In Cuba, the ballet is something of a national treasure. The dancers recruited into Alicia Alonso’s storied company Ballet Nacional de Cuba, for example, reportedly make more money than doctors and enjoy a level of fandom reserved only for pop stars in the United States. The Cuban government not onlyfunds ballet training but also subsidizes tickets to ballet performances. Lovers of Cuban dance like to say the adoration and skill is in their DNA.
“You can find anyone in the street here in Havana who can dance as well as most professionals,” Cuba’s Ballet Rakatan choreographer Nilda Guerra told The Guardian. And in a country historically associated with machismo, it’s not just women enjoying the allure of ballet. “Before, ballet in Cuba was a marginalized extravagance,” the New York Times wrote in 2005. “Now, men in one of the world’s most macho countries clamor to put on dancing tights.” Cuban-born Royal Ballet dancer Carlos Acosta reiterates the sentiment: “I wanted to play football and I was like this reckless child. But when I saw the professionals of the National Ballet School of Cuba perform for the first time, it changed my life forever.”
Photographer Omar Robles has long been entranced by the country’s legacy of dance. He recently traveled to Cuba to explore the men and women who have made ballet such a staple of their lives. “Over the past two years I’ve devoted my work almost exclusively to photographing ballet dancers within urban settings,” Robles wrote on his blog. “Cuba has one of the top ranked ballet companies, thus why I dreamt of visiting the island for a long time. Their dancers are just some of the best dancers in the world. Perhaps it is because movement and rhythm runs in their Afro-Caribbean blood, but most likely it is due to the Russian school of training which is part of their heritage.”
The resulting photographs, featured on his Instagram, capture some of Cuba’s best talent jumping, twirling and stretching in the streets, providing a beautiful and even surreal glimpse of just how deeply rooted Cuban ballet is. Below is a brief interview with Robles on how he came to photography and how his trip to Cuba impacted his work.
See photos here: