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Dancing Beneath the Stars

As the orange summer sun began to fade into darkness, a string of twinkling lights radiated throughout the Skirball Cultural Center’s courtyard for the second performance of their annual Sunset Concert Series. On Thursday, July 30th, the Skirball hosted the talented Cuban group Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas. Standing from the balcony, I was able to get a great view of the entire audience sharing in this wonderful musical experience. Both young and old made up the group and I could tell right away that it was going to be a night with lots of dancing.

Skirball Cultural Center - Los Angeles - July 31, 2014

Women wore their twirling dresses and pumps for dancing. The men, on the other hand, impressed the crowd with their fashionable blazers and button-ups. Once the group finally made their appearance, the crowd cheered and eagerly searched for their soon-to-be dancing partner. Within a couple of minutes of the first song, we were informed the event was officially full and could not accept any more guests. It was definitely a blow-out show!

When I finally made my way to the dance floor, my obvious inexperience became apparent to me and I was frozen in awe. There were many couples who could have very well been professional salsa dancers. All of the spinning, stepping, stomping and quick movements made me dizzy. Their bodies moved so effortlessly to the beat of the drums and the whistle of the trumpet, that I could not help but feel a little envious. However, I spotted a neophyte dancer (about two or three years old) in the crowd dancing with his mother. His small legs could hardly keep up and he stumbled a few times. However, he and his mother laughed and smiled at one another clearly enjoying the music and ambiance, despite a few wrong steps.

After a few songs, the group needed a break (the dancers, too). During this time, the audience was introduced to the various members of the group that made all the musical magic happen (there were a lot, too!). However, this small interlude made me nostalgic for my own family dance parties. It rekindled my memories of my cousins or uncles playing the bongos while my grandmother rhythmically moved her body to the music. This moment was extremely intimate, and a special way to get to know the group.

When the music finally started again, I decided it was time to stop being a spectator and start being a dancer. After stepping on my partner’s feet a few times (sorry Marcel), I got the hang of it and enjoyed all of the spinning and stepping that intimidated me earlier in the night. When Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas’ set came to an end, the audience applauded appreciatively for a fun night. Walking off of the dance floor, I smiled. I thought about how wonderful it was to dance beneath the stars–spinning, stepping, and stomping like one of the experts.

All photos are courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center | Photo by Timothy Norris.

Skirball Cultural Center - Los Angeles - July 31, 2014

Art photography by Abelardo Morell

What credits a photograph as art?

Nowadays, it is  hard to think of that possibility with all the new technologies and apps meant to improve photography so you can share them on all the social networks with only a click and a few filter changes. Thinking of photographs as art is now very questionable.

Also, with the trivialization of photography – where everyone has become an “Instagram” photographer, sharing pictures of their daily meals, cute pets and “selfies” that show how great they look in an elevator’s mirror – it is quite understandable how professional photographers are easily losing their credibility.

When looking at these issues it’s quite odd to believe in photography as art. Yet, they develop complex themes, use different and innovative ways of photographing, while not forgetting the most important factor: the possibility of making people feel certain emotions only by looking at their pictures.

Abelardo Morell is one of those photographers. Born in Cuba, but raised in America, he can be called an artist. By using the earlier techniques of photography, such as Camera Obscura, Photogram, Cliché-Verres and also various simple but yet very strong objects, such as tents, he created a unique kind of photography, and for those reasons he became an artist photographer who has his work exhibited in many famous museums and galleries.

What is most interesting about Morell’s work is the way he develops his photos’ themes, which go deeply into the photo, making a strong and relevant, simple everyday photograph. One of his collections is entitled “Books”, where he used actual books to create shadows and lights through different angles and positions and demonstrated the art of photography.
Books_02Another good example is his incredible work, “Camera Obscura”, in which he darkened rooms and made small holes that would reveal the outside as images reflected inside those rooms. He used this technique of photography to create a very colorful and illuminating snapshot; he also did it in black & white photography. With “Camera Obscura” he proved that it’s possible to be avant-garde by still using old ideas.
CameraObscura_01The collection “Tent” is similar to “Camera Obscura”, but it has a unique element that Morrell used to create these photos. By using a tent as a tool for his photographs, he shows the audience that we can use all kinds of elements, the most simple ones, to create strong pictures. What matters here are the “eyes”, all the different looks you implement to make a photo unique and singular. This is what makes photography an art , and Abelardo knows very well how to do it.

Tent_03You can see all these incredible pictures of Abelardo Morell at The Getty Museum, until January 14th. If you like photography and if you like art, don’t miss it!

Go to http://www.thegetty.edu for more information.
All images from: http://www.abelardomorell.net.

As Fidel Exits, Changes May Come In

After being in power for nearly 50 years, Fidel Castro, 84, has officially stepped down as the first secretary of the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party. His brother Raul Castro, 79, has now assumed leadership of the party. While Raul has kept a majority of old faces in leadership positions, three new members have been appointed to the leadership council.

