Almost a dozen dancers from the Cuban National Ballet who, until a few days ago, could share only an unsatisfactory plate of food without the sauce of freedom or the spice of opportunity, now dance in Miami to the beat of uncertainty and the pain of family separation and uprooting.
Without legal papers or their own stage where they could move forward, they dared to perform a grand pas, defecting in Puerto Rico recently— shoulders back and heart unbowed.
Some don’t have a secure roof over their heads, or relatives or friends, not even a permanent job. And being a member of Cuba’s famed national ballet was no help because prestige did not satisfy their professional thirst. These young people, whose average age is 24, cannot aspire to dance in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy or in the Mariinsky Ballet because they lack the mobility that any dancer in a free society enjoys: to apply for a job in another company or move to another city to pursue a better opportunity.
That is why they fled from their Caribbean cage, like swans in search of a magnificent land.
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In multiple appearances in the media, the escapees lament the precarious and frustrating situation on the island. They bring up allegations of nepotism, abuses of power, exploitation and discrimination in the bosom of the dance company.
They join a growing diaspora of Cuban ballet artists who have fled for more than four decades, stars of international renown among them. Like gazelles, they leap toward their objective: freedom and a more promising artistic future. They don’t tolerate the rigidity of the ruling political ideas that force them to say what they don’t believe. They live in terror, in panic, asphyxiated by the distressing political and social reality in Cuba and by the iron hand that crushes any expression of culture different from the official version. Self-esteem forces them to make a full turn.
Defection should not be seen through the prism of political relations between the United States and Cuba. Dancers fight for a spiritual principle that transcends geography and eras: the right of every individual to find his own spiritual, emotional and material happiness. The right to choose our own future rests on the rights to freedom of action, expression and creed; the right to gain material goods — the fruits of effort — to enjoy this often-challenging adventure called life.
The day the artists defected was the day when Cuba’s Ernest Hemingway international swordfishing tournament began. The tournament attracts the latest model boats owned by foreign sports fishermen, and a Cuban team with a government-owned boat.
After being photographed with their impressive catch, the fishermen, commodores and tourists toast to the points amassed by the winners (just like Hemingway did) with a delicious mojito made with an old Cuban rum whose brand was once stolen from its owners. They enjoy the pleasures found on tables loaded with truffles, caviar, exotic dishes and Cuban delicacies. They spend the night in luxurious cabins by the docks.
The vivid contrast between these two events illustrates the reality of the Cuban émigré in recent times. The seas that seduce the yachts dull the passion for emancipation. The contestants in the championship are welcomed like kings on the Havana seashore. On the other hand, the dancers who, lacking facilities, renounce their homeland and social environment, are dismissed as youngsters who “lack much to reach a high technical level,” in the words of the BNC’s director and famed Cuban dancer, Alicia Alonso. Without compassion, she portends a grim future for them: “Most of those who leave the company feel frustrated and end up by the wayside.”
Which way? The way of self-determination? Or the way of ambitious dreams, attainable with work and talent? Could it be the way of sacrifice for a greater good? Or the way to faith in one’s own potential?
The boastful nautical championship is out of place in a Cuba that imposes upon its citizens a regimented, cruel and failed system. The impossibility to access a life of opportunity is a reason for the dancers’ defection.
They are not alone. A multitude of Cuban artists, sportsmen and professionals in Miami and other parts of the world also suffered the privation of human self-improvement — an inalienable right of man.
In exile, they hope to find a beacon of freedom, acceptance and professional opportunity. Peace for everyone; life with full rights for everyone; love for everyone — that’s what Cubans long for. So long as they have none, they will continue to flee, hoping to broaden their horizons and discovering new perspectives, both personal and cultural.
Happiness is a synonym for sacrifice, for taking the risks of life-changing choices, for mastering the art of appreciation. Its source lies within each of us.
Daniel Shoer Roth, El Nuevo Herald’s Metro columnist, is writing the biography of Monsignor Agustín A. Román, the late auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami.