We walk to our morning activity, with a stop at the Teatro Mella to try to find out where the evening’s jazz performance is going to be. The activity is a dance lesson at Conjunto Folklorico, the national folkloric company! On the way, one of the Folklorico directors sees us, says hello and walks with us. How did she know where we were going?! (We joke about this, since we also got “recognized” on our way to the lecture at the musicologist’s house. No, we don’t stand out at all.)
From the outside it looks like a residence, but then we go in to a practice space with a beautiful wood floor. One of the teachers takes us through a simple rumba. There’s live music! Almost as many musicians as us students. The music is a real treat, and it feels good to move.
After the lesson, the Folklorico company comes in and does a performance for us. I’d imagine there’s more costuming, props and sets in the full stage show, but we have better than front row seats, with the dancers right there on the practice floor. Really amazing. We then get a short lecture about the group from one of the directors and have the opportunity to ask him questions.
There is music and dance in the schools, those students that show promise go on to conservatory for three years, with physical conditioning, studying Cuban folkloric tradition and taking ballet and modern dance. After that they may be selected to the company. No one asked the percentage acceptance rate, but there are currently about 40 dancers, split between men and women, the musicians and then administrative people. The company tours both within Cuba and internationally.
Lunch is up the street at El Helecho. It’s another of the restaurant in a residence places. The owner has a very Spanish looking face, and something in the lines around her mouth says that maybe this was not what she was expecting to be doing with her life. While we wait, we get to meet her son, Frank Martinez, and see his art studio.
After lunch we walk back to El Gran Palenque, a park next door to the Conjunto building, for more rumba. A couple different groups play, including Rumba Morena. There’s a big open space, and some impromptu dancing goes on. There’s also a performance, by children of various ages, like a recital, which is fun. We’d gotten stern warnings about being in a crowd and to be careful with our stuff, but it turned out there was a seating area for foreigners. Also all sorts of notices at the venue about not taking pictures or recording but, like last night, that didn’t seem to be enforced.
There’s a bar, and the bartender also delivers drinks in the crowd. People around me are getting things, he asks if I want anything. I decline. No beer? No water? Nope. No thanks. Ah… you drink the music.
Dinner is at a seafood place in a highrise apartment building. I would have never known there was a place to eat in there. We chat with a German couple at the next table, they are there for three weeks. They flew from Paris, apparently there are direct flights from Germany but it’s expensive. They’d never been before, but had a friend of a friend of an aunt that was going to take them around a bit, and had some plans of their own.
Laura and Andre had figured out where Jo Jazz (Joven Jazz = Young Jazz) show was for the evening entertainment. As we come out of the restaurant there’s a fellow who offers us a taxi. They’re so used to declining that they do at first, then oh hey we DO want a taxi. The man goes up to the closet main street to hail another, and we all get in and head across town.
The theater is a little threadbare, and not full. We get first and second row seats. First a small group plays, and then a big band – 20 pieces, in which there is only one woman, playing flute. There are a few numbers with vocalists, also women. One does an amazing Cuban tinged version of Summertime.
After the show there’s the question of getting back to our casa. The theater isn’t really in a taxi-ful neighborhood. We start walking back to the area that will have more. Manifest station wagon. Shortly thereafter a small bus appears. Someone calls it my manifestation wagon. The driver says yes to where we’re going, and we all pile in. There’s a woman already in the bus, we wonder where she – well, and the bus – were headed before they came upon us, but then it seems to be the way that if opportunity presents itself, it is taken.