Here’s a review by Contacto magazine of Roca’s highly-praised new book. The author will be at CUNY’s Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies on Friday February 4, 2011, 4:30pm to discuss his book. The Bildner Center is at CUNY’s Graducate Center, Room C198, 365 Fifth Avenue @ 34th Street in New York City.
Accordin to Mikhail Baryshnikov, in his foreword to Octavio Roca’s new Cuban Ballet, “It’s impossible not to notice when a Cuban dancer walks into the studio.” He is right, and the world is taking note as wave after wave of Cuban dancers and teachers are exerting a powerful influence on American and world dance. Their presence brings to mind the profound impact Russian dancers brought to the West as their defections mounted in the dusk of the Soviet empire.
These Cuban dancers are creating for the world the beauty they too often cannot make in their homeland. The The unique style of the Cuban School of Ballet today is galvanizing the world of dance in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and beyond. The growing diaspora of Cuban defectors everywhere is giving the tropical island a cultural importance that is miraculously disproportionate to its size.
The entire Cuban population of eleven million, after all, could fit comfortably in greater Moscow, London, or New York. These Cuban dancers, often far from their homeland and more distinctly Cuban for it, say with every step that, “No, you will not take Cuba away from me.” Even more than in the case of Cuba’s musical or literary traditions, exile has meant a regeneration and revitalization of Cuban ballet and its rich tradition. Cuban Ballet is a tale of revolution in a country as well as in ballet. It is a tale of a people’s tragedy and hope, of dance and of life. In Octavio Roca’s hands, these dancers’ stories reads like a novel that happens to be true.
The product of years of research and a lifetime of commitment to Cuban arts and culture, Octavio Roca’s beautifully illustrated book explores the history of Cuban ballet starting with the life and career of the indomitable Alicia Alonso, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Her voice resounds in the book, as do those of today’s Lorena Feijóo and Lorna Feijóo, Joan Boada, José Manuel Carreño, Taras Domitro, Rolando Sarabia, and Carlos Acosta, among others. The book is rich in anecdotes, often heartbreaking in its honesty. Yet Cuban Ballet is not mere reportage, but rather it is a feat of challenging, lucid criticism. There is of course not a little irony in that the Cuban School of Ballet, essentially invented and refined by one of Fidel Castro’s strongest cultural supporters, is now being spread all over the world by Cuban artists who are fleeing Castro’s regime. One of the most rewarding aspects of Cuban Ballet is the insights it grants into the creation of art in circumstances no one should have to endure. With equal parts of affection, clarity and wit, Octavio Roca offers up a cultural history that goes beyond the world of dance.
Alicia Alonso writes in her foreword that “Octavio Roca, whom I have known for decades and who has known us his whole life…, has seen our dancers at home and abroad as well as on tour and with other companies. For me, his critical writing on dance carries a unique sensitivity to an art for he clearly loves.”
“I know that Octavio Roca’s love of Cuba is as profound as his knowledge of ballet,” writes Mikhail Baryshnikov, “and I know this book is from his heart.”
Octavio Roca has been music and dance critic for The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Miami New Times. He wrote Scotto, More Than A Diva, and his works for the stage include commissioned translations of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, Mascagni’s Our Friend Fritz, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, and Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, as well as the original libretto for Lucia Hwong’s oratorio The Unwelcome Rhythm of Your Pulse. He studied at Emory University and Georgetown University, has taught philosophy at the University of Miami and Barry University, has lectured on the arts at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Catalan Theater Institute of the University of Barcelona, and is now chair of the Arts and Philosophy Department at Miami Dade College. He was born in Havana and presently lives in Miami Beach, where he used to be a lifeguard a while back.
Cuban Ballet was released on September 1, 2010. Check at Amazon.com
For the original review go to http://www.contactomagazine.com/articles/cubanballet0810.htm