Un mundo lógico
It's clear to Lizt Herrera.
Cuban choreographer Lizt Herrera is at a hotel down the street from the Prado when I call about her all-female Havana troupe, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, here Thursday 28 and Friday 29 for the first time since its U.S. debut seven years ago. Company manager Juan Carlos Coello is in the room as well; although Herrera has a confident command of English, she occasionally yells to him for a word or two.
What are you doing in Madrid?
I’m invited for an event here; its name is Ágora América Latina. They invite a hundred persons—artists, politicians, intellectuals and journalists—and we talk about the future of our part of the world, Latin America.
What do you think that future is?
The future for me is working very hard, every day, in order to be better.… If everybody tries to do things [as fully] as they feel them, then we will have a better world.
Have you attended the Ágora before?
No, it’s my first time. It’s the first time they make this conference.
Is Spanish dance your biggest influence choreographically? The original name of your company was Danzas Ibéricas.
Well, the roots of Cuban culture are in Spain and Africa, fundamentally. Then we have other influences, like from China and the Middle East. For me, Spain is the “grandparents’ heart.” What I do is fusion of all of these kinds of cultures, their music and rhythms. I talk about cha-cha-cha, mambo, son, salsa, but you don’t go to my performance and see one mambo, one rumba, one cha-cha. In the same choreography, you can see many things: a little flamenco, Afro-Cuban percussion in the work of the feet, and maybe the arms move like in classical ballet, but the hands like in flamenco. It’s all of these things together.
Is that an effort to reflect the world as you see it?
No. It’s the result of my life. My life is all these kinds of dance, music, art and theatrical arts. People say we’re very unique because I don’t do something that is… [To Coello: ¿Cómo se dice “impuestas”?] Imposed. Maybe for someone else it would be complicated to do a little of this and a little of that, but for me, it’s logical and comes very easily.
Why are there no men in your company?
I’ve taken that decision from the beginning because, eh…we have a lot of things to say, and it’s a good challenge to use only women on the stage. Last year, we made a new show in Canada and I invited male dancers to the company as guests. But if I don’t need men, eh, we just continue with my decision.
Your company’s 20th anniversary is next year, but you’re only 43.
Unusual, I guess, yes, because people usually [direct] when they are 30 or 35 or 40, but for me, it was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to do something different and, at the time, the dance companies in Cuba didn’t have what I wanted to make. I wanted to be independent, to make whatever I wanted to make.… We’ve had very hard years, with no place to rehearse, no money, no anything but, in the end, we are strong because of it.
How hard is it to book performances in the States?
Once we’re there it’s very easy because you have all the conditions we need. It’s perfect. But to go is very complicated. We went to the United States in 2003 and could not go again until now.
What do you recall of your last visit?
You know, Chicago is one of the best audiences that we have around the world. We remember our show at the Chicago Theatre with a very special emotion, because you are people with a lot of rhythm and spirituality. A lot of music inside. I remember the audience tried to make the rhythm with us—
Yes, and made exclamations like, eh, “Wow!” and “Yeah!” Very spontaneous. We are very happy to go to Chicago again!
American Ballet Theatre is going to Havana shortly, for the first time in five decades. Do you see the momentum of this cultural exchange through dance continuing to increase?
I hope so! I think it’s necessary. No, it’s more than necessary—it’s logical! Because it’s life! I have friends [at ABT. Principal] Jose Manuel Carreño and I studied ballet together our first year, and I know [ABT principal] Xiomara Reyes, and, around the world, Carlos Acosta in [London’s] Royal Ballet. Why not let us perform for each other?
Do you consider yourself a cultural ambassador?
All artists are ambassadors of their culture. We represent Cuba as you represent America. I represent the spirit of the Cuban people but, at the same time, the spirit of the world.… It doesn’t matter where the artist is from. This is good, or not. I like it, I don’t like it.
Can art succeed where politics fail?
Eh…it’s complicated for me in English. I’ll try to… [Speaks with Coello, then slowly repeats his translation] “The day when the politicians understand how powerful art is, they will be able to make better changes.” There.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba brings “Fuerzas y Compás” to the Auditorium Theatre Thursday 28 and Friday 29.