This year's 26th Havana International Ballet Festival will for the first time ever feature Cuba's "great family" of classical dancers, including those who defected to join foreign dance companies.
The Oct. 28 to Nov. 6 festival will mark a "historic moment for Cuban dance," Heriberto Cabezas, public relations director of Cuba's National Ballet (BNC), told reporters on Thursday.
The festival aims to showcase the country's top talents in contemporary and classical dance, regardless of dancers' past decisions, said Cabezas.
"We have decided to turn that page and concentrate on the present. We want to reconcile with our ballet diaspora, which also represents us and, along with the BNC, has contributed to bringing ... the glory of Cuban ballet to the world," Cabezas said.
Miguel Cabrera, the BNC's historian, agreed, saying dancers who defected continued to represent Cuba's artistic accomplishments abroad.
"None of the dancers who are coming to dance in Cuba have denied their roots," Cabrera said.
New immigration policies approved last year allow Cubans who defected while on official missions or performance tours to return, without having to wait eight years, as before.
The BNC, the festival's host company, was founded in 1948 by Cuban-born prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso, who made her dancing debut in the United States. Since then, the two countries have enjoyed strong cultural ties in the performing art.
Not surprisingly, the largest number (21) of foreign dancers at the festival come from U.S. companies, such as the American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet and dance groups from Washington and Pennsylvania.
Also attending will be U.S. dancers from the Miami City Ballet, the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, Ellison Ballet and the Dance Alive National Ballet.
The festival also features 23 well-known ballet ensembles from Britain, Russia, Australia, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Canada and Peru.
In addition to stage performances, the festival offers book presentations, photographic exhibits and workshops.
Alonso did not attend the press conference, said Cabezas, because at the "beautiful age of 97" she decided to save her energy for the series of celebrations in the festival program, including a gala to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the BNC, host of the festival, and the 75th anniversary of Alonso's debut in the role of Giselle.
"Alicia has absolutely no health problems. As a person who has reached that age, she needs to take care of herself," said Cabrera.
In its 58-year history, the biannual festival has featured dancers from 61 countries.