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On Exhibit: Dancing to Forget


By Anne Burke

Published Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM

Conjunto Folklorico Nacional, April 2004.

Dance in Cuba. April 22 through June 4 at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History,(310) 825-4361. Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 8 p.m. Free admission.

The first time photographer Gil Garcetti J.D. ’67 went to Cuba, he followed a percussive beat to a narrow avenue in Havana Vieja. Coming toward him were a dozen or more dancers, men and women in matching polka-dot outfits, gyrating to an Afro-Cuban rhythm, their faces lit up with joy. Garcetti found the energy and intensity of the performance completely riveting.

The photographer returned to Cuba six times over the course of four years, each time turning his camera lens on Cuba’s vibrant dance culture, from professional ballerinas to street performers. The result is Dance in Cuba, a series of stunning black-and-white images that will be on display at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History from April 22 to June 4.

Left to right: Michel Avalos, principal dancer, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, January 2004; Beba Compania (flamenco dance school for 5- to 15-year-olds), October 2004

Garcetti is the former Los Angeles County district attorney who has established for himself a second career as an urban photographer of considerable reputation. The book based on the Cuba photos, Dance in Cuba (Balcony Press, 2005), follows two earlier volumes that came out to critical praise, Iron: Erecting the Walt Disney Concert Hall and its sequel, Frozen Music.

Garcetti’s goal with his Cuba images was to capture the ubiquity and passion of dance among people whose lives are mired in hardship and poverty. Said Garcetti: “Viengsay Valdes, Cuba’s prima ballerina, told me, ‘Gil, you have to understand, we are a poor country. Every day is a struggle. But we dance and we forget about all that.’ ”