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Posted on Friday, 12.04.09
U.S., Cuban artists stage a collaboration

A groundbreaking multimedia theater performance created in an
unprecedented collaboration between U.S. and Cuban artists was set to
debut Friday in Havana.

La Entrañable Lejania (The Closest Farthest Away) is part of the
Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, commonly called
the Havana Film Festival, one of the island's biggest cultural events.
It will have its U.S. debut at Miami Beach's Byron-Carlyle Theater in March.

The complex story of an American man in love with a Cuban woman, The
Closest Farthest Away breaks ground artistically, politically and
technologically. American actors perform onstage while Cuban cast
members are seen on large video screens, embodying the political
separation between the two countries.

The show evolved over years of visits to Cuba and interactions with
prominent Cuban artists by 30-year-old California composer Sage Lewis
and his mostly California-based compatriots.

Entrañable was finally realized with the help of Miami's Ever Chavez,
director of FUNDarte, and Beth Boone, artistic and executive director of
the Miami Light Project, who specialize in U.S.-Cuba cultural projects.
Chavez and Boone connected the creators with official Cuban sponsors and
will present Entrañable's U.S. premiere.

The show comes to fruition as cultural exchange between the U.S. and
Cuba, closed off during the Bush Administration, has begun to flow
again. September saw rock musician Juanes' Concert for Peace draw more
than a million people in Havana. Cuba's Septeto Nacional played in
Little Havana last month, and Cuban singer Omara Portuondo is slated to
perform at the Fillmore Miami Beach in March.


“What I find significant about this piece right now, given the context
of change, is that, as we've known all along in the arts community, art
and artists are the most powerful agents of change,'' says Boone.

“I think people who take the time to experience [Entrañable] will be
able to see firsthand that artificially imposed political barriers are
folly. Regular people have been making contact for years, whether
physical or not, via telephone, the Internet and the making of art.''

Creator Lewis first visited Havana 11 years ago, and fell in love with
the city and its culture. He returned a half-dozen times, making friends
and playing music, and came up with the idea of using technology to
overcome practical and political barriers to collaboration with Cuban

“We were really interested in new media and video and digital media,''
Lewis said by telephone from Havana. “It seemed like a really cool
application to use some of these newer tools to figure out what we
considered an impossible challenge — to cross the Florida Straits and
see if it's possible to have a collaboration between citizens and figure
out how to get to know each other better. . . .

“It's about trying to understand each other rather than arguing about

Lewis e-mailed Boone for help on the project a year and a half ago, just
as she and Chavez began to hear about Entrañable from friends on both
sides of the Florida Straits.


Chavez, a theater producer who left the island in 2000, used his
contacts there to secure three sponsors for Entrañable: the film
festival, the Cuban government's Performing Arts Council and Teatro
Publico, the Havana theater company where he had worked.

Chavez says he pitched in (without pay, like many people connected with
the project) because he believes strongly in connecting his adopted
country and his homeland.

“These American voices are getting into Cuba and are going to speak
directly to people, because art is another way to say what we think,''
he says.

Entrañable is slated to show three times at the 1600-seat Teatro Mella,
with tickets costing five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents).

Boone, whose Miami Light Project is presenting Entrañable here, brought
the project to the attention of Olga Garay, former Miami-Dade College
cultural chief, which led to a $15,000 grant from the Los Angeles
Department of Cultural Affairs that Garay now heads. Boone also alerted
a number of major U.S. presenters, who planned to see the project in
Havana with an eye to booking more American dates.

Lewis and his colleagues traveled to the island using a U.S. government
license for artistic and academic research. They cobbled together grants
from various foundations, pro bono legal services, individual donations
solicited online and audiovisual equipment brought to the island by
Pastors for Peace.

The project is exhaustively documented on the website, with videos, photos, biographies of participants —
even copies of legal documents and licenses.

The bottom threatened to drop out a few weeks ago when the Havana film
festival and theater said they didn't have the equipment or financing to
execute the complex project. Lewis rushed down and arranged for the
necessary equipment — one more step in the long struggle to bring
Entrañable to the stage.

“The Cubans have taken on the giant burden of trying to move their
system. . . . It became this endless chain of bureaucratic approval,''
he says.

But he was not discouraged.

“Our generation has a different point of view. We don't really want to
ignore history . . . but we just want to go back and forth, make art,
have a normal healthy relationship. That's why the title The Closest
Farthest Away.

“We're so close geographically and have so much in common culturally,
yet [Cuba] is the farthest country from the U.S., the hardest to talk
to, to travel to. So it's this paradox.''

U.S., Cuban artists stage a collaboration – Cuba – (4
December 2009)

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