Chicago ballet dancer makes history in Cuba
As relations between the United States and Cuba improve, a Chicago ballet dancer has been chosen to make history, becoming the first American dancer to study at the world-renowned Cuban National Ballet School.
"It's a real honor for me and I’m very grateful to my instructors at Ruth Page as well its director Victor Alexander and foundation executive director Venetia Stifler," 18-year old ballerina Catherine Conley told the Chicago City Wire. "I’m also deeply moved that Ramona de Saa and her team of instructors at The Cuban National Ballet School have chosen me to develop as an artist, what a privilege."
Conley, a Michigan resident, has been dancing and training for over 10 years with the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago and the Ruth Page Civic Ballet. The Ruth Page Center has held a number of joint productions with the Cuban National Ballet School, where Conley was able to experience some of the techniques she will be learning in Cuba. Conley has also trained and performed in Cuba twice, as well as doing summer intensive programs with The Royal Ballet in London, the Boston Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre. She says she's looking forward to learning the exacting techniques and training practices of the Cuban school.
"The Cubans dance at an extremely high artistic and physical level and are among the very best in the world," Conley said. "They have exacting standards and expect me to meet those standards. Their training is also very, very rigorous. Based upon my experience having danced in Havana twice now, I know that their training will push me to my physical limits in terms of the ballet itself and the long hours which require considerable endurance on every level."
Conley also told of how de Saa, the director of the Cuban school, told Victor Alexander, director of the Ruth Page School of Dance, that she believes the training will turn Conley into "a knife," meaning the sharpest and most refined of dancers. In a news release by the Ruth Page School, de Saa said that Conley has beautiful lines as well as highly refined technique.
Conley will move to Havana and begin her training as soon as she graduates from high school this summer.
Silvino da Silva, director of marketing and communications at the Ruth Page School, says that while these two schools have a historic relationship, only the changing relations between the U.S. and Cuba make this possible.
"The Ruth Page Center for the Arts obtained official permission from the U.S. and Cuban governments to initiate the first official artistic and collaborative exchange with the Cuban National Ballet School in 2015," he said. "This exchange was the first of its kind between art institutions since relations have normalized, and was partially funded by the MacArthur Foundation's International Connections Fund. Our primary goal in this exchange was to explore the differences in dance methodology and training, especially within ballet and contemporary dance genres, while creating cross-cultural learning and a shared artistic experience."
He went on to say, "This is a historic moment in our national and artistic lives."