well, some of the things we learned…
This week at the school, we have been focused on rehearsing for our final performance on Wednesday. Upon our arrival at the school this morning, the drums and instruments were already in their places and the speakers were being tested. The Yamaya dancers put on their skirts, the Elegua dancers put on their black and red outfits, the musicians went to their seats, and we went straight to work. Our practice performances went smoothly despite some short breaks to make last minute adjustments.
As opposed to our usual sandwiches for lunch, we ate a delicious meal on an outdoor terrace at an artists reserve. About a 45 minute bus ride from the school, we enjoyed yellow rice with vegetables, pulled pork, chicken, cabbage salad, and guava and papaya smoothies along with flan for dessert. The property was immersed in the breathtaking countryside of Cuba; everywhere we looked, there were lush mountains, gigantic palm trees, and the ocean. This quiet reserve was a refreshing change from the bustling cities and touristy areas that we have visited. There were small buildings scattered throughout the property, each displaying the Yoruba-inspired paintings and sculptures by Manuel Mendive. We also spent time observing the many animals that live on the reserve, such as monkeys, goats, roaming cows, doves, and peacocks. After a brief yet interesting encounter with the artist himself, we had a relaxing bus ride back to the Presidente.
For dinner, we went to ……., an outdoor restaurant. We were served family style roast chicken, plantains, sweet potatoes, white rice, and a delicious pineapple coconut ice cream. It was definitely one of the best meals we’ve eaten in Cuba; the perfect way to end the day!
Today we began our final rehearsals for the performance on Wednesday and everything is coming together. The drummers have learned 4 songs to accompany our five dances. The first two, Eleggua and Yemeya, are portrayals of orishas, gods of the Yoruba faith, the latter a playful child and the former a goddess of the ocean. Following this the twelve female dancers move on to the rumba, son and finally the conga. It’s crazy to see how we are slowly becoming able to dance without our instructor Lydia; in the beginning we could barely do the steps. After running the entire performance two times straight we returned to our hotel and 8 students departed to view a ballet at the studio of Lizt Alfonso. Dance is very important in Cuba because the rule of Che and Fidel introduced a lot of attention to the arts – we’ve seen several dance performances prior to this and their dancing ability is amazing. Pearl, Aimee and I went to the bookstore at the Casa de Las Americas, a cultural house featuring Cuban art, history and photography. The bookkeeper, Navarro, is 86 years old and loves to talk about music and history; today he even recited some of his personal poetry for us (it was about a past love, how red her lips were and his own turning red just in desire for her). Overall, Cuban culture is beautiful in its sentimentality and affection, as we see in his poem or the various couples walking around or along the Malecón.
To start off the day, we ate breakfast and waited to depart for our daily music/dance lessons. We left at the usual time of 8am, and drove for 15 minutes to our lessons. When we arrived, we split off into our music/dance groups. Today in dance, we went over multiple choreographed dance routines. These routines included dances such as the rumba, conga, son, and various religious danced based of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. At around 11:30pm we ate lunch; which consisted of sandwiches. After lunch, the music and dance groups got together and practiced our performance that we will be performing both here in Cuba and back at Ross. The music students provided the music for the dancers’ routines. After our lessons, we drove for half an hour to a local Cuban school. The school houses children with rough home lives, and also children who’s parents work during the day. The children in the school are under the protection of nuns who run the school. Then we played with the children whose ages ranged for 2-4. We got to greet them when they woke up from their naps, and after we danced with them and played with toys. We donated a large amount of toys, books, and Converse sneakers to the school. After a very exhausting yet productive day, we returned to the hotel to get some rest.
Today we woke up at 6:30am to begin enjoying the warmth before breakfast. We got to breakfast when it was first opening at 7am and had a lovely breakfast of croissants, eggs and assorted fruits. The bus picked us up in front of El Presidente at 8am as usual and took us to O2 where we study dancing, drumming and singing. In class we learned two new songs for drumming and one for dancing. The drumming for these songs involves many different instruments keeping different rhythms with the same underlying beat. We each got two drums to play for one of these songs and had fun alternating which ones we used. All of the dances have their own unique style of movement to individually express feelings and stories. The bus picked us up earlier than usual, after our regular lunch and a short collaborative performance between drummers, dancers and singers. The bus took us to the South side of Cuba, past old Habana where we caught a ferry to a town called Regla. This town is home to a large church where featured on the alter was the only black virgin idol there is in Cuba. Once we had looked around the church, taken pictures and paid our respects we walked back to the ferry and Habana. As soon as we were back on the bus we were driven to the home that Ernest Hemingway had when he lived in Cuba, which has been turned into a museum and will soon become the site for movie shooting on Hemingway’s life. We were not allowed actually inside the museum, but we could walk around the house, on the patio and take pictures. The view from his house was amazing; it appeared as if you could see everything into the horizon. There were flowers and arches everywhere that made it feel as if we were walking down an aisle. Down his driveway there were stands where we could buy pineapple drinks, ice cream and wooden animal souvenirs. It was set there because that was the first place that Hemingway tried pineapple. We got back to the hotel with the sun still up and managed to run to the pool for some last minute sunshine and swimming. Later in groups some of us went out for dinner of chicken, rice, beans and various vegetables before coming back to our room and falling asleep before bed check, as we were so exhausted from our full day in Cuba.
Today was a great day. We attended our daily lessons of Conga and Bata drumming, as well as afro-cuban dance, which perfectly compliment one another. After a few hours of drumming and dancing, we headed into Old Habana. In Old Habana, we visited an alleyway that breathed art and music. The walls of the alley were entirely painted, and consisted of a few weird installations of manikins in suits done by Salvador Gonzalez, a Chilean artist. We continued on in the alley to be met by a large number of chairs and three women with bata drums near by. The sight confused me, as my father had always told me that within the Santeria religion, women were not allowed to play the bata drums. The three women shut…–it…down. It was absolutely incredible. It was evident that these rhythms were in their blood. It seemed so natural to them, as they played equally as well as I had seen men play bata. People came dancing out of a door, dressed up in various costumes as different orishas. Shango, Obatala, Oshun, and Yemaya. They all danced individually to the songs that honored them. The dancing was great.
Today we started dancing new styles of rumba music and salsa. These types of music are very popular in latin amarican countries, they are kind of similar. in both of them the hips are used a lot, and they are very different from the orisha that we were learning. Later in the afternoon we went to the art college in this place where really good artists are given a chance to study at a place with proper resources for free. We had the opportunity to watch an amazing show of a couple of dancers rehearsing for a national dance contest. We also learned a lot about the architecture of this art collage, and how it used to be a golf course before fidel castro’s goverment who decided to make it an art collage. Our visit there was really quick, so some kids got the chance to visit old havana. Old Havana is a great place to take a walk, there you can find different restaurants, shops, cafes, bookstores, galleries, and a bunch of things to do. Everything there is amazing , there is art on every single corner.