Guest post by Jan Garvey
It’s not a long flight from Toronto to Cuba, but it is a world away. As a ballet teacher, I’m on a mission with a friend to fully immerse myself in the biennial International Dance Festival for its entire nine days – watching classes, rehearsals and about 33 international dance company performances in the evenings. After a bus ride into the old city of Havana, we settle into our hotel, the Sevilla, which is a bit weatherworn but has fabulous bones – soaring ceilings, huge shuttered windows, courtyards which channel the breeze brilliantly...and slow quirky elevators, bathroom fixtures which need to be coaxed and lukewarm heat from the hairdryer and lukewarm cold from the mini-fridge. The building is definitely from another century, and, sure enough, there are historical pictures on the walls with successive shots of the hotel front from the early 1900’s. Together they are a time capsule with a changing parade of people and vehicles from each decade since – covering over one hundred years!
When we discover our busy schedule ahead of us, we realize we will have to give up dinner each day to fit it all in – and we agree to have a big breakfast and a substantial lunch in the mid-afternoon, and see how that works. It worked well, and conveniently, we are walking distance to the main venues we will be frequenting – the Gran Teatro and the Escuela de Ballet Nacional de Cuba. In fact the Prado, the promenade that we take every evening to and from the Gran Teatro, is a study itself in the Cuban sensibility; artists with their kiosks, families, kids on skateboards, dogs running free, and music, always. Interestingly, no neon lights anywhere – just lovely lampposts from another age that grace the so-civilized pedestrian walkway. The weather varies between warm and hot; sometimes it rains but mostly not. It’s usually a passing shower or sometimes stronger than that, with high winds that stop everyone briefly while waiting it out under the colonnade of a nearby building, then we all carry on our way, freshened up a little, blinking in the bright sunshine. It’s coming to the end of the rainy season here in Cuba and people are starting to dress for winter. Long pants and long sleeves – while we Canadians are basking in the perfect mid-twenty degree days.
We brought along dance supplies for the Escuela, including a generous donation from Pegasus Dance Studios, and they were well-received; we only wish we could have brought pointe shoes, which are difficult to keep in supply. We were graciously invited to observe classes by the School Director, and after a private audience and discussion, we try to work out a schedule which allows us to observe all school levels while also managing to go to the rehearsals and company classes we don’t want to miss, taking place in other theatres. One of the housemothers helps us find our way to the different studios, until we feel at home. The studios are all a good size with huge open air windows and each with a raised floor that looks improvised over the solid flooring underneath, but is securely built. There are rolled-out dance floor coverings overlaid, with a lot of worn tape at the seams. We settle in to do some detective work - to observe just what happens in the early training - and we are not disappointed! As always, the world over, there is a slow buildup of the technique, level by level, as well as a lovely sense of presentation even among the youngest dancers. The Escuela conducts classes in three cities in Cuba; Holguin, Camaguey and Havana, and success in one of these, leading to a career in the company can elevate an entire family out of poverty. Cuba is not a rich country however they do claim to take care of their citizens with free schooling, health care and even food rations. The people are stoic and we see a strong work ethic and sense of discipline among the students. We spent time with a local family whose two sons now have a career in ballet and they would have it no other way. Life in Cuba is complicated but there is no doubt about the good training seen in the Escuela here.
Read Part Two next week!
Guest author - Jan Garvey
Jan Garvey trained in Ottawa originally and is a graduate of Ryerson Theatre School (Dance). She became a registered Royal Academy of Dance teacher in 1976 and also holds teaching qualifications in ISTD Modern and National Dance. She has had an extensive teaching career in the GTA and was appointed National Director/Canada of the Royal Academy of Dance in 1988. This afforded the opportunity to work nation-wide as well as internationally to facilitate all aspects of the RAD mandate to students in training as well as the certification of dance teachers worldwide. She led a panel of dance experts during the revision of Ontario’s high school curriculum, which resulted in high school credits for private dance education, a model which has now been adopted in other provinces. Ms Garvey served on the Advisory Panel at Ryerson University which accomplished the introduction of a dance degree program at Ryerson University. She has collaborated with studios, companies and teaching institutions to raise the profile of, as well as the regulation of professional teachers of classical ballet throughout her career and remains involved to this day. She is a Board member of the Heliconian Club for Women in the Arts and recently created a Dance Artist in Residence program there. She devotes much of her time to her passion for teaching classical ballet as well as ballroom dance.