Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

Political times uncertain but the Straz still hopes to land Cuban ballet

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Alicia Alonso is considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, and the Cuban National Ballet company she founded in 1959 remains one of the best in the world.

But Cold War tensions between Alonso's nation and the United States have kept the Cuban dancer and her company from performing in Tampa.

At age 94, the prospect of an Alonso plie or arabesque on a local stage has long since passed.

However, with relations between the United States and Cuba normalizing under President Barack Obama — even as the world awaits President-elect Donald Trump's take on relations with the island nation — Alonso might still walk on stage alongside her Cuban National Ballet.

A 26-member delegation representing the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, including its namesake David Straz, were in Havana for five days earlier this month seeking to add to the center's ongoing Cuban programming.

They returned to Tampa hoping that the Cuban National Ballet might perform here in the 2017-2018 season.

"We have been working on this for almost two years," said Georgiana Young, chief programming and marketing officer for the Straz. "We met with their director in Havana. We are now in the final phase and hopeful. This would be a really big deal."

Count Keith Arsenault, a longtime theater producer, as one of those excited about the possibility of watching the iconic ballet company.

"I believe this would be a huge step forward in cementing the renewed historic cultural partnership between Tampa and Havana," Arsenault said. "I'm looking forward to their arrival."

Meantime, the Cuban programming that began this year at the Straz continues at 4 p.m. Sunday with a performance by the Havana Cuba All-Stars, an 11-piece ensemble that specializes in son music.

Then in March, the Straz will welcome Tiempo Libre. Known for its mix of jazz, son and timba, the Cuban music group has been nominated for three Grammys.

"Our commitment to bringing the Cuban culture to Tampa predates this," Young said, speaking of this month's meetings in Havana that Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation facilitated. "Now we hope to amp it up more."

Of course, any future connections between Cuba and Tampa hinge on what's next from President-elect Trump.

During the election, he announced he would undo Obama's policies geared toward normalizing relations with Cuba.

Young said she hopes a cultural exchange, at least, will continue.

She recalled a time earlier this the year when the island nation's Habana Compás Dance, akin to the Broadway show Stomp with a Cuban twist, performed at the Straz.

"It was one of those magical nights of theater where people were hearing the music of their youth and seeing their culture on stage," Young said. "It was amazing. We want to do that more."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3320. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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