Cuba is a cultural power. This is evidenced by the fact that you can buy Cuban rum, cigars, music and Che Guevara t-shirts all over the world. In Cuba, Havana is the principal venue for some of the most important cultural and arts festivals. Nevertheless, a considerable number of events take place outside the capital and some of them are of national relevance. The Cuban government has always promoted culture and organises along with many different organisms a variety of festivals every year.
Here is a selection of eight festivals you can’t miss.
International Ballet Festival of Havana
Dates: Oct 28 to Nov 6, 2018
The International Ballet Festival of Havana was founded in 1960, since then one of the oldest in the world. Every two years in December, the festival shows through outstanding classic ballet performances and some world premieres the grandness of the Cuban Ballet School. Several international ballet companies have been invited to the festival, for instance the American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, The Washington Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. Some of the world’s greatest exponents have performed for Cuban and foreign fans at this event, including the famous festival’s founder Alicia Alonso and Cuban National Ballet prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés. Other international stars like Vladimir Vasiliev, Carla Fracci, Ghislaine Thesmar, Antonio Gades, Julio Bocca, Carlos Acosta and many more have also came to share their art with the public at the festival.
Tickets can be found online and can also be bought at Gran Teatro de la Habana, where the festival takes place.
Havana Film Festival
Dates: 6-11 Dec 2018
Also known in Spanish as Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, it is regularly held in the first fortnight of December. First edition took place in 1979 and was meant to acknowledge and disseminate cinematographic work that contributes to the Latin-American and Caribbean cultural identity. Several movies from the region apply for the Coral award in the films competition, with the Grand Coral for best movie and the Award of the Public being the two most coveted awards. You can buy tickets at any of the nine cinemas that take part in the festival.
The festival also has a film poster competition and different collateral activities such as photograph or paintings exhibitions and books presentations. Likewise, the festival shows a representative exhibition of contemporary cinema from around the world.
The cinemas circuit on 23rd Street attracts a wide range of film buffs and the whole event brings together every year about half a million visitors. Its prestige have been enhanced by the presence of important film makers and actors like Oliver Stone, Emir Kusturika, Michael Moore, Brian de Plama, Matt Dillon, Benicio del Toro and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
International Craftwork Fair (FIART)
Dates: Dec 6 to Dec 21, 2018
This event is organized by the Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales (Cuban Fund of Cultural Goods) and takes place each December in Havana at Pabexpo Exhibition Complex. The year of 2018 is an exception: the venue will be Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña. Each FIART series is dedicated to a different Cuban region and a handiwork type of material (glass, metal, fabrics). The fair acts as an exchange event where the development of international and local craftwork is promoted. It is also a place for the people to purchase original articles to decorate their house or for a present.
You can find in the broad bazar all sorts of products like footwear, textiles, saddlery, furniture, imitation jewellery, lamps, ceramics, goldsmith and much more. It is given an award for the best stands and the best products. All foreign artisans whose work is an expression of craft creation and the cultural identity of the country of origin can participate. Candidates are evaluated by an admission committee.
Havana International Book Fair
Dates: Feb 7 to Feb 17 2019
The most significant literary event in Cuba. The first time it was held was in 1982. It has been held every two years until 2000, when began to be held once a year. It is always held in the month of February. Its permanent venue is the antique fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, being a good opportunity to appreciate culture and history for ten days. Every round is dedicated to one or two different writers and a country as a guest of honour. The fair is a real fiesta for Cuban families and foreigners, who often go to the fortress with their children. Apart from the book selling, other attractions are the books presentations, music concerts, games and participation contests. After the main event in Havana, the fair spreads to all the country for near three months.
You can buy single day-tickets (2 Pesos Cubanos) and permanent tickets (20 Pesos Cubanos) one month in advance at any bookshop in the country, or the chosen day at the venues of the event: Fortress San Carlos de la Cabaña and Pabellón Cuba.
International Dance Festival in Urban Landscapes
Dates: Apr 11 to Apr 15, 2019
Also known as Old Havana: City in Motion, it is held in April once a year since 1996. Often called by the people as Danza Callejera (Street Dance), this dynamic and essentially dancing festival pursues to bring art to the public spaces like squares, parks, streets and museums to get closer to the public. It is also a blend of manifestations including plastic arts, music and video art. It is included in the Circuito Internacional Ciudades que Danzan (Dancing Cities International Circuit), created in Barcelona, Spain. Highlights the ensemble Danza Teatro Retazos (one of the organizers along with City Historian’s Office), besides the Gigantería (stilts performance group) and a plethora of dance companies from national and international scene, including contemporary, flamenco, folkloric and dissimilar styles. This is a good option for those who love dance and Havana old-renewed architecture.
Dates: Apr 12 to May 12 2019
Since 1984, the Havana Biennial is an important event for the contemporary arts. The biggest space for visual arts in Cuba is organized by the Centre Wifredo Lam. Several artistic projects are presented, besides the exhibition of local and international invited artist’s work. Moreover, a variety of activities are included such as performances, video showing, musical and dancing spectacles, and theatre. In this cultural scenario, the whole city is invaded by the festival and is easy to see in the street corners some contrasting sculptures. A good example is the project “Detrás del muro” (Behind the wall), where installations stretches along the Malecón various kilometres.
Romerías de Mayo
Date: May 2 to May 8, 2019
This is a festival celebrated in the eastern city of Holguín. Its origins are Christian, when the 3rd of May of 1790, a Franciscan friar placed a wooden cross in a hill near the village to avoid evil spells and catastrophes. The popular religious tradition of going from the San Isidoro Church in a procession towards La Loma de La Cruz (Hill of the Cross),eventually became a popular fiesta. Since 1994, the festival is organized by the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, with special emphasis in the young artists from inside and outside the country. A leading sentiment of mixing tradition and modernity brings together important music groups, troubadours, theatre companies, plastics arts and more.
The easiest way to get there is to take the Viazul bus from Havana, which goes twice daily.
Festival del Caribe (Fiesta del Fuego)
Dates: Jul 3 to Jul 9, 2019
The Festival del Caribe is an international artistic and academic event held in Santiago de Cuba every first week of July. Through cultural activities, the festival emphasises the culture of the Caribbean community. Each round is dedicated to a different country or group of islands within the region, showing the best of their artistic movement, plastic arts and craftwork. The public opening is called the “Desfile de la serpiente” (snake procession), where local and foreign participants walk from different plazas to the Céspedes Park. It starts with an invocation to Elegguá, the god who cleans the ways in the Yoruba religion, first to summon to this kind of festivity. Other special moments are the “Desfile del fuego” (Fire procession) and the “Quema del diablo” (burning of the demon). This latter constitute the farewell activity, involving a big conga with a torrent of drums and the burning of the evil symbol embodied in a puppet with a devil’s shape.
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