Iconic Ballet Nacional de Cuba ballet will perform at Straz in May

Ballet Nacional de Cuba, one of the world’s top companies, will perform at the Straz in May. Courtesy of Carlos Quezada

Besides fine tobacco, Ballet Nacional de Cuba is considered by many to be the island nation’s most distinctive export.

Tampa Bay-area cigar aficionados can still only purchase Cuban stogies by traveling to the socialist country, but next year, for the first time in 15 years, local performing arts fans need only take a short trip to enjoy the Cuban ballet company.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba will perform a rendition of the two-act romance Giselle at 8 p.m. May 23 in Morsani Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

“Bringing Ballet Nacional de Cuba to the Straz Center is an enormous cultural victory for everyone in this area who loves the performing arts and wants to experience the very best that’s out there,” Straz Center CEO Judy Lisi said in a news release.

Tickets from $29.75-$79.75 go on sale Aug. 25.

In addition to the show, the ballet company will spend May 22 holding master classes. Details will be released later.

Still unknown is whether the company’s founder Alicia Alonso, considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, will be at the show.

At 96, Alonso is retired as a dancer, but if the iconic performer even walked on stage for a bow, it would be an enormous honor, Lisi told the Tampa Bay Times.

“It will all depend on her ability at the time,” Lisi said. “What will her health be like?”

The Straz Center engagement is one of just five planned by Ballet Nacional de Cuba in the United States during 2018. The others include the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

Because of historic ties to Cuba, Tampa — not New York City or Miami — had long been the destination of choice for Cuba’s top musical and theatrical talent.

In the late 1800s, the community hosted the first major wave of Cuban immigrants to the United States.

When Fidel Castro rose to power, and the United States instituted a travel and trade embargo, the art exchange ceased for decades — with some exceptions.

In 2003, the Cuban National Ballet performed at the Straz Center. Starting in 2006, the Gasparilla International Film Festival screened movies made in Cuba. And in 2012, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba performed in Tampa.

But it wasn’t until President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba in 2014 that the island’s top entertainers returned as a regular part of Tampa’s schedule.

Cuba’s Carlos Varela, often compared to Bob Dylan, and pop star Laritza Bacallao have been part of the Gasparilla Music Festival in recent years.

And Habana Compás Dance, a version of the Broadway show Stomp, performed at the Straz Center last year.

Booking the ballet company in Tampa is the result of a three-year effort that began in 2015 when a visitor from Cuba’s Ministry of Culture toured the Straz Center.

The effort culminated last November with a visit to Havana by a 26-member delegation representing the Straz Center. Among the delegation was the center’s namesake, David A. Straz Jr., friends with high-level Cuban government officials.

His presence helped close the deal.

“As someone who is devoted to the arts and supports artistic excellence for Tampa and as someone fond of Cuban culture,” Straz said in a news release, “facilitating the performance of Ballet Nacional de Cuba is a dream come true.”

Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times

August 16, 2017

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