In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.
“I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots,” says Ruiz of his first trip back. “I started weeping.” He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. “Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don’t have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help,” he says.
Since its inception, the project has brought choreographic and educational opportunities to Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Danza del Alma and Ballet Contemporaneo de Camaguey, as well as with local dance students. Part of his journey was featured in a 2011 PBS documentary Coming Home.
Last summer, The Windows Project partnered with Hunter College’s Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program, where Ruiz is the visiting artist-in-residence. Two graduate students, Sabrina Jaafar Melton and Uthman Ebrahim, accompanied Ruiz to Camaguey, Cuba for a one-week cultural and educational exchange.
Between teaching master classes and rehearsing with Ballet Contemporaneo de Camaguey, the American artists performed parts of Ruiz’s new work in progress—Taking the Soul for a Walk—with the company. The completed ballet will be presented in February 2018, when the Cuban company takes the stage at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. The Cuban dancers will also teach master classes in Cuban ballet technique and Cuban modern dance, and there will be a discussion panel on the influence of American dance technique in Cuba.