 1,300 dance students learn the Cubanismo style, 30 of them in its academic program. Artistic director Lizt Alfonso trained in classical ballet at Cuba's National School of the Arts, but not endowed with what Cubans call condiciones, a "ballet body," she dreamed of putting all Cuban dance styles onstage in one evening. To critics, her project was overreaching, but Alfonso turned a deaf ear to the word "can't."

Laura Alonso, respected teacher and daughter of eponymous ballet figures Alicia and Fernando Alonso, liked her idea. Having hired Alfonso to teach, Alonso also provided her rehearsal space. Cuba's then-President Fidel Castro saw a performance, and enthusiastic, intervened to remodel the building Alfonso wanted. Besides studios, the building, with its brightly painted walls, has a costume shop, classrooms, a cafeteria, gym, recording studio and offices, and a terrace café. From LADC, specialists in dance, music, costume and stagecraft send company tours to New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

I asked Alfonso how the school is organized.

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Dance News

Lyvan Verdecia and Melissa Fernandez

When Ballet Hispánico’s Lyvan Verdecia was studying at the Cuban National Ballet School as a teenager, Martha Iris Fernandez helped him perfect his turns.

“Male dancers in Cuba are known for their turns and their jumps. For me, jumps always came naturally, but turns—not so much. So Martha would focus on turns and turns and turns, getting me to execute them at a level that made them look effortless. She would emphasize the placement of my spine and make sure I always had a high passé—things that separate the amateur from the professional.”

Martha Iris Fernandez is a classical ballet teacher at the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana.

See Ballet Hispánico tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy of Ballet Hispánico

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Havana, Cuba. Thinkstock

Teaching dance in a foreign culture can be eye-opening on many levels, for both young dancers and their teachers. We talked with three American artists about recent projects in Bali, Russia and Cuba. They spoke of the challenges and the joys, and shared helpful tips you won't likely find in travel guidebooks.

Cultural differences can make even simple decisions complicated, says Venetia Stifler of The Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago, who has organized exchanges with China, Russia and Cuba. “You can read about these things, but it doesn't hit home until you travel and experience them for yourself."

And art is a powerful messenger. “As cultures evolve around the world," Stifler says, “dance remains the universal language to bring us together."

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