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Behind the curtain of Ballet Revolución

Behind the curtain of Ballet Revolución

Roclan González Chavez: “I am Roclan, a Cuban from Cuba.”
Perhaps that is all you need to know. Actually it would be a gross understatement to one of Cuba’s most brilliant choreographers. We catch up with him as the show is being rehearsed on the 9th floor of the Teatro Nacional. Dancers of different ages and backgrounds form a group that is as eclectic as the show itself. Music from various countries played live by a band of Cuban musicians and international guest vocalists, neoclassical ballet, contemporary dance, folklore, acrobatics, popular dance and large amounts of excitement are combined in Ballet Revolución which has been on tour around different countries for the past year.

While the company’s regisseur, Marina Villanueva, teaches a ballet class, choreographer Roclan González tells us that this is a commercial show aimed at “showcasing the talent of Cuban dancers.“

From Roclan we learn that he is used to working at night and sleeping by day, and hates being woken up before 11 o’clock; that he studied at the National School of Art, specializing in folklore; and that he later spent one more year studying to be a musical comedian in the School of Variety Theatre.

“I did some singing, some acting, and made a fool of myself in some performances, even as a presenter on TV. But what I really like to do is choreograph. I think if I was born again I would like to be a choreographer.”

Roclan, a candid man who has a way with words, tells us that in 1998 he joined the Cuban Television Ballet as dancer and choreographer. This experience allowed him to work with many TV directors as well as producers of big shows. This includes two important names in Cuban show biz: Santiago Alfonso and Tomás Morales, who is the current director of the famous Tropicana Cabaret. During his television phase, he met Cristy Domínguez, dancer, choreographer and director of the TV Ballet. He mentions Cristy’s name over and over again with great love and respect: “She is one of the few people I’ve seen really help young dancers, and she does this from deep inside, from the heart. She is mother, friend, teacher, choreographer, director, artist. She is all this and much more.”

Roclan is well known in Cuba as a choreographer, especially for his involvement in many musical TV shows, music festivals such as Cubadisco, the Lucas video awards, plus music videos and concerts.

Outside Cuba, Roclan’s distinctive choreographies, with Jon Lee as his international promoter and producer, are well known, having toured successfully with shows like “Lady Salsa” and “Kings of Salsa.” The latter, which toured 35 cities in the United States, used music that had been especially composed for Roclan by young Cuban musicians, something Roclan is extremely proud of.

A staunch defender of the African roots in Cuban culture, his choreographies delve into folklore and popular dances. “Musicals and popular shows sell better than classical ballet or contemporary dance, and if you want to see contemporary dance, you go to the Netherlands or Germany; they have so many companies and use the latest techniques in dance. But they don’t have what we have,” he declares. This is why he confesses to being a supporter of commercial musicals as well as a respectful admirer of folklore and variety show dancers. In his opinion, it is equally difficult to do 12 perfect pirouettes and knowing and mastering all our popular dances.

This does not mean, however, that the young choreographer disregards the refined techniques from classical ballet or contemporary dance. For Ballet Revolución, he looked for dancers who mastered these techniques, so much so that the show begins with a classic scene and a ballerina on her pointe shoes. Training includes ballet lessons for every member of the company regardless of their background and previous training. For some of the dancers, the experience has been hard on them. Idania Lavilla, with a long career in the National Ballet of Cuba, told us that she has shed many tears learning to dance guaguancó and rumba after so many years of classical ballet.

Teacher and regisseur Marina Villanueva, who is trained in classical ballet, is a retired dancer who admits to being in love with the Revolución project, both for Roclan’s discipline and determination, and the dancers’ dedication. “I don’t know what these boys and girls have,” she says, “but wherever we go, they pull audiences out of their seats, even in European countries where people are more restrained. They’re hard-working and dedicated artists.”

During the rehearsal that follows the class, we witness how the dancers learn each other’s roles thus giving practical effect to their work philosophy: “No one is indispensable. Everyone must be ready to take the place of another in a time of trouble.” When there are eight shows a week, accidents can happen, but first and foremost, the show must go on.

Last October 20, as part of the celebrations for the Day of Cuban Culture, the company danced several excerpts from different shows produced by Roclan along with a gala by the Cuban Television Ballet. The show, “Live for dance,” produced by Roclan and Cristy Domínguez, was a resounding success. “The audience was practically made up of young people, and that was absolutely lovely, so cool,” says Roclan. “It was really moving. I loved the whole thing, especially the end when a guajiro came on stage waving a Cuban flag and Ballet Revolución was surrounded by this energy that the Television Ballet had already created. This special moment gave the youth in the theater a new way of interpreting the word revolution; of understanding revolution with a certain touch of evolution,” remarks the choreographer, moved by the response of the audience.

The regisseur gives us a few more minutes to talk with the dancers, but she’s pressing us to finish so that they can continue with the rehearsal. “I need to go over this from top to bottom,” she explains. One dancer tells us that during intermissions, everybody anxiously waits for Marina to give them a “grade” and they know from the look in her face if she’s satisfied or not with the performance. Another dancer says that Roclan always has more steps than needed when he’s staging a choreography, and his problem isn’t what he’s going to need but what he has to take out.

Before we leave Roclan and his band of merry dancers, we ask him how he would describe himself. His answer couldn’t be any other: “I am Roclan, a Cuban from Cuba.”

Roclan Gonzalez Chavez
Roclan is one of the most original and inventive choreographers working in Cuba today. He studied at the prestigious Cuban National Art school in Havana, graduating in 1996 with distinction in both contemporary and folkloric dance and was the only person in his year to be awarded a post graduate scholarship to study Choreography. Since then, he has worked with most of Cuba’s best known music and dance groups, including Omar Portuanda, Company Segundo, salsa big band Los Van Van and the world renowned, Tropicana Cabaret. He is the main Choreographer for Cuban Television Ballet, which perform regularly on TV and state events. For the last 5 years he has choreographed the national Cuban music awards, Cuba disco and many music videos for top Cuban bands.

His recent international tours include choreographing the hit shows Lady Salsa, and The Kings of Salsa. Which have toured internationally for the last 7 years in Europe, Uk, Asia, Australia and USA to great critical acclaim. He has also worked extensively all over Latin America and studied many styles from this region from Brazilian Samba, Contemporary ballet to Argentinean Tango. Roclan has an unrivalled understanding of the folkloric roots of salsa and Cuban dance, which he blends with breathtaking contemporary moves, producing a unique dance fusion. He is regarded as one of the most talented and versatile young choreographers to come out of Cuba in the last decade.

December 2012

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