Congress has recently approved 300 economic proposals that could bring  aid to Cuba’s poor economy. Some of these reforms include allowing more small business licenses, cutting the state’s inflated payroll, and surprisingly allowing the buying and selling of private property. These reforms present significant changes for Cuba but, Raul Castro said that these reforms will occur over time.

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Cuban Postal Delivery to US Halted

Yahoo! News reports an announcement from Cuba’s mail firm which declared it has stopped postal delivery to the US. Postal deliveries were originally suspended in 1963 following Cuba’s communist revolution led by Fidel Castro, but in 2009 Barack Obama negotiated a reinstatement of indirect mail delivery through countries such as Mexico and Canada.

The progress the Obama administration seemed to be making with the Cuban government halted when the Cuban postal company released a statement that “until further notice Cuban post offices cannot keep accepting any type of mail for the United States.”

However, the Cuban postal service claims that it is not their fault; the suspension results because in November the US applied stricter anti-terrorism measures to mail deliveries from many countries including Cuba. These restrictions have caused mail to be sent back to Cuba, which makes the service more costly for Cuba.

This announcement comes as a surprise, as Obama’s recent decision to renew mail delivery to and from Cuba, as well as his decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba, were seen as reparation moves.

Cuban Postal Delivery to US Halted

Yahoo! News reports an announcement from Cuba’s mail firm which declared it has stopped postal delivery to the US. Postal deliveries were originally suspended in 1963 following Cuba’s communist revolution led by Fidel Castro, but in 2009 Barack Obama negotiated a reinstatement of indirect mail delivery through countries such as Mexico and Canada.

The progress the Obama administration seemed to be making with the Cuban government halted when the Cuban postal company released a statement that “until further notice Cuban post offices cannot keep accepting any type of mail for the United States.”

However, the Cuban postal service claims that it is not their fault; the suspension results because in November the US applied stricter anti-terrorism measures to mail deliveries from many countries including Cuba. These restrictions have caused mail to be sent back to Cuba, which makes the service more costly for Cuba.

This announcement comes as a surprise, as Obama’s recent decision to renew mail delivery to and from Cuba, as well as his decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba, were seen as reparation moves.

Habana Eva

Looking at Habana Eva

Habana EvaHabana Eva is no your typical romantic comedy. Fina Torress, the film’s director, provides a refreshingly modern spin the tired story of romantic love triangle.

Eva, a young seamstress in modern day Cuba, is stuck with a stifling job in a dress factory and with her clueless slacker fiancé. When she meets Jorge, a charming and intelligent ex-patriot, her worldview expands. Eva becomes torn between her simple fiancé Angel, and the alluring new man in her life.

Torres utilizes this love triangle not to stifle Eva’s development, but to propel Eva as a protagonist. Eva shows warmth and incredible talent as a seamstress, but she is settling in a life she knows she doesn’t want.

Throughout the film, Eva undergoes a transformation and emerges as a strong and liberated female character. She begins to make decisions on her own terms by defying conventions and using her talents.

The film’s brilliance is also due in large part to the supporting cast. Eva’s best friend Teresa, is an escort who became self-sufficient and happy on her own terms. She is incredibly honest, racy, and energetic.

Equally fun to watch was Eva’s father, mother, and sister, whom together represent a more traditional mindset. The cast represents a tension between modernity and tradition in Cuba, a dominant theme in this film.

Torres’ desire to challenge gender and relationship norms with unconventional stories truly makes this film an enjoyable, surprising, and thought-provoking film. The humor in this story and energy filled dialogue enhance Torres’ commentary on modern women and their relationships.

Torres and her cast prove that women can and should have it all.

Festival Latino 2010

On April 3 the Latin American Student Association (LASA) held its twelfth annual Festival Latino, which took place on campus at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza. The strong winds did not stop LASA nor student volunteers from putting the festival together early that morning, and it certainly did not stop spectators from attending.

This year’s Festival Latino had positive changes, according to several members of the LASA committee. “Our goal was to establish unity among Latino organizations at UCLA,” said Elba Solis, director of Festival Latino.

Solis explained that in the past, Latino organizations have never truly been united nor have they truly supported one another. LASA board members collectively decided to use the festival as a method of establishing unity with other Latino student organizations by inviting them to participate. Unity within the student Latino community is important to the LASA committee because it provides a safe space for Latino students to become conscious of issues that pertain Latina/o communities. This is why it took committee members all of last summer, fall, and winter to plan and organize the event.

The committee attended meetings with Latino organizations to invite them to assist with the festival while establishing a union with them. The participating organizations included Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success, Latinas Guiding Latinas, MEChA Calmecac, Hermanas Unidas, and La Familia. Most of these organizations collaborated with the LASA committee by promoting the event or by volunteering that day. Additionally, the LASA committee formed alliances with the Latino Greek council, which consists of Lambda Theta Nu, Phi Lambda Rho, Lambda Theta Alpha, Gamma Zeta Alpha, and Nu Alpha Kappa (NAK) who supported the festival with funding and volunteers.

