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Dance Fri Apr 12 2013

Havana Blue: A Cuban Inspiration

Thumbnail image for Havana Blue_Photo by Cheryl Mann.jpg

When it comes to the arts, the collaboration of different cultures and art forms can be magical; in Havana Blue, a joint artistic effort between the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) and River North Dance Chicago (RNDC), and part of the Auditorium Theatre's "MUSIC + MOVEMENTFESTIVAL," the worlds of music and dance collide to showcase the symbiotic relationship and history of "Cuba and Afro-Caribbean roots." Here, RNDC Artistic Director Frank Chaves talks about his inspirational and "life-changing" trip to Cuba with CJP Artistic Director Orbert Davis and how "they were determined to take what they had experienced back to the U.S. in order to share their unique experiences with Chicago audiences."

How did you come up with the name, Havana Blue?
The visual art there was something that really stuck with me and this may seem very kind of common sense, but there was so much blue in the artwork--all different shades of blue. I asked one of the artists about it and she said [matter-of-factly], "Well, we're an island." And as I was looking at the art work, I was starting to be influenced by what I was seeing. As we moved through the trip, I just kept thinking about it a lot more--I started thinking about it and it made a lot of sense that you could tie the blues into the jazz and the music and then tie it into the island of Havana.

While the visual art there impressed you, you were also fascinated by the arts scene as a whole. Tell us about that part of the trip.
Our trip was all about dance, music, and visual art.; we saw the best of the best. We saw about seven dance companies, several different music groups, and Orbert was playing constantly with everybody and anybody he could find. It was really amazing.

Seeing the music, dance, and the art, did only one area resonate with you? Or did the collective serve as the inspiration?
It was very much a collective. The big takeaway, at least for me, was that I was so amazed at how distraught the city appeared and how it was in such a state of disrepair, yet the culture and the arts were still so unbelievably rich. Just being exposed to all the music and the dance that we saw, as well as the visual arts, was beyond inspiring.

Seeing the physical conditions there, what went through your mind?
The people there have such a generosity of spirit, even through the hardship and the difficulty that they endure on a daily basis; in fact, I would venture to say it provided them fuel for the arts.

You've said that the symbiotic cultural relationship of Cuba and Africa really fascinated you. Going in, what were the initial discussions between you and Orbert like?
Well, we knew we wanted to go to Cuba and be inspired; we knew we didn't want to recreate Cuban music or Cuban dancers. We wanted it to be so that he could celebrate from an African-American perspective and I could celebrate and approach it from my perspective of being Cuban. That was a great starting point for us. Our earlier conversations were about what we can do to be inspired to bring this piece into a contemporary vein--something that belongs in 2013. We had these conversations and just said, "We've got to go to Cuba." That was over a year ago and we made it happen.

You have stated that for you, the trip to Cuba was a "re-connection" of sorts. What would you say to other ethnic groups about embracing or rediscovering their artistic roots?
That's an awesome question. I could not encourage this more; if there is one thing people should do in this life is re-connect and discover. This was a life-changing experience for me. It's interesting; the older I get, the more Cuban I feel I and the more being Cuban matters to me. Going to Cuba, the moment I set foot on that ground, I immediately felt like I belonged. So much of my entire life made sense; I understand how and why I choreograph the way I do--the things I pick out in music--the syncopation--I am so not "Mr. Even" when it comes to choreography. In my case, that's all Cuban.

In Havana Blue, what will the audience see?
It is a wonderful story. There is a beautiful opening that will be a medium groove that is very sultry and sensual like the Cuban people. Then, it goes into a much more active and rhythmic section, kind of like the different flavors you might get at a party where first, you get a medium groove then it heightens up to a higher place then it slows down to a slow dance. Then there's a piece that represents the exodus from Cuba, where we had to leave this beautiful island, but we certainly didn't leave our culture behind.

What do you want the audience to take away from the Havana Blue experience?
I'm hoping people can at least get a glimpse into the spirit of Cuba. For me, I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that music and dance and the arts are a lifeline for the Cuban people. It is something that is so in our blood and everyone has the same opportunity in Cuba, which is, everybody at a very young age is taught that no matter what class you are or no matter what your status is, everybody has a shot at the arts. If people can just take a glimpses into the spirit of what Cuba is and how rich in culture this tiny little island is, I will be more than happy.


See Havana Blue for one night only, Saturday, Apr. 13 at 8pm at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $32-$76 and are on sale online, at the box office, or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787).

Havana Blue: Photo by Cheryl Mann

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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