For the 2017-2018 academic year, the College of Charleston delved into the complex relationship between the United States and Cuba, and explored the rich history and culture of Cuba through academic courses, art, dance, film, music and theater.

The interdisciplinary project, called Cuba en el Horizonte, will culminate in a finale concert at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, 2018, featuring the College of Charleston Orchestra, Otro Sur (the College’s Latin American Music Ensemble), the College of Charleston Concert Choir, and dancers from the Department of Theatre and Dance. The event takes place at Sottile Theatre, 44 George St. General admission is $15 cash or check at the door. Admission is free for College of Charleston students and employees with a CofC ID. 

Dancers at Teatro Nacional de Cuba. (Photo Danya Firestone)

Performances will include classic son and salsa repertoire: “Caramelo a kilo” and “Bilongo,” a couple of trova tunes from singer-songwriters Silvio Rodriguez and Luis Barbería, and two pieces that show Cuba’s influence on popular music styles across Latin America.

To prepare for the finale, students and professors not only thoroughly studied and researched the country in the classroom, but a lucky few made their way to Cuba over the recent CofC spring break to experience the culture firsthand. The idea behind the trip was to soak in Cuba’s vast arts and music scene, and to use these experiences as inspiration for performances in the upcoming finale concert.

Three professors – Michael O’Brien (music), Kristen Alexander (theatre/dance), and Vivian Appler (theatre) – and a group of CofC students attended dress rehearsals for the National Ballet of Cuba, visited top recording studio Estudios Abdalá and watched folklore performances, among many other experiences. 

“To see a work in progress is very valuable,” says O’Brien of attending the ballet’s dress rehearsal.

A rumba workshop. (Photo by Michael O’Brien)

O’Brien was delighted to see the CofC students connect with their Cuban peers. “They were sort of thrown into the deep end, but they swam,” he says. “Not everyone is fluent in Spanish, but they were able to salsa dance together and connect through social media.”

RELATED: Learn how the Cuba Project got started.

CofC student Danya Firestone says her favorite part of the trip was being exposed to authentic Cuban culture, specifically Afro-Cuban folkloric culture.

“I loved learning about the Afro-Cuban Orishas, or gods, and then getting to really understand them through learning their respective dances,” she says. “By the end of the trip, it seemed that music and dance was really the only way to experience and understand Cuban culture, so the professors and CIE (Center for International Education) really hit the nail on the head with this interdisciplinary arts study abroad trip. As a non-arts major or minor, I was still able to truly appreciate the trip and the obvious and necessary research that went into putting it together.”

To experience the work of the professors and the students, stop by Sottile Theatre on April 7. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to do some salsa dancing in the aisles.

The finale is sponsored by Academic Affairs; School of the Arts, School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs; Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art; Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Department of Music; Department of Theatre and Dance; Office of Institutional Diversity; and Multicultural Student Programs and Services.