Longform

Cuban Ballet in Exile

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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.

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Janine Zeitlin