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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cuban Culture in Clear Focus

Creole Choir of Cuba at BAM in 2011. Photo: Rahav Segev
By Sandy Sawotka

When BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins was honored last month in Havana by the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, it spoke to BAM’s longstanding commitment to maintaining cultural links between the US and Cuba. The vibrant, eclectic artistry of the island nation has been featured memorably in numerous BAM programs. Ballet Folklórico Cutumba performed in 2002 as part of BAM’s annual DanceAfrica celebration. As part of the citywide ¡Sí Cuba! festival in 2011, BAM presented dance by Ballet Nacional de Cuba, plus a second visit by Ballet Folklórico Cutumba, and music by the Creole Choir of Cuba, the O’Farrill Family Band, the Cuban Cowboys, Nag Champayons, Delexilio, Telmary Díaz, the Pedrito Martinez Group, and Quimbombó. Red, Hot + Cuba (2012) was an all-star celebration of Cuba’s music scene, with El Tosco, Alexander Abreu, Carlos Varela, CuCu Diamantes, and other captivating artists taking the stage.

BAMcinématek partnered with the Havana Film Festival in 2011 on Cine Cuba, a series of new films. An exhibition of work by contemporary Cuban visual artists was presented in Hola Havana. And as part of Eat, Drink & Be Literary, BAM hosted an evening with author Cristina García.

This spring, BAM joins New York cultural colleagues in yet another joyous—and timely—celebration of Cuban culture. Cuban Culture Festival New York is a multi-disciplinary, citywide initiative organized by the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. The AFLFC has been building cultural bridges since 2000, through exchange programs in the arts that touch and transform the lives and careers of American and Cuban artists, art professionals, and the public at large. Its programs are implemented in partnership with the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, the aforementioned non-profit cultural organization based in Havana and established in 1995.

Lucía, in BAMcinématek's series, Cuba: Golden 60s, courtesy Photofest
As part of Cuban Culture Festival New York, BAM will present wide-ranging events in March, including the BAMcinématek series, Cuba: Golden 60s (Mar 20—31), a showcase of works from Cuba’s cinematic golden age. Featuring films created in the wake of the 1959 Communist revolution and supported by the state-sponsored Cuban Film Institute, the series reveals the formally radical style that reflected the country’s massive social upheaval. Crossing New Wave-inspired style with politically-charged subject matter, these glimpses of a country in transition are revolutionary in every sense of the word. Films include Humberto Solás’ Lucía, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment and Death of a Bureaucrat, Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba, Julio García Espin’s The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin, Manuel Octavio Gómez’ The First Charge of the Machete, and a shorts program by Santiago Alvarez featuring political newsreel and found footage.

BAM welcomes back one of the shining stars of Cuban hip-hop, Telmary, with a weekend of free BAMcafé Live performances by the poetess and rapper on Mar 27 & 28. Using hip-hop as a springboard for her ideas, Telmary has connected with young Cubans and with the international music community through collaborations with artists including Los Van Van, Afro-Cuban All Stars, Afrika Bambaataa, Dr. John, and Kelvis Ochoa, and has been dubbed a “Cuban rhyming revolution” by National Public Radio.

In celebration of contemporary Cuban dance, BAM partners with the nearby Mark Morris Dance Center on a public master class led by choreographer Osnel Delgado from Malpaso Dance Company on Mar 4. This class presents a great chance for experienced and professional dancers to engage in an immersive and genuinely Cuban movement experience. Malpaso also performs at the Joyce Theater Mar 3—8.

Delgado will also provide a rich educational experience for high school students as part of BAM’s renowned after-school program, Dancing Into the Future, on Mar 5. Along with three members of the Malpaso Dance Company, Delgado will lead an Afro-Cuban master class in the BAM Fisher Hillman Studio.

Cuban Culture Festival New York will include an array of diverse events citywide throughout the spring, with events and exhibitions at partner institutions Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, Americas Society, Jack Shainman Gallery, Joyce Theater, and the National Arts Club, and including the Havana Film Festival—the flagship initiative of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba. The festival provides a timely opportunity to explore the vibrant culture of a country now suddenly, and wondrously, much more accessible.

Sandy Sawotka is BAM’s director of publicity.

Reprinted from Feb 2015 BAMbill.

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