Cuba has produced some of the world's top ballet dancers for decades. Greats like Alicia Alonso, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, American Ballet Theatre principal Xiomara Reyes, San Francisco Ballet principal Lorena Feijóo, and English National Ballet principal Alejandro Virelles all trace their beginnings to the island.
Miami's dance scene has long benefitted from its tight links with the island country and the esteem Cubans have for classical dance.
Cuban dancer, teacher, and choreographer Pedro Pablo Peña arrived in Miami from Cuba in 1983 and got busy contributing his expertise to the city's dance scene.
Pooling the talents of local and exiled dance artists, he founded Creation Ballet the same year.
In 1996, he founded the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM), attracting dance luminaries to South Florida from North and South America, Europe, and Asia for two performances at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.
Dancer and choreographer Eriberto Jimenez was at Peña's side right from the start.
"In 1989, Mr. Pedro Pablo Pena offered me a scholarship to study at his dance studio and to dance with his company, Creation Ballet," says Jimenez. "Since then, I started helping him with the office work as a volunteer and became more involved with the institution, not only as a dancer."
When Peña died in March 2018, Jimenez was the obvious choice to fill the festival's artistic director role.
"The board thought that the only person that could continue his legacy [would] be me since I had been there from the beginning, knew the administrative work, and was also part of the artistic team," says Jimenez.
This year's 28th festival features art exhibits, book presentations, a film series, dance workshops, master classes, an international summer dance intensive for students, and performances in Miami, South Miami, Miami Beach, and Fort Lauderdale.
The growing reputation of the IBFM has attracted talented ballet companies and principal dancers from throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia.
As a result of Jimenez's efforts, the 28th festival showcases 11 classical dance companies from six countries, including Ballet do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Varna State Opera Ballet (Bulgaria), Incolballet (Colombia), Teatro Massimo di Palermo (Italy), Unblanche (Japan), and United States dance companies, including Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, Milwaukee Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and the Washington Ballet.
Marize Fumero was born in Havana and trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba. She danced with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the English National Ballet before becoming a Leading Artist in 2015 with the Milwaukee Ballet.
For Fumero, the IBFM's value lies in its international recognition as a global destination for talented classical dancers.
"Dance is infused with aesthetic principles that distinguish it from other forms of art, which directly influence the cultural heritage of a community," says Fumero. "This is exactly the type of path that IBFM has created within the North American dance world and beyond."
One fresh feature of the festival is its recent inclusion of contemporary dance in the line-up. This year, dance companies from France, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Switzerland, and the United States are part of the contemporary program.
"[We] decided to create a weekend of only contemporary dance companies and another weekend for the classical ballet companies," says Jimenez.
"Hopefully, in the future, we might include [even more] styles of dance," he says.
Each year the festival awards two prizes to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of dance.
"A Life for Dance Award" honors the achievements of ballet dancers, choreographers, and directors. Past recipients of the award include dance legends such as Edward Villela, Miami City Ballet founder and New York City Ballet star; Alberto Alonso, artistic director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba; and Roland Petit, French choreographer, dancer, and director.
This year's award recipient, Vladimir Issaev, has been singled out for his work as founder and artistic director of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida and the Miami International Ballet Competition.
The "Criticism and Culture of Ballet Award" honors the work of national and international dance critics.
Past recipients have included former New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff (2009), Dance Magazine editor-in-chief Jennifer Stahl (2018), and former Nuevo Herald critic, author, and current ArtburstMiami Spanish editor Orlando Taquechel (2014).
"It was a huge honor to be considered among important dance critics such as Clive Barnes, Roger Salas, and Anna Kisselgoff," responded Taquechel when asked about the award. "It was also a very nice surprise because I was the first local dance critic recognized by IBFM."
There are two free performances, including Contemporary Performance on the Streets, at 8 p.m. Thursday, August 3, at Euclid Circle on Euclid Avenue and Lincoln Lane on Miami Beach, and IBFM at City Centre, at 8 p.m., Friday, August 11, at the Brickell City Center's Garden Deck on the second floor (701 S. Miami Ave., Miami).
Jimenez says the free performances allow anyone to see dancers from different parts of the world who have come to Miami.
"Every year, South Florida has the opportunity to receive dance companies that have never performed in the United States," he says, "and local companies are able to share the stage with dancers from abroad."
– Sean Erwin, ArtburstMiami.com
International Ballet Festival of Miami:
Performance I. 8 p.m. Friday, August 4 at the Lehman Theater at Miami-Dade College, North Campus, 11380 NW 27th St., Miami. Tickets cost $30.75.
Performance II. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 5, at the Dennis C. Moss Cultural Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay. Tickets cost $30 to $40.
Performance III. 5 p.m. Sunday, August 6, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35 and $45.
Program III: Grand Classical Gala. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 12, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $38 to $68.
Festival Closing Gala of the Stars. 5 p.m. Sunday, August 13, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $38 to $86.
For more information, visit internationalballetfestival.org.