Professor choreographs Cuban ballet dancers in new production

Courtesy of The Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey, Cuba.
Photo by Courtesy of The Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey, Cuba.

A fusion of Cuban roots and American traditions was the focus of the debut of the Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey choreographed by artist-in-residence and professor Pedro Ruiz on March 13 at the Kaye Playhouse.

The company sent 10 dancers to perform at Hunter in a dance choreographed by Ruiz. He also taught a master class for students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree or an MFA in dance on March 15 with the Cuban ballet company. This class consists of two sections – one in modern Cuban technique and one in Cuban folkloric technique.

“It is a significant project,” said Ruiz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 1984. “Dance unifies people. Dance enables communication.” And he added, Hunter is the perfect place to show the world the official debut of a cross-cultural project since “it is a mixed university with people from different races and backgrounds.”

“Cuba Aquí” is comprised of three dances. The first one is called Guajira, a special piece choreographed for the Hispanic Ballet in 1999 inspired by the agriculture of Cuba. When Ruiz was a little kid, he said, he helped his grandfather plant tobacco and pick oranges on his farm, and he wanted to remind the audience of that lifestyle through dance.

“Sometimes we do not talk about this beautiful culture,” said Ruiz.

The second dance was inspired by the island of Sardinia in Italy. Ruiz had the opportunity to travel around the world for his career. One of his dance partners was from Sardinia, and they used to go to the island to dance. The last dance is influenced by his Cuban friend Dafnis Prieto, a Latin jazz musician who just won a Grammy for the best Latin jazz album “Back to The Sunset” in 2018.

“As a Latina raised in New York City, I think it is essential to have events like the Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey incorporated in school’s activities,” said Marianella Huaman, a 27-year-old who is doing a bachelor’s in psychology. “We have so much diversity but at the same time, our Hispanic heritage, it is not represented as much. A lot of us lose touch of where we come from, and events like this bring us back to our roots as Latinos and closer as a community.”

Yasmar Cruz, a 25-year-old student pursuing a major in dance education, explained the importance of these opportunities.

“These events open doors for Hunter students,” said Cruz, who has taken several classes with Ruiz. “It brings a different perspective since it was not created in New York.”

Ruiz, 55, wants to bring even more of Cuba’s traditions to the United States and demonstrate that Latin dance is more than salsa. For him, both countries merged many years ago. “I made my career in the United States and had the opportunity to work with renowned musicians such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and great Latino musicians,” he said.

The Cuban dancers were also given the chance to take classes with other Hunter dance professors. For Ruiz, this is an emotional moment for both the dancers and for him. “They dance with the heart,” said Ruiz. “I want the Latino community of Hunter College to come and support us,” he added. “It is critical that Latinos are united.”

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