Cuban Ballet in Exile

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

Click here to see a slide show of the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami's performance of Swan Lake.

Her honeyed curls swept practically into a barrette, Magaly Suárez raps at the closed door of her 21-year-old son's dressing room and shouts, "Taritas!"

Rock music booms from inside, but he doesn't come out — at least not immediately.

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.
Magaly adjusts Taras's costume before the February 23 performance of Swan Lake.
Andrzej Sobieski
Magaly adjusts Taras's costume before the February 23 performance of Swan Lake.
Pedro Pablo Peña hands a bouquet to Almeida after the show
Andrzej Sobieski
Pedro Pablo Peña hands a bouquet to Almeida after the show

Eventually dozens of men and women — including slender, striking five-foot-nine Taras Domitro — fall in behind the commanding five-foot blonde. They look as if they were stripped from the pages of a fairy tale, dressed as swans with cherry-red lips and royalty adorned in plastic jewels.

After reaching The Fillmore Miami Beach's stage, they warm up to rhythms heard only in their heads — leaping, twirling, and bowing regally.

A soloist in a swishing peach dress completes a pirouette and then huffs to a friend: "I think everybody can see I have white underwear on."

"It looks like part of the costume," a swan reassures.

French horns, clarinets, and flutes rush through scales as Magaly hurries offstage and into the audience, where she settles into a folding chair in the middle of the fifth row. Parents and other supporters are scattered throughout. She sits on the edge of the chair, a silver microphone poised at her lips.

"Slow, slow, slow, maestro," Magaly says as Taras emerges from the wings. He is dancing the lead as Prince Siegfried. His sandy brown hair is slicked back. Black track pants and a sage velvet top cover his seven tattoos. He floats into the spotlight with grand jetés, casting his long legs into yawning, ruler-straight lines.

He's suspended a few feet in the air, where he hovers like a butterfly before briefly touching down. He springs back to his own stratosphere. Glassy-eyed and tired, Magaly looks on approvingly as she leans on the chair in front of her.

Taras then gracefully sits on the stage. Magaly says, "Get up, Taras."

His brow furrows over the correction. But he obeys.

Soon four men gallantly prance onstage, legs stiff and toes pointed. Magaly repeats, "Slow down."

After the dancers have left, one stomps back. "Please don't yell at me," he says curtly.

"Please," Magaly whispers. "I didn't realize I was shouting. If you could, please forgive me."

Tension is high. Fatigue is setting in. It's the day before the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami's February 23 premiere of Swan Lake. The orchestra can't see the conductor. A handful of musicians has yet to arrive. Headpieces are missing. A mother in the wardrobe room chases her coffee with Pepsi. Dancers sneak smokes on the loading dock; the cement is dotted with butts.

It's now a few minutes before 11 p.m. They won't have time to run through all four acts before the midnight deadline set by the stage crew.

It will be a closely watched show. Three recent defectors — Taras, Hayna Gutiérrez, and Miguel Angel Blanco — will dance before an audience for the first time since they deserted the Cuban national ballet in December after performing The Nutcracker in Canada. They followed an exodus of stars who now hold principal roles in companies in San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Europe.

"We're now seeing that Cuban and other Latin American dancers have really exploded on the scene," says Lynn Garafola, a dance critic and professor at Barnard College. "The fact is that the appearance of Latin dancers on the world scene is something pretty new and something that has really challenged the preeminence of the Russians as performers."

The Miami Cuban company is unique. Magaly Suárez and others cradle dancers from the island as if they were their own children, taking them in and shuttling them on trips to Costco and the beach. It's a place where art trumps politics, where a mother and son bond through ballet, where sacrifice means the upheaval of a new beginning, and where the drive for perfection is infused with longing for home.

The roots of South Florida exile ballet trace to Alicia Alonso, a legend who founded and has reigned for six decades over the National Ballet of Cuba. Though now essentially blind and an octogenarian, she performed as a prima ballerina into her seventies and continues as the grande dame of the renowned company.

At age 15, Alonso traveled to New York, where she would later work with choreographers such as Antony Tudor and George Balanchine — who created Theme and Variations for her in 1947. A year later, she helped start a groundbreaking ballet company on the island.

