Miami 2021 Review: CUBAN DANCER, The Journey of Passion and Growth
A hat-tip to my friend Mattie, who has taught me a lot about the art and science of ballet over the past several years. While every art form has its own rules, quirks, individuality in how the work is done, and what is necessary by those in the discipline, what has always been fascinating about ballet is the sheer amount of time a dancer must devote to keeping their body in ballet shape, so that there leaves no time for any other activity. But that devotion is based in love, and it's a journey for the dancer to how far they will go for an art whose world often does not reciprocate their devotion.
Alexis is one of the those dancers. At 17 years old, his life revolves around dance, and the ballet school in Havana. Director Roberto Salinas tells the story of a very complicated few years in Alexis' life, where ballet becomes his anchor in an ever-changing existence over which he has little control. What happens when our dreams are postponed, or we're forced into a different direction? Can we keep on track? What if the sacrifice isn't worth it? Alexis' determination must see him through.
Alexis loves his school, the centre of ballet in Cuba. He knows the struggles of his country, but it's made him resilient. He dreams of being a principal dancer one day, and he has the discipline for it. Alexis is happy in that world, with the support of his parents. However, his parents also miss his sister, who lives in Miami. So, while Alexis still has to finish his schooling, they decide - in that brief window when Cuba and the USA had better relations under Obama - to move to Miami, and they don't give Alexis a choice about coming with them.
Ballet requires tremendous physical endurance, and also a fairly specific body type and shape; it's a daily struggle to keep in the right shape, which means, especially as his body still has some growing to do, Alexis can't afford to lose even a day with ballet in his life. But what of the other things? His extended family, his friends, his girlfriend? His love his parents, but he loves his life in Havana, and his status at the school - will he still pass muster in America, or will his dreams be dashed?
Salinas is able to be with Alexis and his family through some very emotionally intimate moments. Like many artists, especially those who must use their bodies so fully for their art, emotions are always just below the surface of his skin; he shows his fear, frustration, sadness, and joy. Nothing feels exagerrated, nor reserved; this is a young man trying to keep a steady path to his dream despite the odds, and Salinas gives us a winding yet thoughtful road to travel with him.
Over these few years of Alexis life, we watch him grow from an (already fairly mature) teenager to a young man; these are crucial times, and not only must Alexis work harder than most to achieve his dream, he must do it in a distant land, far away from everything he has know, separated from his loved ones. It's not so much about Alexis figuring out who he is; he already seems to know that. Or at least, he knows he's Cuban, and he knows that he is a ballet dancer. What will hold him into adulthood, will these things be enough, is the question explored.
Along with stories of Alexis and his family, we get to see some wonderful dance, from dancers we can hopefully see live in the future. Cuban Dancer is a joyous film, a rare moment of hope in a world too often cynical with the futures of young people.