Lester Tomé is an assistant professor in the Dance Department and the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program at Smith College. He is also a faculty member in the Five College Dance Department. In 2013-14, he was the Peggy Rockefeller Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS). During 2014-15 he is a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and research affiliate at DRCLAS. These fellowships have supported his work on a book manuscript that examines the development of ballet in Cuba as a case study of both ballet’s globalization and the cultural production of the Cuban Revolution. His articles have appeared in the journals Dance Chronicle, Dance Research Journal of Korea and Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, as well as in edited volumes and the specialized publications Dance Magazine and Cuba en el Ballet. Dr. Tomé has been interviewed for NPR’s Weekend Edition and given talks at Columbia University and Haverford College, among other institutions. He chairs the Working Group for Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Dance Studies of the Society of Dance History Scholars. In the past, he taught at Bryn Mawr College and Denison University, and worked as a dance critic for CMBF-Radio Musical Nacional (Cuba) and El Mercurio (Chile).
Cuban Ballet: Cosmopolitan Dancers, Nationalist Gestures; A Study in Ballet and Globalization
The inception of the National Ballet of Cuba in 1959, with state support of the government of Fidel Castro, brought the opportunity of aligning the local practice of ballet with the Cuban Revolution’s ideal of a racial democracy. A chapter of my book manuscript on the history of the Cuban ballet discusses multiple aspects of this situation. I examine racial integration in the National Ballet of Cuba, as the troupe acted as a pioneer institution at the international level in transforming ballet into a multiracial field. Yet, I consider how the participation of black dancers in an art adhering to notions of bodily beauty modeled upon whiteness proved to be ridden with tensions and obstacles within the ensemble. Moreover, I analyze the development of a repertoire of culturally hybrid works that integrated ballet vocabulary and thematic, musical and movement material from Afro-Cuban sources. Such choreographies promoted a nationalist aesthetics in ballet by celebrating the mixture of European and African heritages as the essence of Cuban culture. But while these works provided eloquent metaphors of mestizaje and enriched the Cuban ballet stylistically, they neglected to depict the contemporary social reality of Afro-Cubans. Finally, I scrutinize interracial partnering in some of these ballets for its political symbolism, reading the choreo-erotic interactions of opposite sex white and black bodies vis-à-vis a national discourse that since colonial times has related interracial dancing to miscegenation taboos.