Although the government nearly killed the troupe by pulling aid, Fidel Castro gave it new life when his revolution triumphed in January 1959. Soon after taking power, the dictator reportedly visited Alonso's Havana home to ask how much money would be needed to support the ballet. In 1960, Castro signed a law to promote the national ballet and provided twice the money requested — 200,000 pesos.

The Cuban school would evolve dramatically in the years that followed. Alonso skimmed from Russian, Italian, English, French, and U.S. influences to create a style known for clean lines and rapid footwork. Partners dance for each other, stoking a chemistry. Women convey emotion. Men soar across the stage, accentuating their virility and athleticism.

"You can say the stereotypical things like it's passionate, it's caliente, but the Cuban understanding of music tends to be more syncopated," says Suki John, a choreographer and dance scholar who teaches at Texas Christian University. "They tend to be expressive. They tend to have big personalities onstage."

Pedro Pablo Peña chanced upon this expressive style of ballet as a slender, leggy 15-year-old piano student in the early Sixties. The man who would later become a leader in the exile dance movement was enraptured as he watched a class while studying at the Municipal Conservatory of Music in Havana. "It was destiny," he says. "The peace, the movements. When I saw them dancing ballet, I thought, This is what I want to be."

Soon he was accepted to study ballet at the conservatory, but his father tore up the acceptance letter and forbade him to dance. Peña left the family home in San Miguel del Padrón, outside of Havana, to devote himself to ballet in the capital.

Around age 21, he joined the National Ballet of Cuba as a supporting dancer. In those years, the government expected artists to participate in the revolution, but Peña refused to join Communist clubs. He attended Mass and maintained antirevolutionary friends. As a result, he complains, he was penalized and prohibited from travel. "It was like they could smell it if you didn't fit in."

In the early Seventies, he was hired as a choreographer at a company that produced Broadway-style shows. Then he was ousted from that job. The reason: He wasn't enthusiastic enough about the revolution. Though he was reinstated, he joined the Mariel boatlift in 1980, slipping away on a shrimp boat and drifting to Miami. "I had to leave, whatever the risk," he says.

He scraped by, working at a ballet store and then teaching dance in Hialeah. In 1984 he became a choreographer on Univision's Sábado Gigante, which led to his crafting steps for legends such as Julio Iglesias and Celia Cruz. He left the show around 1991, and over the next few years put Miami on the ballet map, first forming the Miami Hispanic Ballet and then initiating the International Ballet Festival of Miami, now one of the nation's most acclaimed showcases of its kind.

In 2005, he heard about an interesting Cuban teacher in Pompano Beach, far from Little Havana's tight exile community. He attended one of Magaly Suárez's classes and then a recital. A creative spark flared. They soon hatched plans for their own company and in 2006 formed the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami.

Dancers from the island had been defecting in waves since 2002, and the pair hoped to take advantage of the Magic City as a first stop by using world-class dancers to produce crowd favorites such as Swan Lake. It was planned as an alternative to Miami City Ballet, which favors more contemporary choreography.

Magaly became the ballet mistress and shared with Peña the title of artistic director. Among those who signed on to their first full ballet, Giselle in 2007, were six former National Ballet of Cuba dancers, including Lorena Feijóo, now a top dancer with San Francisco. The troupe worked hard and drew audiences from the beginning. "The career of a ballet dancer is enslaving," Peña says. "It's total dedication, almost like being a priest. They came to fulfill their careers. And, to them, that's everything."

A memory Magaly holds dear: It's the early Nineties and she and Taras, an impetuous boy with wavy hair and a Cheshire Cat grin, are onstage after a show in the Alejo Carpentier room, a smaller performance space in the Gran Teatro of Old Havana. Maybe it was Don Quixote.

He is five or six years old.

It's past 10 p.m. The red curtain is open. The stars have bowed, the applause has stopped, and the audience is long gone. Magaly, a teacher at the National Ballet School of Cuba, mills about with other faculty members. Onstage, Taras spins, twirls, and leaps, offering his take on the show. This continues for a half-hour.

Magaly says she knew at this moment he would be a dancer. "I could see his skills, but I didn't want it. I wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer and take care of me. But he's an artist — you can see it. A lawyer doesn't like tattoos."

The boy inherited his passion for ballet from his mom. Magaly began studying at nine years old when she was chosen for Havana's renowned Alejo Carpentier Provincial School of Ballet. Later, after earning a coveted spot at the National Ballet School of Cuba, she danced roles in classics including Swan Lake and Paquita. She struggled with diet, as many dancers do, and ended up an emaciated 70 pounds. At age 17, she decided her petite, curvy frame was unsuited for the spotlight.

