A leap of faith

Monday 25 Jun 2012

World-famous ballet dancer Carlos Acosta returns to Cuba to back Foster-designed Cuba School of Dance in Havana

In the ultimate rags to riches story, Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta is preparing to return to his roots in Havana and transform Fidel Castro’s unfinished School of Ballet on the edge of the city into a flourishing Cuban School of Dance with a little help from globally-renowned architect Lord Norman Foster.

Born as the eleventh child to a low income family in a poor area of Havana in 1973, Acosta was inspired to dance after watching the Cuban National Ballet. He followed his feet to a state dance school and quickly rose through the ranks to his current position of Principal Guest Artist at The Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom.

Acosta left his home in Cuba fourteen years ago and is now ready to return after acquiring the help of Foster + Partners to draw up a feasibility study for the redevelopment of Fidel Castro’s incomplete dance school. Contrary to various reports on blogs and news zines, Foster + Partners will not be redesigning the entire site but just the existing buildings, as shown in the rendering to the left.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Foster explains his connection to the project: “Carlos is a great dancer, who is inspiring the regeneration of an iconic ruin of early modernism outside Havana.” Acosta’s motivation is more businesslike however, as he details: “I see myself going back not just because it is where I was born but because the country is going in the right direction. The changes of the past two or three years are positive, in particular the incentive to create more of a market economy.”

The building dates back to 1961 when Italian architect Vittorio Garatti composed the design for political figure Fidel Castro as part of a series of five education bases for the arts, including the Schools of Modern Dance, Plastic Arts, Dramatic Arts, Music, and Ballet. In direct response to what they saw as the former architecture of capitalism, the architects of the five schemes - Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti - chose to inspire their buildings’ users with high domed ceilings and rich, locally produced terracotta tiles.

Located at the aged Havana Country Club, the School of Ballet is driven into a deep gorge and defined by a series of Catalan vaults that link its domed structures. A network of pathways within the complex are reached through five entrances which eventually lead to classrooms, dance pavilions, supporting admin areas, a library and a ‘Pantheon-like’ performance venue.

Shortly after the buildings’ construction in 1961, the architects were met with a backlash from critics who felt that the designs were ‘primitive’ and ‘backwards’. Few details of the new design have been released other than this rendering however the needs of contemporary dancers have moved on since the 1960s. Now on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Tentative List, the Schools have returned to the public’s interest and into the hands of one of the world’s most in-demand architects.

Sian Disson
News Editor

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