- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2000

When the Washington Ballet performs this month in Havana, it will be the first professional American ballet company to dance in Cuba in 40 years, says the president of a production company that has hired Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple to create a feature-length film about the trip.

Cynthia Newport, president of the local Illume Productions, also is executive producer of the film, temporarily titled “Dance Cuba 2000” and expected to cost about $1 million.

The New York-based Ms.Kopple, perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning 1976 film “Harlan County, USA,” about a Kentucky coal miners’ strike, has been in Washington off and on this past month. She has been filming the Washington Ballet’s preparations for this week’s performances of “The Jazz/Blues Project” at the Kennedy Center.

Her new film will touch on the lives of dancers in both countries and show Septime Webre, the Washington Ballet’s artistic director, visiting his mother’s family home in Camaguey, Cuba, for the first time.

Her co-director will be Octavio Cortazar, vice president of Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists, whom she will meet for the first time Wednesday in Havana. The trip will be Ms. Kopple’s third trip to Cuba. She visited there in the late 1970s for a youth festival and for the first Havana Film Festival.

Her most recent project, yet to be released in theaters here, is titled “My Generation,” a documentary examining the Woodstock legacy and its impact.

“The Washington Ballet has opened up a whole new world for me, of understanding what it is to be a dancer — the grueling routine and the kind of passion somebody feels for the art form,” Ms. Kopple says, noting some similarities with the coal miners.

“The passion is the same, because it gets into your blood,” she says. “Once you go underground, it is like discovering a new world.”

When complete, “Dance Cuba 2000” will show members of both the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded in 1948 by prima ballerina Alicia Alonso, and the Washington Ballet, including American choreographer Trey McIntyre, participating in the 17th International Dance Festival in Havana.

The project’s only theme to date, Ms. Kopple says, is “storytelling … about life unfolding.” It will include scenes of the entourage leaving Oct. 23 and interviews with Washington Ballet Director Emeritus Mary Day, guest artist Amanda McKerrow, Miss Alonso and “Cuban people who have an intense feeling about music and art.”

“We want to go home with [Cuban] dancers to see what their lives are like,” Ms. Kopple says. “Hopefully, there will be a lot of surprises. To date, we are just learning who everybody is [in dance]. Everybody is in it for a different reason and has a different story to tell.”

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