She opted to be a teacher. "I like to be the best in what I do," she says. "And if not I'm not going to be best, I prefer not to do it."

She graduated in 1980 and the same year became one of the youngest faculty members at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Her arduous schedule lasted from 7:30 in the morning to 9 at night, Monday through Saturday. She taught character dances, pointe classes, and pas de deux to the likes of Jose Manuel Carreño, now a principal at the American Ballet Theatre in New York; Luis Serrano, who would later join Miami City Ballet; and Lorna Feijóo (Lorena's sister), now a principal in the Boston Ballet.

At age 19, she married Taras's father, Taras Domitro Sr., who was a violinist. Her son was born five years later. Soon after giving birth, she began traveling abroad to give classes and attend competitions. Her first trip, to Venezuela in 1989, rocked her perspective. In Caracas, she "could breathe, eat, and have some freedom," she says. "I understood how life could be." She had tired of seeing her former dance students given cars while she was stuck riding a Chinese bicycle.

What's more, the government collected a 10 to 15 percent cut of the salary earned abroad. "They treated us like they owned us," she says. "I don't like anything to dominate me. The only thing I let dominate me is ballet, and that's enough."

Magaly worried about leaving her son, who then was only about three years old and asthmatic, even though he was with his father and their extended family. So she returned to Cuba. "Taritas was a baby," she says. "A child always needs his mother, but when they're that little, they need you a little more."

At age nine, Taras began formally studying dance at the Alejo Carpentier school, Magaly's alma mater. By that time, many Cuban parents had begun pushing their children to audition for ballet schools, which dotted the country. Dance can provide rare luxuries such as travel.

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Taras studied typical school subjects, and from 2 to 6 p.m., he danced. But Magaly wouldn't instruct him. "I never wanted to touch Taritas," she says. "I don't like to him see him suffering."

The boy had big dreams. "I was impressed by the ballet, its scenery, and technical steps," he recalls. "It was always very clear. I dedicated myself to only ballet."

Magaly continued traveling — to Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Colombia — for weeks or months at a time. Taras Jr., meanwhile, won acceptance to the National Ballet School of Cuba.

In 1998, Magaly visited Colombia, where she taught for almost a year. That December she decided to defect. Taras, then 12 years old, was with her. She invited him along. He refused, opting to continue with ballet on the island.

Taras doesn't recall being sad or angry. He was accustomed to his mother's absences. "The life of an artist is very independent," he says.

So Magaly, who had separated from Taras Sr. the previous year, kissed her son goodbye and hopped a flight to South Florida. Taras headed home. "It was very, very hard, but I knew it was best for me," she recalls. "I think he made the right decision. Because, since he studied ballet in Cuba, he has more options. Sometimes we have to sacrifice something to go for something else."

It would be five years until they saw each other again. The National Ballet School wouldn't let Taras travel. And Magaly, who moved to Fort Lauderdale, where she taught at a Cuban-run ballet school, couldn't garner a visa to see him.

She sent $200 every week or two, as well as trendy clothes, iPods, and tights and leotards for her son and his classmates. They talked two or three times a week. "When you are a good mother, nothing can change that," she explains. "It doesn't matter how far away you are."

In 2003, Magaly opened her own studio in Pompano Beach with help from her then-boyfriend, Pedro, an engineer. The pair met in Cuba and reunited in South Florida. They married in 2005.

Around that time, Taras was finally allowed to leave Cuba for a contest in Peru. Though Magaly traveled there, Taras asked her not to attend the first night's performance. "He knows how strict I am," she says.

After the show, they went to dinner. He stayed at her hotel. "I didn't try to make it a big deal," Magaly recalls. "I didn't want to be talking about something that was in the past."

Taras ended up winning the top prize and joining the National Ballet at 17 years old. In the years that followed, Magaly journeyed to his shows in Mexico, Brazil, and Spain at least once a year. But she was never allowed to see him in Cuba.

She never pushed him to leave. "It's a very personal decision," she says. "It has to be the right time for you."

Magaly was a maternal figure for exile dancers beginning with Daniel Sarabia in 2004. At age 19, he defected after performing Carmen in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and then headed to Miami, where he trained with Magaly. Soon he moved into her four-bedroom Pompano home while dancing and looking for a job. His older brother Rolando, a star dancer in Cuba, followed in 2005.

