Dance and cinema: remembering an essential documentary

Dance and cinema: remembering an essential documentary
Fecha de publicación: 
3 June 2024
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In the long and very fruitful relationship between dance and cinema in Cuba, one work becomes an indisputable reference: Historias de un ballet (The story of a ballet), a documentary by José Massip, released in 1962. It is, without a doubt, the inspired recreation of an authentic classic, regardless of certain didacticism.

The first sentence of the documentary was a true statement of faith in the possibilities that the Revolution opened up to art. And it was a sort of introduction for many of the company founded by maestro Ramiro Guerra. In these initial shots some of the faces that marked the future of modern dance in Cuba popped up: Ramiro himself, Lorna Burdsall, Eduardo Rivero... and later, in one of the most compelling sequences of Cuban documentary film of that decade, we witness the struggle of two teachers, two excellent dancers, two exceptional performers, Rivero and Santiago Alfonso.

Excellent testimony of a prodigal process: the conception and scenic concretization of a mythical piece, Suite Yoruba, by Ramiro Guerra. The documentary is far more than the chronicle of that montage. It sets a framework of multiple cultural relationships, which encouraged a thriving creative movement.

The synopsis offers clues: The choreographer and the dancers of the National Theater put on a “wemilere” in honor of a pagan saint and go to learn this art from the anonymous artists of the town. In the film, rehearsals are mixed with the theatrical staging.

José Massip acknowledged in a later comment: I am not satisfied with my work in the documentary field. About it, the only thing that satisfies me to some extent are two things: one, the final sequence of The story of a ballet, where I believe I have achieved a certain poetry of movement.

Certainly, there is a lyricism in this material, but goes beyond, the lyrics of Ramiro Guerra's great work.

A more than authoritative voice, Julio García Espinosa, said of The story of a ballet: it is not only the history of the Yoruba Suite ballet, its rehearsals, the preparatory studies carried out by the choreographer and the designer, etc. It is also and fundamentally, the historical root that supports that particular artistic manifestation that is the Yoruba Suite ballet.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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