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Ballet Diplomacy

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The Washington Ballet debuted a fantastic production of Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recently.  The highlight was an awe inspiring performance by Viengsay Valdés, the Primera Bailarina of the Ballet Nacionál de Cuba

Ms. Valdés, a product of Cuba’s world renowned ballet schools, played the lead role of Kitri in a spectacular rendition of Cervantes’ classic Spanish novel.  Many in the crowd didn’t even know about the special guest, who tip-toed into DC almost unnoticed.  But the audience adored the Cuban ballerina and interrupted the show frequently with extended applause.  And out came Cuban flags with the endless standing ovation for such a rare and delightful performance.

Septime Webre, the Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet, and himself a Cuban American, deserves the credit for bringing in such a distinguished guest who transformed his production from great to extraordinary.  Although Valdés has danced in Denmark, Portugal, Russia, France, England, Spain, Turkey, Japan, Korea and most recently between the pyramids in Egypt, this was her first solo guest appearance in the United States.  It isn’t often that Cuba’s cultural superstars get to grace the great stages of the US.  And recently, American performers have also been frustrated trying to play in Cuba. 

Both countries preach the benefits of cultural exchange, but neither seems to be making it easy.  The New York Philharmonic was invited to play in Havana this month, but licenses were not granted for the orchestra’s many benefactors who made the trip possible.  The tour is now postponed indefinitely.  Meanwhile, the British Royal Ballet just completed a grand tour of Cuba with its celebrated lead Cuban dancer, Carlos Acosta.  Clearly, music and dance can help bridge the gap between the people of the US and Cuba.  We saw Colombian pop star, Juanes, put on an epic concert in Havana, which was nearly derailed by the opposition in Florida.  And afterwards, both the US and Cuba saw the event as a positive force towards reconciliation.

Watching Viengsay Valdés dance was such a lovely, apolitical experience.  If we could only have more of these exchanges, perhaps our governments would follow.