Both Sarabias stayed with Magaly for about a year before Daniel found a spot with the Boston company and Rolando with Houston. Both now dance with Miami City Ballet. Magaly eased them through a tumultuous time. "I didn't realize it was going to be that hard," Daniel says.

Since then, at least seven other Cuban dancers and teachers have lived with Magaly. She also shelters American dancers who have left faraway families to train in Pompano. "I don't really tell anyone to come," she insists. "They just call me when they get here."

Nearing midnight this past December 17 — two months before the Swan Lake performance — dozens of bleary-eyed passengers, rosy-cheeked babies, and young women in dowdy college sweatshirts stumble off an AirTran flight from Atlanta at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Nine journalists wait outside the security gate with glaring lights, microphones, and cameras until a svelte trio emerges with posture rarely seen outside beauty pageants and Catholic schools. They are Miguel Angel Blanco, a six-foot-one 24-year-old with a Ken doll profile; Hayna Gutiérrez, age 26, a caramel-haired beauty in black knee-high boots; and Taras, who has the air of an aloof skater kid in his black hoodie.

Hungry reporters simultaneously ask why they defected. They tired of the Cuban ballet company's staid repertoire, comes the answer. They want to try new things in new places. "I came here to dance for the United States," Taras replies. "I'm very happy to spend Christmas with my mom."

Magaly clutches his arm, smiling broadly and gazing doe-eyed up at him. "I'm very happy," she says. "This was the only thing I've been waiting for for nine years."

The trio followed defectors such as Carlos Guerra, who's now a 29-year-old principal dancer with Miami City Ballet. He was allowed to leave Cuba in 1998 to dance in Chile, and then wrangled a visa to Miami with the help of Sábado Gigante producers. In October 2003, 19-year-old Adiarys Almeida left the National Ballet of Cuba during a New York tour. She later danced with the Cincinnati Ballet. "You can't look back," she says.

Indeed the high mark for defectors was probably between 2002 and 2003, when more than 20 dancers fled while visiting Mexico, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Alicia Alonso did not approve. "They are like kites that one builds carefully with rods and strings and paper," she told the New York Times. "Then you launch them into flight and suddenly they break loose from the cord. It is sad how they fool themselves."

The Sarabia brothers' defections in 2004 and 2005 captured the most headlines — particularly that of Rolando. "His departure ... will be keenly felt in Cuba," the New York Times reported in August 2005. "Critics have called him 'the Cuban Nijinsky.'"

Then last December, Magaly and her husband Pedro traveled from Fort Lauderdale to Hamilton, Ontario, where the Cuban ballet was performing The Nutcracker. She reserved a room at the Ramada, where the troupe was staying. Alicia Alonso and her inner circle were at another, higher-end hotel. The day of the performance, Magaly met Taras and they went to a Wal-Mart to buy toiletries and DVD players for his return to Cuba.

The Canadian audience embraced the trio. A critic at the Hamilton Spectator heaped superlatives on Taras and Hayna, calling them "remarkable dancers who connect brilliantly with the Sugar Plum Fairy Variation and the airborne grandeur of her Cavalier." He annointed Taras a successor to Baryshnikov.

What happened next was neither planned nor premeditated. Around 11 p.m. after the Sunday show, Taras knocked at his mother's door. "If I decided to defect here, do you think that I could?" he asked.

"Are you sure?" Magaly answered, startled by his decision. He was.

Soon Hayna, a prima ballerina with a sweet demeanor, appeared too. She had studied with Magaly for a few years as a teen before the teacher's departure from Cuba.

"Taras wants to leave," Magaly told her.

"Okay, I'm going too," Hayna said.

Then Miguel Angel Blanco showed up. There were three.

About two hours later, Magaly crammed the trio into a rented Pontiac and headed south in the throes of a snowstorm. When they pulled up to the border crossing to New York state, Magaly told the guards the dancers were Cubans and planned to ask for asylum.

After a few hours, they were freed and caught a plane to Fort Lauderdale. During the odyssey, Magaly called Peña. They agreed the trio would perform in the planned performances of Swan Lake. Miguel Angel and Hayna had even danced the main characters, Prince Siegfried and Princess Odette. "It was pure coincidence," Peña explains. "It worked out perfectly."

