“Cuba is Another World”: Martha Graham’s Charlotte Landreau on Performing in Havana

nycdp_charlottelandreauHAVANA, Nov. 8th Last week, the Martha Graham Dance Company—along with a handful of other American and international companies—traveled to Havana to perform at the 25th Havana International Ballet Festival.Two Martha Graham Dance Company members—soloist Charlotte Landreau and principal Xin Ying—documented their experiences for Dance Magazine. Read

As a foreigner living in the United States, it is difficult to be far away from France and my family. What is harder is to try to explain our wonderful and insane job to them, to describe an incredible experience, to summarize an entire country with just a few words!

Cuba. Cuba is another world. My head is full of colors from the city, the jungle, the beautiful dancing, the Cuban accent. The Martha Graham Dance Company had the pleasure to spend seven days in La Habana.

As a dancer, you always have to be prepared to adjust to any situation. But there, we had no idea what to expect. It was touching to see people overwhelmed by our presence in Cuba, and honored to have us for the 25th Havana International Ballet Festival.

They were so welcoming to us, and even when the conditions were hard, our shows went well. Because of the rainy season, the weather was hot and humid, which made rehearsals heavy on the dancers. We also had to avoid all kinds of bugs and always be sure to have drinkable water with us.

But thanks to two hard days of rehearsals, we managed to be ready and go on stage. The Cuban audience loved us, giving our modern Graham pieces and new contemporary works standing ovations. We were pleased to receive an excellent response, knowing that this audience usually prefers ballet.

But they turned out to be extremely educated and warm about Martha Graham, her legacy and our company. At the reception after one of our shows, I realized that even if this is a ballet-obsessed country, people love the way we keep Graham works alive and respect this historical technique.

I had the chance to see the opening of the festival with the live Cuban orchestra, the best Cuban ballet dancers and Alicia Alonso herself. I was also pleased to see famous artists from all over the world, like Paris Opera director Aurélie Dupont, master ballet teacher Azari Plissetski and New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck.

During our tour, we had some time to visit the art university, a famous art gallery and the old part of La Habana. It seemed at the same time so alive and frozen in time. Old and colorful American cars from the 1920s, streets, buildings and roads in terrible condition.

We also went to the US Embassy, and learned more about Cuba’s history: the revolution, the will of change and opening to the rest of the world. Talking to the ambassador and the Cuban dancers we met, the differences between US and Cuba shocked me.

How privileged we are to live in a democratic and free country. To have access to internet and all the knowledge it brings. To not worry about accessing clean water. To be able to tour the world freely.

I feel so blessed to be able to say that I performed in Cuba this year. I wish for every artist to experience such a thing because it was a real adventure and I can’t wait to come back!