They emigrated over creative and not political differences, but Cuba's Feijoo sisters have launched an artistic invasion of the United States that their homeland's masters must envy. They are boosting a very old art form's bottom line as a new generation and new demographic take heed.
Despite that heft, the ballet industry could use a boost.
It's been described as a "boutique industry," with just 76 dance companies in the United States having a million-dollar or greater budget. A majority of those bigger companies have been in perpetual financial distress at least since 9/11 as both corporate giving and government funding fell, a situation partly offset by the growth in their endowments and fairly stiff ticket prices.
"Most administrators have a one-number performance review. It's at the bottom of the financial statement," an executive director told David Mallette, making light of the industry's financial woes, in a 2006 article commissioned by Dance/USA.
The prima ballerinas – older sister Lorena dances for the first-tier San Francisco Ballet, the younger Lorna for the respected but smaller Boston Ballet – reflect a movement so fundamental in the art world that Dance Magazine recently headlined, "Latin is the New Russian."
Thirty years ago, Mikhail Baryshnikov was a superstar in the Soviet Union and the West. So were Nureyev and Nijinsky. Now, at a company such as the American Ballet Theatre [co-founded by a Cuban], 41 percent of their 17 principals are Latin or Hispanic, while only 30 percent are from the nations representing the old Soviet Union, and just 29 percent from the United States.
At the New York City Ballet, which along with the ABT and the San Francisco Ballet comprise the Big Three in the United States, Joaquin de Luz and [in 2008] Spain's Gonzalo Garcia will be principals. Globally important companies in London, Australia, and elsewhere also include Latin dancers.
Soviet dancers had no problem being acknowledged in the West, and despite the political taboo – or perhaps because of it – their names were known by people with no appreciation of ballet.
"Ballet is traditionally controlled by the big companies, but more and more companies have found success with the help of Hispanics," says Octavio Roca, a jury member for the International Ballet Festival in Havana and a critic for various newspapers, including The Washington Post.
"Not only do they bring a specific caliber to the performance, but they bring in new audiences, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, that are specifically attracted to them. Cuban dancers have augmented our box office by 30 to 40 percent, if not even 50."
Were all the Hispanic dancers to disappear overnight, it would create a "massive void," says Carlos Lens, a CPA who acts as the Feijoo sisters' financial adviser [and who studied ballet for 17 years].
"I don't like focusing solely on the principal dancers. There are also the corps members and the soloist. If they all were gone, it would bring companies to their knees."
Are the Feijoos, Rolando Sarabia, Jose Manuel Carreno, Carlos Acosta, and many other Cubans and Hispanics being acknowledged?
"They are and they aren't," explains Mr. Roca. "It's almost a good thing that the Hispanic influence doesn't even need to be stated. It's just there for everyone to see. Russians came at the right time politically and changed ballet in London and New York. It's just a different time now. The general press doesn't cover the arts anymore."
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