Cuban Ballet in Exile

Some of the world's best dancers hang out at Costco, then perform Swan Lake.

Hayna shares a modest, tidy seafoam green bedroom with Taras. Miguel Angel sleeps on an air mattress tucked behind a wooden screen off the kitchen. Kate Kadow, a 17-year-old from Tampa, occupies another room. And two male dancers from Brazil and Georgia live in a third. "She loses count of all us," Kadow says as she lounges on the living room's floral couch.

There are daily trips to Costco, Publix, and the gym. They eat dinner together and take trips to the beach, though they can't fit in one car. Miguel Angel sometimes cooks pasta. Magaly prepares rice and beans. "We are a happy family," Magaly says. "If they dance well, they can do whatever they want."

Taras, Hayna, and Miguel Angel are settling into life in the States. The guys stay up late and don't stir until the afternoon. Then every day but Sunday they head to ballet practice around 4 or 5 p.m. They arrive home at 10 or 11 and watch TV — Taras is partial to 24 — or play videogames such as Guitar Hero.

Adiarys Almeida and Taras Domitro share a laugh as another dancer looks on.
Andrzej Sobieski
Adiarys Almeida and Taras Domitro share a laugh as another dancer looks on.

Taras listens to American bands — Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Aerosmith. He misses his grandmother, friends, and fans in Cuba. "The audience there is unbelievable," he says. "They encourage you."

Hayna deeply misses her mother, Mercedes, a teacher at the National Ballet School of Cuba, with whom she lived on the island. Phone calls are expensive, so they communicate mostly by e-mail. "My heart will always be with them. I have faith that I will see my mother again."

So does Miguel Angel, who writes daily to his mom, Gloria, in Cuba. He expects reality to hit once he moves out. "When I live alone, I'll have my own house, my car, and I'll have to start paying electric bills and rent. Then I'll start to understand how things really are here."

Since their arrival, the three have been rehearsing Swan Lake at Magaly's Pompano studio almost every day. One Friday evening around 8 in early February, Peña and Magaly watched as Hayna crumpled to the floor during intricate footwork on pointe. Then she pulled herself up, rubbed her knees, and apologized. "I was too hurried," she said, her chest heaving. "It's my fault."

Miguel Angel stretched his neck and cracked his knuckles, looking like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. He then pirouetted so quickly his sweat flicked on bystanders.

Finally Taras began his dance. Poised to leap, he stumbled a bit at the start. He pursed his lips. Magaly looked at Peña. "He's tired," she said.

There's much work to do.

It's Saturday night around 7, an hour until showtime at The Fillmore, and Magaly barges into the upstairs dressing room where 10 swans, mostly Americans, primp in a row of mirrors framed with lights.

There are 28 dancers in the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. Cubans star in principal roles, and Magaly's most serious U.S.-born students, many of them home-schooled to have sufficient time for practice, dance supporting or soloist roles.

In a sort of ballet Spanglish, she supervises the makeup. "Brown inside, blue outside, and dark blue here," she says, pointing to a swan's eye crease.

One slathers on navy, to which Magaly laughs in Spanish. "But you look like a blue bird!"

Next she heads downstairs, where Taras is in his dressing room, combing back his curls while listening to "Y Sin Embargo" on his iPod. He prefers to be alone before the show. He slips into a long-sleeve gray shirt that covers a star tattoo on his chest. He'll debut as Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with Princess Odette. She is turned into a white swan by an evil sorcerer.

Taras fishes a cigarette from a pack of Marlboros before puffing from an inhaler. Asthma doesn't slow his dancing. Nor has smoking. He exits to the loading dock and returns only five minutes before the 8 p.m. curtain with a can of Red Bull.

"Vamos. Act One!" Magaly calls dancers to the dark backstage wings, where the temperature feels about 60 degrees and black curtains conceal them. She offers high-fives and hugs to about a dozen painted dancers in peach dresses and men in boxy hats, who all stretch and encourage one another.

"Pointe power!" says one.

"Are you ready to rock this?" calls another.

A third does crunches on the dusty wooden floor.

Miguel Angel, who will play Prince Siegfried the next afternoon, stands anxiously among them like a ballet director in training. He sports a black tux jacket and offers suggestions. He's there, he says, "because you never know what could happen."

"Don't be nervous!" Magaly whispers to the huddled dancers as she rushes around in silver wedge sandals and loose, stretchy black pants. "Good luck."

A crooning oboe signals the beginning of the score, and silence settles over the mumbling audience. The Queen's soldiers heave a wooden casket on their shoulders and lumber across the stage. A soloist panics when she realizes her goblet is missing: "Where's my cup!" Magaly finds it and then moves to her son. She kisses his curly head.

The red velvet curtain rises to a packed house, and the audience is blurred in the dim light. Minutes later, about half past 8, Taras bounds regally, toes pointed, across the stage and into the spotlight. The crowd applauds graciously. His mother stands, admiring him, her head cocked to the right, in the wings. She is sharing her son with the United States.

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