“It was a really good experience and I would definitely participate again,” explained Alfredo Calderón, a NAK member. Calderón participated during the event by assisting children to color in the outlines of works by Diego Rivera at a children’s station. The point of this station, he explains, was for children to learn about Art and Diego Rivera while having fun.

The day of the festival the students volunteering guided performers, assisted decorating the plaza with Latin American flags and a fake wall known as the “walk through,” which displayed adornments representing countries in Latin America. The festival included performances by Mariachi UCLAtlán, Pilar Díaz, and Banda Flor de Piña among others. Most spectators mingled while dancing to the beats and rhythms of the music. The delicious food was the most popular attraction with food stations representing countries like El Salvador, Columbia, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and the U.S.

Festival Latino provided an opportunity for Latino student organizations to unite in solidarity. It was not just a regular day on campus; it was a day to celebrate the Latino culture and most importantly a day for these students to work together.

Reviving the World of Ballet

Lorna Feijoo

by Raquel Nieves

Classical ballet originated in European courts and for many years was dominated by European countries. Europeans introduced ballet to the states at the turn of the century, and up until the 1980s most ballet stars in America were either from the Soviet Union or England. Today, Latin American dancers are reviving the art of ballet all over the country as it takes on a new demographic and brings in new audiences.

Major ballet companies in the US such as American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet and San Francisco Ballet found success with the help of Latino dancers. At American Ballet Theater, the United States’ most prestigious ballet company, seven of its 17 principal dancers are Latin American.

Strong ballet training is a key aspect of the growing participation of Latinos in classical ballet. For example, Escuela Superior de Ballet, of Guadalajara Mexico, is responsible for more than a third of the winners in American ballet competitions such as the International Ballet Competition and Youth American Grand Prix.

Cuban ballet schools also find success because of the country’s rich history in ballet. Cuban ballet legend, Alicia Alonso created the Cuban National Ballet in 1948 and also was a co-founder of The American Ballet Theater in 1940. In addition, ballet has been government sponsored in Cuba after Fidel Castro underwrote a network of state-sponsored ballet academies that are still going strong.

Sisters Lorena and Lorna Feijoo trained with Alonso’s Cuban National Ballet. After immigrating to the US, Lorena is now principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Lorna, a principal with Boston Ballet. Both Feijoos have danced every lead female role in ballet’s repertoire and have also performed contemporary works by choreographers such as George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Cristopher Wheeldon.

Latin American dancers are extremely talented and bring an amazing caliber and style to the art of ballet. Jose Manuel Carreno, a Cuban principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, seems to jump seven feet in the air with absolutely no effort. His upper body remains fluid and elegant, as he performs impossibly fast footwork and busts out nine flawless pirouettes.

And all aspiring ballerinas can look up to another Cuban dancer, Xiomara Reyes. Reyes, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, has a dance quality unlike any other ballerina on stage. Every step, from a simple plié to the most intricate turn combination, is delivered with complete intent and passion. Reyes trained with The Cuban National Ballet School and has danced with top ballet companies across the world such as Royal Ballet London.

Company after company hires dancers from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean who quickly scale the ranks from corps de ballet to principal dancers. This influx attracts the press back to ballet, bringing Latino interest and encouraging young Latinos to pick up ballet.  Ballet rehearsals all over the country are becoming bilingual, as Latinos continue to be the up and coming force in American ballet.

Previously printed Fall 09

Obama Takes Step Backward on Cuba

Republished with the permission of New America Media

The Obama administration took a step backward on U.S. relations with Cuba when it included it on a terrorist list. We urge the administration to reconsider this decision.

The list of 14 nations the United States considers either sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest includes Cuba and Saudi Arabia. U.S.-bound air passengers from these nations are to receive extra security checks, including pat-downs. This was in reaction to the Christmas day terrorism attempt during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Last we understood, the attempted attack broke through because of a failure of national intelligence, not out of a terror campaign by Cubans. As is, the United States applies a long list of restrictions to Cuba under a decades-old embargo policy.

The U.S. State Department has said that Cuba harbors fugitives from justice and has supported Colombian and Basque rebel groups. The Cuban government disputes these claims or offers political rationalizations for individuals it brands as asylees.

But we know that if Cuba posed such a clear and present danger to the United States, that President Obama would not have relaxed some travel and other restrictions on Cuba, as he did last year. Representatives like Jose Serrano and Sam Farr have called for building on that momentum to change stagnant, ineffective policies toward Cuba.

In the context of the last eight years and specifically the events since Christmas day, the nation has been focused, and rightfully so, on terrorism campaigns against U.S. citizens. It makes sense that Saudi Arabia, where the Sept. 11 attackers trained, is included on that list.

While the Castro regime is not innocent, putting Cuba in the same league as Iran, for example, is unfair and undermines efforts towards a 21st century foreign policy.