A friend from Miami told me over the internet last Friday, that in July he saw two theatrical works representing the island in festivals in the United States, “where there is a real invasion of Cuban artists, including orchestras, troubadours, reggaetoneros, and dance and theater groups, almost all very good, although some are irritating due to the ambivalence of their music or the statements they make, not thinking that here there are no issues of ‘enemy propaganda’ or ‘ideological diversionism’.”
The theater groups representing Cuba in the United States were El Público and Buendía, both revitalizing collectives due to their way of making and conceiving of theater. The former performed The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, shown as part of GLBT Performing Arts Theater’s “Out in the Tropics,” at the Colony Theater of Miami Beach. The latter performed their versions of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, premiered in Havana and seen now at the Latino Festival of Theater, organized each year by the Goodman Theater of Chicago, from where they went on to perform at the Manuel Artime Miami stage.
I won’t tackle the three proposals, whose focuses, montages, and spell-casting strategies reveal the plurality of Cuban theater, marked by universal and local themes, austere stage settings, and dialogue that implicates the audience, whose eagerness is visible in Havana’s halls.
I’ll focus on The Visit of the Old Dame, a cruel and stark comedy rewritten by Flora Lauten (director) and Raquel Carrió (adviser) based upon the original by the German author, Friedrich Durrenmatt. The original plotline is preserved, but with a smaller cast that condenses characters and changes some details of language and narrative style, which suits its proximity to our Cuban reality.
With The Visit of the Old Dame, Buendía offered a theatrical metaphor of Cuban daily life, marked by confinement, misery, and intolerance. After decades of exile, now wealthy Clara Zajanin returns to the impoverished town of Gula, where she’s received as a prodigy child and future omen. She evokes her shadowy and frustrated past, the betrayal of a young-lover-turned-town-mayor, who will be the target of her vengeance, while the townspeople who once detested her now flatter her in hopes of loans and other favors.
Such an expansive scenic view would seem a pretext to create a dialogue with the public about the problems that erode human existence, recreated by the magic of theater, with excellent performances, live music that enhances the nostalgia in Martha Strada’s mythical voice, and illuminating references to the island’s context. For Buendía‘s cast, it’s as if foreign plays serve to support our imaginariums and utopias, the way to deal with that which is mythic and ordinary and to polemicize the present and future.
There’s an overflow of charm and splendid performances upon that altarpiece of scenic passions, where comedy wins the bout over tragedy and the masks reveal something of the mythic and the ordinary, without evading the problems of the present and future.
Those of us who follow the island’s theater scene know that Buendía Theater, founded in 1986 by the actor and professor Flora Lauten, is grounded in an intelligent selection of works, whose versions reach the public and speak to them of the issues, challenges, and circumstances that can move their lives.
The favorable reception by the public and critics in Chicago and Miami of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, Buendía‘s recent works, will likely stimulate the further creative research of this drama collective, with their headquarters in the Coptic church on Loma and 39th Streets, in Havana’s Plaza municipality, where their sessions are held, along with their Research Workshop and Center for the Education of Actors, Directors, and Technicians.
Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo
There’s a discrepancy between the sign board and program schedule at the Casa Gaia, located in Teniente Rey, between Águila and Cuba Streets in the historic quarter of Havana. That’s where art and thought now come together, but the sign board at the entrance announces the staging of Flechas del Ángel del Olvido (The Angel of Oblivion’s Arrows), scheduled to run Friday through Sunday until 29 November, under the direction of Esther Cardoso Villanueva, the director of the center.
Maybe it’s hard to take down the sign board. Perhaps the play continues to be on the sign board with sporadic interruptions and new options for patrons. Maybe it’s a strategy to avoid chaos on the premise, the top floor of which holds hundreds of people.
I myself am happy, since from Friday, July 23, to Sunday, July 25, I was invited by phone to the series of activities that the “dialogue among friends” disseminates under the title Estado de Sats (The State of Sats), which signifies “being attentive, awake and conscious of real transformation” in order to expand “open exchange and diversity as principal resources.”
There were three days of open discussions and lectures. Cuba and the future as the central theme. There were visual arts presentations, conferences, audiovisual projections, and concerts. A large crowd, in spite of the outdated sign board.
A collective exhibit of visual arts was launched on Friday at 8:00pm in the Vivarta Studio-theater, located in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall, under the title Recargable (Rechargable), with works by 15 young artists, one from Spain and another from Taiwan. The works alone are worthy of appreciation and deserve exhaustive commentary.
From the cinema, on Saturday at 8:00pm, Sats screened the documentary Memorias del Desarrollo (Memories of Development) by Miguel Coyula, who, through analysis and manipulation of images conveys the alienation of the individual and reflects upon how art reflects reality. The film was described by Sundance Film Festival as a “subliminal and cinematic collage that forges new cinematographic dimensions by way of multiple expository levels that intercept one another in a sort of picaresque saga about desire and decadence.”
The open discussions, conferences and presentations regarding cultural projects merit a special mention. On Friday morning Prof. Carlos Simón Forcade presented “Imagination and Growth within the Cuban Social Project”; following him was Antonio Correa Iglesias, PhD, and undergrad Ana María Socarrás Piñón with the topics, “Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and Neural Networks: towards a Plural Zone in the Building of Knowledge” and “Contemporary Cuban Art or The 70s Generation?: Alternative Projects vs. the Visual Arts in Offcial Media”. In the evening, the AISHA Company project was held, as was the Art and Society Open Discussion with writer Víctor Fowler as moderator, and performances by Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico, Luis Eligio Pérez, Maylin Machado, and Glenda Salazar.
On Saturday morning Dr. Antonio G. Rodiles presented “Complexity and Society”, while Carmelo Mesa-Lago by way of video projection, dealt with “The Economy of Cuba at the Crossroads: External and Internal Crisis”. In the evening, the “Raise the Voices” project and the Economy and Society open discussions occurred, with Hiram Hernández, Jorge Calaforra, Ramón García, and the quoted A.G. Rodiles.
On Sunday morning, the engineer Jorge Calaforra explained the “Cuban and Global Perspective for 2030” and Dr. Alexis Jardines presented “Cuba: Premodernity and Thinktanks”, referring to Western liberal democracies, ethical schisms in the national project, and factors such as the island’s intellectual potential and a thesis on the hollowness of “capitalism” and “socialism” as concepts. The evening session belonged to the “OMNI-FREE TRADE ZONE” and an open discussion about “Futures and Visions of Cuba”, lead by Castor Álvarez, Dimitri Prieto, Gabriel Calahorra, and Romina Ruiz.
The Casa Gaia sessions on Art and Thought culminated on Sunday night with the “A Good Thing Jam Session”, described by organizers as a “spectacle of textures and fragments as vehicles of national history and identity”, with rotating, projected images and rhythmic counterpoint music (jazz, hip-hop), all falling somewhere along the spectrum of blunt emotionalism (Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico) and sensible civility (trova and danceable elements).
Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo