Report from Cuba

Last week, Tom Gold Dance performed at the Cuban International Ballet Festival. The NYC-based pickup troupe includes a number of top New York City Ballet dancers, including Abi Stafford, who writes about the trip here.


Sunday, October 28
This evening we flew to Havana to perform Apollo, Twyla Tharp's Junk Duet, and Tom Gold's Gershwin Preludes and Tango Fantasy with Tom Gold Dance in the 23rd International Ballet Festival. Five of us dancers traveled today along with Tom and Willy Burmann, a tremendous teacher at Steps on Broadway. Tom brings Willy along when TGD tours to teach warm-ups, coach the dancers, and to generally be a supportive presence. Four more dancers are scheduled to arrive Tuesday morning—we they won’t be stranded by Hurricane Sandy. Tonight we went to a party thrown for all the dancers in the festival. Alicia Alonso was there, and when Tom was introduced to her, she said “Bellas artes.” We called it a night at about 12:30. Time to rest. My lower back is a bit stiff from flying and I'm eager to get dancing and moving.

Monday, October 29
This morning we took taxis to Old Havana and spent the morning walking around the old buildings and shops. I was thrilled to see NY-style bookstands on the street with English copies of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea; on Friday we're going to visit the house where he lived for 20 years. While driving along the sea wall, waves were splashing over onto the street. Remnants of Sandy, I'd imagine. Before Willy's 3 pm class at the school for the National Ballet of Cuba, Tom came up with a Plan B should one of the dancers not make it because of closed airports. (Simone Messmer, who dances with ABT, is in Spain at the moment and must fly through NYC.) I donned my ballet mistress cap and taught Simone's part in Gershwin to Gretchen Smith, with help from her partner Stephen Hanna. The ballet is a charming pas de deux, with brilliant footwork, sassy movements and slow, luxurious adagio steps. It's one of my favorite pas de deuxs to dance. Tom simultaneously taught Amanda Hankes three new sections in Tango. She already has her own role in the ballet, but can dance Simone’s parts on top of hers. Gretchen and Amanda were pros, or course. I can’t believe how fast they learned everything. Amanda had videotaped Tango off her computer at home by holding her IPhone up to the screen in case anyone needed to see it; lucky for her! After rehearsal, we got word that Simone officially could not find a way to Cuba. Happily, everyone was already two steps ahead!

Tuesday, October 30
Uh-oh. Some dancers are having some terrible stomach issues. Amanda spent much of rehearsal bent over and Tom felt feverish. Perhaps it was the ice from our mojitios last night? The three other dancers from our group made it this morning. We had studio space again and put together Tango, (which involves all the dancers) and Apollo before running out of time. Robbie Fairchild and I haven’t rehearsed Junk Duet for a couple weeks now. The only worry is whether my stamina will be up to par. Junk Duet is quite hard, but it’s difficult in a way that makes me feel excited for the challenge. The choreography for the female has many, many pirouettes so I like to think that if I mess up one, I get to try again on the next…and then there’s another one…and so on and so forth. I can’t believe the first show is tomorrow! At dinner tonight I filled up on papaya and pineapple—someone said they are good for inflammation. But I’m craving apples. And my daily Dunkin’ Donuts.     

Wednesday, October 31
Uh-oh again. Stephen came to breakfast and said he was sick all last night. But he pushed through. Tonight was our first performance and this morning was our first time on the stage of the beautiful Mella Theater. Today was a dance marathon: We began with class at 10 and rehearsed until close to 2:30. Rehearsal was hard so we popped Advil and B 12 vitamins (for energy) before the show. The stool for Apollo has two legs that are a bit unstable; it would be quite embarrassing for Adrian Danchig-Waring if the stool fell out from underneath him. That didn’t happen, but I did trip while bourreeing out for Apollo. I thought “Well, that was a good start, Abi!” But the rest of the ballet went quite well. Next on the program was Gershwin, followed by Junk. For Junk, the taped music must begins when Robbie and I start moving. One of the first steps is a flip over backwards for the girl, essentially like a cartwheel, but the guy does all the work. We started dancing, the music didn’t start…the music didn’t start…then the first chords of Gershwin played. There was a moment of panic before Robbie whispered to me, “Let’s go back to the beginning.” The right music started before we got back to our places and Robbie and I weren’t quite on the same page. He managed to flip me over again without any help from me because I was trying to move on to the next step. It got my adrenaline pumping, to say the least! After a few chaotic moments, we picked up the choreography, but afterwards Tom said that it actually looked fine because we both kept moving. Gotta roll with those punches! By the end of Tango, we all were beat. Adrian was so tired that he said he was seeing stars. It was all worth it, though. The audience was lovely, amazing and enthusiastic. They went wild for Tango. There is a particularly exciting “boys dance” for Adrian, Robbie and Stephen. The applause was so extended afterwards that we could barely hear the music to begin the finale. At the very end, the audience treated us to a standing ovation. Several of the stagehands asked us girls for single roses from the bouquets that we received during bows. We decided flowers must be a bit expensive here and were happy to comply. When leaving the theater, a woman recognized Adrian and said, “Apollo! Apollo!” Mind you, in Spanish the “double LL” is pronounced “yo.” So, she was saying, “Apo-yo.” And the Spanish word “pollo” (or po-yo) means chicken, so we decided that Adrian must have reminded her of a chicken!  Afterwards we ate dinner while donning Halloween masks. Might as well bring a bit of Halloween to Cuba!

Thursday, November 1
I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I have many sore muscles in strangest of places. Amanda and I have sore quads from Apollo and Adrian said that his calves won’t stop cramping. We got some great compliments from people who saw the show last night while eating breakfast in the hotel.  We repeated our show this evening but I felt that my performance was not quite as good as last night. Willy, however, informed us that it looked better. He said that the energy was higher which might have happened because we were more tired and had to push harder. He said, “You all looked wonderful” and when we answered with, “It didn’t feel as good,” he said, “Now, I didn’t ask you how it felt. I’m telling you how it looked!” An important distinction, I’m sure. After our performance, we headed to the National Theater to watch the National Ballet of Cuba perform. The program had a handful of pas de deuxs, followed by an opera by Handel. My favorite pas de deux was by Eduardo Blanco. The girl’s name was Yanela, I believe. She was clean, graceful and beautiful to watch. Alicia Alonso choreographed a new ballet which was a lovely pas de deux set in a studio (the set consisted of two ballet barres and a mirror) with a trio of musicians onstage. It reminded me a bit of Afternoon of a Faun. We were thrilled. Tomorrow we are visiting the Hemingway House and spending the rest of the day at the beach. Then home to New York on Saturday. I can’t believe how fast this trip went—and I can’t wait to come back!

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