FYIDC: A Glimpse Into the Cuban Arts Festival

by Catherine Douglas Moran

The Kennedy Center will celebrate Cuban arts and culture for two weeks in May.

Havana Lyceum Orchestra (Photo Courtesy of Artist)

Cuba’s rich and diverse art scene comes alive at the Kennedy Center for a two-week festival in May featuring more than 250 Cuban and Cuban-American artists. The Kennedy Center team behind Artes de Cuba previewed the artists, shows and exhibitions last Monday, highlighting the not-to-be-missed moments.

Creating the Cuban Celebration

Celebrating the island’s music, dance, theatre, film, design, fashion, cuisine and art, the Kennedy Center will devote its indoor and outdoor spaces to the festival. “I knew – and I’ve been there many, many times – that Cuba punches way above its weight with the artists they produce. From this little island you’ve got world-class artists from every single field in film, in music, in dance in theatre,” said Vice President of International Programming Alicia Adams.

Adams outlined the three-year process for curating the festival. “These festivals take a long time to plan to put together the right mix of artists to put together a program that will be authentic, that will be reflective of the Cuban sphere and at the same time that will be one that will be example to our audience in Washington, D.C.,” Adams said. “This is a festival that is about artistic engagement.” Even the logo design is done by an artist in Cuba, she added.

As for politics, Adams said the festival is about the art and people instead of the politics. “With each of these festivals we’ve had the support of the State Department because it is also their mission to have these kind of artistic exchanges no matter what is else going on in the political arena,” she said. “If we were to pay attention to what is going on politically we would never get anything done, because there is always something going on in the world. I think that it is the value of the arts—it is a great tool to bring people together and it speaks many languages.”

Kennedy Center Poster (Courtesy of the Kennedy Center.)

Events Overview

An array of artists will take center stage for the festival’s opening performance, featuring Latin Grammy Award-winning “Diva of Buena Vista Social Club” Omara Portuondo, Cubadisco Award-winning pianist Rolando Luna, the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, jazz composer Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, musician Yosvany Terry, pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Miguel Failde and Grammy-nominated Aymee Nuviola.

For dance enthusiasts, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, flamenco dancer and choreographer Irene Rodriguez, and the Malpaso Dance Theater, one of the most sought-after Cuban dance companies with a growing international profile, will perform.

Theatre lovers can watch “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant,” a post-modernist story focused on three female characters all played by male actors, and Carlos Celdran’s autobiographical “10 Million” about his adolescence in Cuba. Movie buffs can also rejoice. The celebration of Cuban film will include a selection of film posters, two documentary screenings and film festival showings selected by Ivan Giroud, president of the Havana Film Festival.

Music offerings include Latin jazz, funk and electronic music from Yissy Garcia and her group Bandancha, a piano marathon with jazz pianists Aldo Lopez Gavilan and Jorge Luis Pacheco, a performance by Haydee Milanes & Trio with guest artist Pablo Milanes and a collaborative musical performance with Grammy-nominated Aymee Nuviola and saxophonist Dr. Ed Calle. The Havana Lyceum Orchestra with soloists Ulises Hernandez on piano and Ali Arango on guitar will perform music by Cuban-born composers. More performances include the Lopez-Nussa FamilyLos Van Van, and Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.

Jose Parla Studio in Brooklyn, New York (Photo Courtesy of artist.)

Free Fun

The free installations – no tickets required – will feature art by Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo, Roberto Diago, Jose Parla, Emilio Perez and Esterio Segura. Director of International Programming Gilda Almeida said that some of the artists are creating new works for the festival, including “legends from Cuba” Fabelo and Mendive. “Mendive pretty much bases his work in the African roots in Cuba, and Fabelo is more about installations, and he uses day to day materials and recycles them in kind of irony in his work,” she said.

Eleven costumes made with natural fibers by designer Celia Ledon will be displayed in the Atrium. She uses unconventional materials like film tapes, trash bags and tops of soda cans to make her creations. Fashionistas can look forward to the free Arte Y Moda Fashion Show on May 14 featuring Cuban designers.

The free 6 p.m. Millennium Stage performances will feature Cuban and Cuban-American artists for the festival’s duration. The programming includes the fashion show and a dance class the day prior beginning at 5 p.m. on May 13.

The Terrace Gallery will transform into the Cubana Club, featuring one of two installations visual artist Roberto Diago will create for the festival, and have performances with cocktail tastings in a space filled with photographs of Cuban and American musicians. Stay late for the “Noches Cubanas” every Thursday and Friday starting at 9:30 p.m. for free live entertainment with one of more of the artists performing during the festival.

Artes de Cuba will be at the Kennedy Center from May 8 to May 20.

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