Sixteen years ago, Kim Breiland witnessed firsthand the critically acclaimed National Ballet of Cuba.
Now, the founder and artistic director of the Stages Dance Company has taken her students to the Caribbean country for an eight-day trip to learn about its rich culture and perform with talented dance groups from Cuba.
“The timing was right to go in,” said Breiland. “With all of what I’m seeing happening in the United States – with the lifting of the embargoes and with Obama making moves to open up that trade – I wanted to get down to Cuba with my students before it all changes.
“The National Ballet of Cuba is world renowned. A lot of my friends from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have often travelled down to train at the National Ballet of Cuba and have come back just beaming about it.”
The Stages students headed off to Cuba last week, performing at the Canadian Embassy as part of its Canada Day celebrations.
“It just makes sense for us to do something,” said Breiland. “We’re usually down at the parliament buildings – we’ve done flash mobs on Canada Day.
“It’s truly an honour to perform for the embassy while we’re there.”
The trip also includes joint performances with the National Ballet of Cuba, the Cuban Dance ensemble, the Habana Compás Dance Group and the Afro-Cuban musical dance group at Casa de la Cultura. Stages will be performing numerous jazz, musical theatre and contemporary dances, as well as taking in the high-energy Latin and African styles of the other performers.
While Breiland has previously taken students to New York, the Soviet Union and on Armed Forces tours, she said this year’s group wanted “something different,” namely a way to give back to the communities they were visiting. As part of their humanitarian effort, the students have packed their luggage bags with items that they will be donating to families in Cuba.
“There’s a community centre that we’re going to for the lower income families in Cuba – we’re taking in school supplies, dance shoes, colouring books,” said Breiland.
“It’s important for me to teach the kids that the art form can also do good and help the community.”
Breiland said the trip would be an eye-opening experience, showcasing Cuba’s abundant dance history and sure to leave the students with invaluable insight and lasting memories.
“They know what they’re going into, on paper,” said Breiland with a laugh. “It’s going to be an adventure.”