After issuing a press release, an elated Peña, wearing a leather jacket and stylish Buddy Holly-esque black-rim glasses, met them at the airport. Then the dancers headed for Pompano Beach.

A few days later, they received a jarring welcome from Miami's Cubans during a press conference at Versailles Restaurant, the unofficial exile headquarters in Little Havana. Taras said their departure wasn't driven by politics. "I'll never speak poorly of the people or the company [in Cuba]," he says. "We aren't politicians. We're ballet dancers."

The lemon-colored ranch-style home on 16th Avenue in Pompano Beach is walking distance to Magaly's studio in a nondescript strip mall. There's a pool in the back and a royal blue BMW in the roundabout out front.

On a February morning in the kitchen, after a breakfast of raisin bran, Hayna — still in pajamas and her face bare of makeup — approaches Magaly as the woman she calls mamicha washes dishes. "I wanted to hug my mother this weekend," she says softly. Then she embraces the next best person.

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.

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.

In Act Two, Taras stuns. He spins like an infinite top. His head whips crisply, his spine ramrod-straight with arms posed in a circular shape. He sees Princess Odette, played by Adiarys Almeida, from across the stage. Their eyes lock in telenovela lust. His brows crinkle as he bows, hand sweeping to his heart. He flits forward with sprightly kicks. Later he grasps her delicate waist and raises her to the sky in a lift that appears effortless.

"Bravo!" the audience explodes.

Between acts, Taras stretches his toes and hits the bathroom. He plays air guitar when the music starts, and then returns to the stage. Soon he is doing a series of quick grand jetés, leaping gracefully as his mother watches adoringly and whispers "" when he completes the feat.

Heading offstage past Magaly, who congratulates him with "¡Bien, bonito!" he collapses onto a wooden box and grabs a bottle of water. She kisses his sweaty left cheek. He inverts his feet so Magaly and Miguel Angel can massage his soles. Then he rubs his shoes with resin and heads out for the finale.

The prince, now donning a purple velvet shirt with silver sequins, and Odette choose to die together. They emerge, clutching hands, on an elevated platform and are united in death by love. The curtain drops minutes before 11.

People swarm the stage to congratulate Taras. He totes a single red rose that Almeida plucked from her bouquet. Magaly, who had quickly changed between acts into a silky aquamarine top, places a towheaded girl in Taras's arms for a picture.

Taras signs a ballet shoe for a 13-year-old: Para Eric, Con Cariño, Taras. "I felt incredible, like always," he says breathlessly, his makeup smudged under the hot lights. "This is why I'm here."

Moving to his dressing room 30 minutes later, he gulps Diet Coke and pokes red spike earrings into both lobes before closing the door. Augustin Martin, a bespectacled 71-year-old who had seen the show, knocks on it. A bare-chested Taras cracks the door and peers into the crowded hall.

Martin praises, "You are an outstanding ballet dancer, but the best thing you have going for you is your mother."

The National Ballet of Cuba has felt the trio's absence. Friends tell them so. "They say, 'Oh, now there's nobody who dances as good,'" Miguel Angel says. "It's painful. I miss them a lot."

The Cuban stars, who were lauded for their Swan Lake performances, are San Francisco-bound. The company has extended contracts, but a spokeswoman declined to discuss the details until visas are granted.

For now, the trio will dance with the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami.

One afternoon in March, when asked about his hopes for the future, Taras, wearing a black AC/DC shirt and sitting on the couch in their Pompano Beach home, replies simply: "Success."

His mother plops down next to him, kisses his arm, and softens his response. "And you want the audience to like you and to dance well no matter where you're at."

Taras nods in agreement and heads outside to smoke. Magaly is trying to get him to quit. These days the pair just enjoys normalcy — a mother who wants the best for her child and a son who wants time with his mom.

On this rare Friday afternoon free from dancing, Magaly follows Taras outside and asks, "Wanna drive?" as she fishes into her turquoise Coach purse. She pulls the front door closed, hands over the keys, and settles into the BMW's passenger seat. Like any other family, they head to the mall.

The Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami performs The Best of the Classical Repertoire May 10 and 11 at the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana. For more information, call 305-549-7711 or visit www.cubancbmiami.com.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami in our online slide show at www.miaminewtimes.com/slideshow.

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