Cuba is flush with artistic richness but because of travel limitations over the years, few Americans have been able to experience the abundance of great painters and performing artists that live and work just 103 miles from the U.S.
The Kennedy Center is looking to change that with a special two-week festival entitled, “Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World,” which will showcase some of the best artists from the island archipelago in the sun.
“This has been percolating for quite a long time. It was about 20 years ago that I went and met many artists and got to see many performances and was struck by the talent that existed on that island,” says Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s VP of international programming and the festival curator. “For such a little island, my god, what a collection of artists who are all so extraordinary!
Any Cuban artist can come to the U.S. with a proper visa, but the challenge today is that the embassy in Havana has been reduced to a skeleton staff so it’s not easy to get them. Adams and her team has been working feverishly to make this happen and she’s thrilled with the results.
The festival opens on May 8 with a concert featuring Latin Grammy Award–winning “Omara Portuondo, Grammy-nominated Aymée Nuviola, the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, jazz composer Aldo López-Gavilán, acclaimed composer Yosvany Terry, pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco, the renowned Orquesta Miguel Faílde and multi-award winning, classical guitarist Alí Arango.
Theater fans will enjoy Teatro El Público’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by noted director Carlos Díaz, which plays May 16-17. The play features three female characters played by male actors.
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant follows arrogant fashion designer Petra Von Kant who is prone to mistreating her secretary, maid, and co-designer, all the while falling in love with an icy young beauty who wants to be a model.
“The last time they were here was a couple of years ago as part of World Stages, and this one is a very interesting story for them to tell,” Adams says. “It’s very Shakespearean-like with the men taking on the roles of women.”
Then there’s Argos Teatro’s 10 Million, an autobiographical theater piece by Carlos Celdrán, that depicts his experience as a child and adolescent in Cuba, navigating his relationship with his parents. “This is a typical immigrant story where it shows how politics does divide a family when part of the family moves to the U.S.,” Adams says. The show will be staged May 19-20. The show features Argos Teatro company members Caleb Casas, Daniel Romero, Maridelmis Marín, and Waldo Franco.
Dance fans will be enthralled with two programs by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba: Don Quixote May 29-30 and Giselle May 31 to June 3.
“It will be the 40th anniversary of the company’s debut in the U.S., and that took place right here at the Kennedy Center, so it will be a very special occasion. Adams says. “D.C. is the only place that [artistic director] Alicia Alonso will be during their tour.”
Other dance events include performances by Malpaso Dance Company May 11-12 and flamenco dancer Irene Rodriquez on May 15.
Artes de Cuba extends beyond the performances, with free exhibitions and 12 free performances on the Millennium Stage. The opening night performance will be by Diva of Buena Vista Social Club.
“We will also have a collection of vintage cars—the one’s you see all the time in Cuba—in one of the art pieces called “Hybrid of a Chrysler” on the River Plaza side of the Kennedy Center on display,” Adams says. The piece was done by artist Esterio Segura, known for using humorous imagery to address socially and politically charged themes from Cuban history.
There’s also plenty of music, film and visual arts exhibitions as part of the festival.
“These are amazing artists that we don’t get to see enough of, if at all, and here is one-stop shopping where you can come to the Kennedy Center and see so much and take in so much about Cuban art and culture,” Adams says. “It’s a young culture in so many ways; the music is so upbeat and part of the DNA of American music. It’s a great time and it’s great art.”
For a full list of events, visit https://cms.kennedy-center.org/festivals/cuba/events.