Ballet San Jose's Artistic Director Discusses U.S. and Cuba's Delicate Diplomatic Dance

On the third floor of an old downtown San Jose building in a cavernous rehearsal hall, discipline is being transformed into artistry.

It is in this rehearsal hall that Jose Manuel Carreno is playing out his newest and perhaps most challenging role yet: as the ballet company’s artistic director and more recently as an unofficial ambassador for the political choreography underfoot between Cuba and the United States.

“It’s another dream for me” Carreno says. “You know I respect everything that happened many years ago, but it’s time for a change. It’s time for Cuba to open."

The Cuban-born international ballet star has been at the helm of Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley for two years after retiring as principal dancer from the acclaimed American Ballet Theater and the Royal Ballet in London.

Like many Cubans in the U.S., the 46-year-old Carreno is thankful to be living his American dream, but nostalgic about his birthplace where his mother and father still live.

“I have great memories of dancing in Cuba," Carreno says. “I had a great time. It didn’t matter the economic situation -- I had fun, everybody loves ballet it’s so popular. It’s like being a sports guy here in America."

Carreno’s famous dance pedigree, dedication and intensity landed him in Cuba’s famed “Ballet Nacional” at the age of 10, and at 22 the government gave him permission to leave the communist country and take his talents to grand opera houses around the world.

Carreno now has six Cuban dancers under his watchful gaze at Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley and they serve as ever present reflections of a past he still embraces.

When asked how a country that struggles so much financially can produce such talent, he says it is simple: Passion.

“There are three things people in Cuba admire and that is baseball, ballet and boxing," Carreno says.

Baseball, ballet and boxing may bring celebrity status in Cuba but not prosperity, nor freedom of speech.

Cuba’s human rights violations remains key stumbling blocks between Washington and hard line Cuban exiles who say reunification can only come with reform.

Still, Carreno sees only opportunity if the trade embargo is lifted as President Barack Obama has promised.

“I see changes in so many ways, not only cultural but economic…Cuba would raise tremendously," he says.

Until then, this ballet master will continue to mark time and prepare for a grand political leap not seen in 50 years.

“I think the more influence from America, the more Cuba can be open and the better it will be," Carreno says. "I would not wait any longer."

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