I am back in Dallas after a week in Havana.It was glorious – exciting and inspiring – it was an adventure for sure. The photo above is the modern part of the city and the photo to the right, the “classic” Havana. Got back on Sunday January 17 after a nightmare travel day. More about that later – maybe – maybe better forgotten. The spring semester has begun. I taught Jazz III followed by Jazz II on Tuesday. My body was in shock. Thanks to the ORB (more about that later), I was able to work things out fairly quickly.
I connected with Zenon at the Miami airport at 11 for a 1pm flight. It was great seeing them. Linda was a bit edgy but looked very “tropical”. I still hadn’t gotten an invoice from Cuba Tours and Travel and spent two hours trying to pay my way. They let me get on the plane ( at 3:30) without figuring that out. Forty-five minutes later, we were in Havana. Hola! Havana! We got on our tour bus for what would be the first of multiple trips back and forth to down town. We were all staying at the Quinta Avenida Hotel, a four star hotel. It was quite nice and it was filled to the brim with tourists. Four stars is a stretch. Linda had no toilet seat and the smoke alarms went off regularly in the morning. I really liked my room, however. We were supposed to have a walking tour of the area but but got there too late. We had dinner reservations. The bus dropped us off at the San Cristobal Paladar, a home restaurant located in a cluttered and eclectic bottom floor home an early 20th century mansion in Centro Habana. This is what it looks like.
That’s Wynn Fricke on the left. She is an amazing choreographer and Zenon was doing a duet of hers called My Very Empty Mouth (Mi Boca Muy Vacia) on the program. The food was delicious, the atmosphere elegant and funky, the waiters were so attentive and so handsome. All in all, a great start. I went to a paladar when I was in Cuba in 2000. It was the very beginning of the Cuban government allowing a bit of free enterprise. There were lots of restrictions. In 200o, everyone who worked in the paladar had to be a family member and there was a limit of four tables. In 2016, a different story. They are whatever the owners want them to be.
Off to a get together sponsored by Osnell Delgado, the director of Malpaso Dance Company. Osnell is the Cuban choreographer commissioned by Zenon to make a new work called Home (Volviendo A Casa). It was a private bar somewhere and I had my first test of Santiago Cuba rum. It is apparently the best rum in Cuba. I had the twelve year rum and it was like cognac – delicious. It was a nice way to end the evening. Everyone introduced themselves. the Cuban dancers told their age as part of their introduction – not something any of the Americans did! Back at the hotel, my body was trashed from the day’s travels. It was a melatonin evening and I slept with three balls – the ORB, a lacrosse ball and my small “prickly” ball – heaven.
There were heavy rains overnight and lots of flooding. Our bus driver had to find alternate streets and at one point, we had to turn back because the water level was too high.
We were on our way to the Teatro Jose Marti where the performances would take place. There was a lot of talk about the stage being really small. It was just talk. There was not as much width as the dancers were used to, but it was deep and worked out great. The theater was built in 1884. It was restored and reopened in 2014. Zenon would be the first American dance company to perform there.
The theater had a huge staff. A lot of them are there to maintain and protect the space. I had one of the seats folded, sitting on the edge watching rehearsal, when I was tapped gently on the should and was asked to sit down properly. Some thing happened when I was sitting on the arm of the chair – an excellent sense of care and preservation. The rehearsal was from 9am-noon and we were taken to yet another wonderful paladar called La Moneda for lunch. It was amazing. We had to climb two very steep and narrow flights of stairs, turn left through a door and down a shorter flight of stairs to our tables. Choice of a fixed menu, all great – I had sangria, and Cuban shredded beef. A trio of three musicians showed up, two men and a very Omara Portuondo-like beautiful woman. The music was fantastic. Below are two photos of Cuba’s quintessential cars.
Another rehearsal on Wednesday, 9-1. Chanel 15, a local TV station came to film part of the rehearsal. they did an interview with Linda and short one with me. It would air in the arts segment on Friday at 5pm, just before Opening Night. Lunch afterwards at a restaurant around the corner from the theater called Los Nardos. It is very popular with Cubans, huge portions and very inexpensive. I had a delicious soup with lots of cumin and a Caesar Salad of sorts. We had dinner at a restaurant in Miramar, not far from the hotel called La Fontana. It was a restaurant as opposed to a paladar. It was OK. The paladars are the way to go.
Dress Rehearsal on Thursday. This is a picture of Jose Marti. He is a Cuban hero, a journalist and poet who fought for Cuban independence. The theater is named after him.
Thursday, we had a full Dress. It went very well. Afterwards, we went to a bar called Sia Kara Cafe. It was featured in a New York Times video called 36 Hours in Havana. It is located behind the capitol (based on the US capitol building – makes some kind of sense). It was very hip. There must have been twenty of us, maybe more. We went up to the balcony and ordered – drinks in the afternoon. I had Santiago Cuba rum again. The Capitol is on the left, Sia Cara Cafe on the right…
Back to the hotel for a nap. We got reservations at another paladar that was featured in the New York Times video, Rio Mar. We could only get a reservation for five at 7:30. Got two cabs. We negotiated the price beforehand and off we went. Then came a huge downpour – sheets of water. The driver whipped out some white towels to wipe off the windows since the defroster was obviously not functional. I understood hime to say that no one would come back to pick us up and we should prepay for the return trip. I said OK and did so and told hime to pick us up at 9:15. The meal was extraordinary. The restaurant is where the river meets the sea. I read an article somewhere that spices were not always available in Cuba and would make a great gift. I bought three, saffron, cardamon seeds and Texas Jalapeño Salt. The meal, with cocktails and wine cost around $40. I left the Texas Jalapeño Salt with the bill. There were smiles all around! We were done around 9:40. Our driver and the other cab were there. We had an even crazier cab ride back. He got on some boulevard and, I swear, it felt like we were going 100 miles per hour! More adventures!
