Cuban Dancers, Si

By Debra Cash

Blame Alicia Alonso for reinforcing her own senseless Cuban embargo. The famed (and literally blind) dramatic ballerina who is the fountainhead of Cuban ballet and an official Friend of Fidel seems to have felt that although she made her own performing career in the United States the Cuban “dance drain” of ballet stars was leaving her own company, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, high and dry. When young star Rolando Sarabia applied for a visa to dance with Boston Ballet in 2003, permission was quashed from the Cuban side.

So Rolando copied his younger brother Daniel’s moves. He defected from Cuba this summer by walking across the Mexican border. Expect him to start dancing as a principal in Boston Ballet – joining Daniel, now in rehearsals as a corps de ballet member at Boston Ballet — as soon as his legal status is settled. That, however, could take quite a while.

Rolando Sarabia

BB artistic director Mikko Nissinen and executive director Valerie Wilder were out of town this week but in a phone conversation General Manager David Tompkins explained “At such time he is able to be legally employed [in the United States] we’re attempting to be first in line [to hire him]. The visa can take 75 days to 90 days or it can take three years. There is no body you can appeal to, and since 9-11, it’s gotten much more difficult to do. I’ve done artist visas for 20 years. I can submit two visas on the same day and they can get approved months apart.” The company’s dealing with the INS are squeaky clean, Tompkins says. (In full disclosure, I once wrote a letter at the request of a foreign-born, but not Cuban, Boston Ballet dancer, confirming that I felt this dancer was deserving of a U.S. work permit. That permit was granted.)

The patchwork situation for Cuban ballet dancers depends on shifting relations between various countries and apparently on Alonso’s calculations about whether she can bear to have a given dancer leave her orbit. Married Boston Ballet dancers Lorna Feijóo and Nelson Madrigal had an arrangement with Ballet Nacional de Cuba that they could continue to return to the company and perform. (Lorna’s sister Lorena dances with the San Francisco Ballet and guested in Boston in a memorable sisters-as-swans “Swan Lake.”) Tompkins explains that “They are in green card process… once you apply for [that] status you are frozen to go anywhere,” until the process is complete.

American Ballet Theatre star Jose Manuel Carreño and Carlos Acosta, who dances with both ABT and the Royal Ballet, arranged to dance as guests with their home troupe in Havana simultaneous with building their international careers. According to his website and a recent story in the New York Times, Acosta’s videotaped performances are broadcast on Cuban television. Boston Ballet’s other Cuban principal dancer, Reyneris Reyes, was able to get a standard visa because he had joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, which of course is not party to the Cuban embargo.

Ironically, while Rolando is still listed on the Ballet Nacional website, Boston Ballet cannot file any papers on his behalf because he has claimed political asylum. He’ll be guesting in a Miami gala this month and we can expect the ballet-watchers of the world to be on hand to see the latest example of the futility of keeping art and artists locked inside arbitrary national borders.

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