Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

6/1/2014 - 5/31/2015

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Cuban Ballet, Cosmopolitan Dancers, and Nationalist Gestures: A Study in Ballet and Globalization

FAIN: FB-57615-14

Lester Tome
Smith College (Northampton, MA 01060-2916)

My study of ballet in Cuba is an effort toward writing a global history of the art. It documents the history of the Cuban ballet since the 1960s and elucidates how local dancers have adapted ballet, an art commonly equated with European culture, social elites, white bodies and homosexuality, to the ideology of a nationalist proletarian regime that has promoted racial democracy and homophobic discourse. It examines the aesthetics of choreography that integrates Afro-Cuban folklore, and of a dancing style that reflects the musical and expressive sensibilities of Cuban culture. Also, it analyzes how local dancers contest alleged notions of a center and a periphery in the international ballet establishment. This research illuminates the intersection between ballet, culture and politics; explains cosmopolitan, nationalist and postcolonial trends in Cuba's cultural production; and contributes knowledge of the history and transformation of ballet beyond European and Euro-American contexts.

Media Coverage

Why Cuban Ballet Dancers Risk Defecting (Media Coverage)
Publication: The Morning Edition, NPR
Date: 6/14/2014

Associated Products

The Racial Other’s Dancing Body in El milagro de anaquillé (1927): Avant-Garde Ballet and Ethnography of Afro-Cuban Performance (Article)
Title: The Racial Other’s Dancing Body in El milagro de anaquillé (1927): Avant-Garde Ballet and Ethnography of Afro-Cuban Performance
Author: Lester Tome
Abstract: El milagro de anaquillé (1927), a ballet project with libretto by Alejo Carpentier and music by Amadeo Roldán, originated at the intersection of avant-garde art, afrocubanismo, and ethnography. Inspired by the aesthetic experimentation of Les Ballets Russes and Les Ballets Suédois in Europe, Carpentier and Roldán adopted ballet as a vehicle for introducing avant-garde trends in Cuba. Their work referenced two revolutionary ballets: Rite of Spring and, more importantly, Parade. Seeking to restage an Abakuá ritual, this project illustrated the artistic output of afrocubanismo as well as the movement's ethnographic approach to the study of black culture. The libretto, which depicted the conflict between a US filmmaker and a group of Abakuá celebrants, critiqued the colonialist caricatures of the racial other's dancing body in cinema and ballet. In doing so, it contributed to a concurrent repudiation of colonialist films in Latin American intellectual circles. Amid pivotal changes in cultural anthropology, the libretto also prefigured the practice of ethnographic reflexivity by alluding to the ideological entanglement of anthropology and coloniality. It obliquely represented the lopsided interactions—mediated by class, race, and education—between ethnographers and subjects. To formulate such political messages, Milagro made adept use of caricature, irony, metatheatricality, nonrealist representation, and other techniques from the avant-garde tool kit for critical interrogation of reality.
Year: 2018
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Cuban Studies

Swans in Sugarcane Fields: Proletarian Ballet Dancers and the Cuban Revolution’s Industrious New Man (Article)
Title: Swans in Sugarcane Fields: Proletarian Ballet Dancers and the Cuban Revolution’s Industrious New Man
Author: Lester Tome
Abstract: In the 1960s, the initial decade of the Cuban Revolution, policies of proletarianization of culture intersected an economic model built upon the heroic labor of the New Man—the ideal revolutionary and communist worker. Adapting the practice of ballet to this Marxist context, ballet dancers took their art to the working classes through popular performances and outreach events in farms and factories. Given the centrality of manual work to the Revolution’s ideology, dancers drew upon their own physical labor both in ballet and agriculture to establish an even stronger association with the working classes and embody the New Man’s morality. Known for their strict work ethic, Alicia Alonso and other baller dancers became public examples of hard work for the nation—one way of fulfilling the politico-pedagogical role that the state expected from artists. At the same time, media representations of female dancers’ labor enabled formulations of the New Man’s gendered counterpart: the New Woman.
Year: 2017
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Dance Research Journal