OPENING NIGHT – Started the day with a great cafe con leche at the bar. By the time I got to breakfast, the crowds were long gone. The beautiful sun was shining at last. Zenon was teaching a modern master class for Malpaso at their rehearsal space. It was in a Jewish community center/synagogue in Verdadero. When we arrived, Malpaso was in the midst of a showing for a busload of American tourists. Visits from tour groups support the company’s work.
There were three performances, Friday and Saturday night and a matinee on Sunday. All three were sold out. Diplomatic representatives from the American, German and French embassies were all expected to attend. Woken from an afternoon nap by thunder, followed by yet another downpour. We had to take another circuitous route to the theater. The theater manager was concerned about patrons’ ability to get to the theater. The rain did finally stop. Here are more views of the theater.
The pre-show announcement was in three languages, Spanish, English and French. The performance started fifteen minutes late and even though the house was big, some ticket holders were deterred by the heavy afternoon rain for sure. The dancers were a bit nervous at the start, understandably so, but the performance was strong. Ezekiel’s Wheel got the strongest response. You could feel the audience engaged from the start.
There was no bus after the performance. We all went out for a late dinner and would share taxis on the way back to the hotel . Walked to a very busy restaurant nearby. It had just OK food but very exciting live music. There were three musicians, supplemented by this funky and over the top flautist. His improvisations were breathtaking. Taxied to the hotel – crash!!
Saturday – my last day in Havana. We were taken to central Havana for a demonstration of BATA – drums and drumming. We went to the home of a very famous musician named Octavio Rodriguez. His daughter and son, also musicians, helped with the demonstration. We were told that the drums were originally brought from Africa and that they are protected by the gods. (By the way, Linda did not come along. She went to the airport with Sage Lewis, the Cuba specialist, to welcome the a group of patrons who would be with Zenon for the rest of the tour.) Señor Rodriguez talked a lot and very candidly about the slave trade and the Yoruba tribe from Nigeria. I learned about this the first time I visited Havana and still incorporate some of the movement associated with the Orishas (minor gods) in my classes and choreography. I especially love Ogun, god of metal and Yemaya, goddess of the waters. He informed us that some drums were created for popular music and others for sacred purposes. Those had “strings” on the outside. His son showed us one – we were not allowed to photograph it. I asked about the difference between Clave Son and Clave Rhumba. They played and talked about the differences. Central Havana….
Had one of the best meals of the trip at another Paladar, one near the Synagogue we had already visited. It was called Cafe Mediterranico – Bruschetta, Fish Carpaccio, Spinach Ravioli, Fish Filet and Chocolate Ice Cream.
Linda joined us for lunch. She was very toasty – no wonder, dealing with a large group of supporters. They were coming to the performance that night. There was no rain at all on Saturday. The weather was great – it was quite humid – excellent! Saturday night’s performance was spectacular. This was finally the Mary Ann (soloist in Ezekiel’s Wheel) I know and love. Somehow, she had been so “in her head ” during Friday night’s performance. On Saturday, she was stunning. The house was completely full and they were crazy in EW, applauding multiple times in places that no one had ever applauded. The audience roared at the end, many were standing. I had to bow at the end, as I did on Friday. I got flowers again and gave them to Mary Ann. The dancers were exhausted and decided to take the bus back to the hotel. Someone had a bottle of Santiago de Cuba in their dance bag and shared with everyone – perfect. Back at the hotel, I bought all the dancers and Bill (photographer) a drink the bar. Some of the Zenon supporters showed up. I knew a few of them from Minneapolis and others came up to me told me how much they loved JAZZDANCE (my concert jazz dance Company) when it was located in the Twin Cities. It was there for fifteen years and closed its doors in 2015.
Sunday – checkout was fine. I asked the concierge about a taxi to the airport. He guided me to a friend of his who was parked away from the hotel entrance. Apparently this was a friend of his and not an officially sponsored, legal cab. We negotiated the price and we were off after he charged the wires that were exposed and hanging low under the dashboard . The adventure continued! We were able to understand each other well enough. He asked that I pay him ahead of time since he was not a legal cab. I did not understand that he could not drop me at the airport. When we got close, he pulled into a parking lot, took me suitcase and we walked about two-thirds of the way and then I was on my own.
Checked in at 10 am for a 1pm flight and now just had to wait. With no notice or explanation, the flight was delayed until 2. My connecting flight form Miami to Dallas was at 6:15. We took off from Havana at 3:30. I knew it was quite likely that I might miss the connection. I had to go through customs, exit that terminal and go through security for the AA flight to Dallas. The second the wheels hit the ground, I called American and spoke with an agent. I was in luck, she got me on the next flight at 8:20 – the last seat and it was an aisle seat. Happy days. After customs, I went to get me boarding pass and that agent said it was not a confirmed seat. I was on standby. Unbelievable. As usual, at the gate, there was all this doom and gloom about the flight being overbooked. I was number 8. Sunday was, without a doubt one of the most hideous days I have experienced in a long time. I had barely eaten anything all day which just added to the stress. I did get on the flight and I had an aisle seat. I just knew this was the same seat I was given when we landed in Miami. I ordered a box of cheese, crackers and salami, not exactly a paladar but just what I needed, especially with two vodkas! No more traveling for a while.
I am home and the Santiago Cuba Ron is on the shelf. Happy days!