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Bay area photographer depicts Cuba’s cultural identity in sepia

Four young male ballet dancers at barre

Photo credit: Rebekah Bowman, Attitude, 2012

Portrait of The Cuban School of Ballet is a photographic exploration of daily ballet practice by the teachers and students at the Cuban National Ballet School ‘Fernando Alonso’ in Havana. The exhibit seeks to define some of the characteristics that distinguish the Cuban style and to understand why Cubans have come to identify and express themselves with such success through classical ballet. Eighteen images will be on display at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) Gallery, Foothill College, through March 21, 2019.

Foothill photography professor Ron Hermann will give a talk  about the exhibit on March 6 from noon to 1 p.m. in the KCI gallery, in the lower level of Building 4000.

Photographer Rebekah Bowman gave an artist talk on January 24 and signed copies of her book, Rebekah Bowman: Portrait of the Cuban School of Ballet, published by Nazraeli Press in 2018.

Intrigued by Cuba’s reputation for producing world-class dancers and by the National Ballet School’s founders’ objective to create a ballet methodology and technique that would express a Latin sensibility and aesthetic, Bowman embarked in 2012 on what would become a six year-long journey to explore how classical ballet has become as beloved in Cuba as baseball and what its practice reveals about Cuban cultural identity.

During repeated visits to the school over six years, Bowman observed classes, rehearsals, and performances. She tried to locate the sensibility that Fernando Alonso, the Cuban school’s revered pedagogue, sought in his students: the acculturation that transforms them into great dancers, teachers, and ambassadors for their art, investing them with a life of commitment. Against a backdrop of time-etched ballet studios and theaters, she watched students of every skin-tone, from all over the island (and other Latin American countries) strive to achieve mastery of classical ballet forms under the strict but nurturing guidance of their teachers. Bowman learned to recognize the order of exercises, to distinguish physical characteristics such as a step or a hand position, inflected with the urbane yet folkloric characteristics of the masculine bravura and feminine coquettishness that define the Cuban style. 

As a photographer, Rebekah Bowman is drawn to the drama and the poetry of the school’s everyday ritual, to its dedication to esprit de corps, and the intangible qualities of shared sacrifice, resiliency, good humor, and perseverance that played out before her in classrooms, hallways, and behind the scenes. Cuba’s Spanish and Afro-Cuban inheritance lends itself beautifully to the aesthetic, the rigor and the drama of classical ballet; but there is also a purposeful and intimate connection between philosophy and practice that goes further to explain why Cuban ballet training continues to have such success.

Bowman is a Mexican-American photographer living in Berkeley, CA. Having grown up in the US, she studied and worked in Europe and Mexico from 1982—2007, traveling extensively while honing her craft as a photographer before returning to the US in 2008. Photographic assignments have included editorial work and documenting NGO projects in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

The exhibit is located in the KCI Gallery, on the lower level of the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022.  Parking is $3.00. Please park in Lot 4.  Disabled parking in Lot 4-B.

KCI hours of operation are Monday – Thursday: 8: a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday: 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.;  Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Closed on Sundays and holidays.

For more information on the exhibit, visit CubanSchoolOfBallet.wordpress.com

Full resolution photos available.  Please contact: Ron Herman at hermanron@foothill.edu or 650.949.7082.

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