In Cuba, the ballet is something of a national treasure. The dancers recruited into Alicia Alonso’s storied company Ballet Nacional de Cuba, for example, reportedly make more money than doctors and enjoy a level of fandom reserved only for pop stars in the United States. The Cuban government not only funds ballet training but also subsidizes tickets to ballet performances. Devotees of Cuban dance like to say the adoration and skill is in their DNA.
“You can find anyone in the street here in Havana who can dance as well as most professionals, ” Cuba’s Ballet Rakatan choreographer Nilda Guerra told The Guardian.
And in a country historically associated with machismo, it’s not just females enjoying the allure of ballet. “Before, ballet in Cuba was a marginalized extravagance, ” the New York Times wrote in 2005. “Now, men in one of the world’s most macho countries clamor to put on dancing tights.” Cuban-born Royal Ballet dancer Carlos Acosta reiterates the sentiment: “I wanted to play football and I was like this reckless child. But when I assured the professionals of the National Ballet School of Cuba perform for the first time, it changed my life forever.”
Photographer Omar Robles has long been entranced by the country’s legacy of dance. He recently traveled to Cuba to explore the men and women who have built ballet such a staple of their lives.
“Over the past two years I’ve dedicated my work almost exclusively to photographing ballet dancers within urban environment, ” Robles wrote on his blog. “Cuba has one of the top ranked ballet companies, thus why I dreamt of visiting the island for a long time. Their dancers are just some of the best dancers in the world. Perhaps it is because motion and rhythm runs in their Afro-Caribbean blood, but most likely it is due to the Russian school of training which is part of their heritage.”
The resulting photograph, featured on his Instagram, capture some of Cuba’s best talent jumping, twiddling and stretching in the street, a beautiful and even surreal glimpse of just how deeply rooted Cuban ballet is. Below is a brief interview with Robles on how he came to photography and how his trip to Cuba impacted his work.
This is probably one of my favorite images from my shoots in Cuba. While I was shooting Daniela Cabrera, this elderly woman get really close to her and only stood there watching her for the longest hour. I’m almost certain she didn’t even notice me shooting. It seemed as if she was reminiscing about her own youth. As she stood, I moved back to adjust my composition and include her into the frame. #OZR_Dance ||# || #Cuba
I was born in Puerto Rico August 1980. I moved to the U.S. in 2011, first to Chicago then to NYC in 2013. I started doing photography when I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in visual arts and communications. Photography comes within the framework of my curriculum. When I started photographing, I realized that, like mime theater, photography was an amazing nonverbal communication medium. Yet it allowed[ me] to capture fleeting emotions and tell a story for a much longer time than mime theater could.
Marceau had a lot of things to say, amongst them, he would often tell us: “Never get a mime talking, he will never shut up.” It was a joke, but what he meant to teach us from that was that as artists, we needed to be eloquent within simplicity. To be economical with our motions and to be able to elicit emotion rather than to show emotion. This was woven into my artistic DNA, and it is still the route I try to create even when I photograph.
It was about two and a half years ago. I had been building a portfolio shooting street and documentary photography. Proportion of me missed my performance background. Shooting dancers started to be a route of conciliating my performance background with my photography.
I was able to go to Cuba thanks to a award from the Bessie Foundation. I had dreamt about going there for quite some time. Historically, Cuban dancers are some of the best in the world, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to go there. At the same hour, Puerto Rico and Cuba have a strong connection.
I can only describe it as life-altering. Their doctrine and respect toward one another is incredible. Culture and art are highly valued and you can see how that makes a difference in the country’s view. In spite of all their struggles, the general atmosphere in Cuba remains optimistic. It was that optimism that stuck with me the most. The dancers have a great a sense of self-respect and pride, largely due to the country’s stance toward the arts. This also stuck with me.
Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com