"ACOSTA DANZA, Cuba!" is a documentary short profiling 6 dancers from the newly founded, world-renowned classical ballet company, ACOSTA DANZA, founded in 2016 in Havana Cuba, and currently taking the world by storm. Aside from the dancer's storied the themes of access to arts education and race are explored.
On January 16, 2018 I spent the day with the classical ballet company, ACOSTA DANZA while they were in rehearsals at their newly renovated studios in the center of Havana, Cuba. The film takes an intimate look at the company as they rehearse for their upcoming tour and New York Debut. Six of the dancers are interviewed showing the range of background, economic and otherwise and general pride that Cuban dancers hold for their country's free, high quality education and arts training under the socialist regime,. The primarily "black" Cuban dancers speak about their path to becoming dancers, classical Ballet versus modern or contemporary dance and whether or not they had an awareness of race in their professional and culture trajectory. The goal of the film is to give a glimpse into the artistic stories and paths of these 6 dancers while also highlighting a larger lens on the tradition of excellence in Cuban dance and the cultural phenomenon of one of Cuba’s biggest stars returning home to Cuba to start an exciting new company.
As an artist, and, intellectual growing up in one of – if not the richest – artistic centers of the world, I was always keenly aware of the conflicting reality of access and opportunity. I knew I was very fortunate for the opportunities a New York rearing allowed me, but I was still acutely aware of the inconsistencies of the general access to education in America: being told “you can do anything you put your mind to”... yet not being afforded the tools and education to achieve that success is a daunting disappointment of the myth of the “American Dream”. For all of the rights that the American government has not provided to its citizens, the lack of a system in place allowing each and every one of it’s citizens the right to an education -- regardless of class, in my opinion, is one of its most shameful and self-destructive traits as a country. Early in my dance career I heard of Cuba's excellence in ballet and access to free dance education and, as a scholarship kid myself, was fascinated with the possibility of a place where race or class still did not limit you from having the right to education -- and the luxury of an arts education. As part of my thesis research for my MFA degree I obtained this past spring at NYU Tisch as a Dean’s Fellow, I decided to participate in a photojournalism course in Cuba in order to do a documentary piece on Cuban Dance. I was able to gain access to the ACOSTA DANZA company and on January 16, 2018 I spent the day with the company while they were in rehearsals for their upcoming tour. I interviewed six of their dancers, primarily black Cuban dancers about their path to becoming dancers, classical Ballet versus modern or contemporary and whether or not they had an awareness of race in their professional and culture trajectory. My hope is to give a glimpse into the stories of these 6 dancers while also highlighting a larger lens on the tradition of excellence in Cuban dance and the cultural phenomenon of one of Cuba’s biggest stars returning home to Cuba to start an exciting new company. In addition to the beauty in telling the story of dancers, who usually remain silent in the majority of their careers, I intend for this documentary and my work that follows after to always be representative of the disenfranchised of this society, starting with women, while highlighting and celebrating the women who made it possible for us to be here, and exist in these space where our dreams, voices, visions have a platform that extends way beyond our societal limits .... or our imaginations.
"Djassi was my student for two years, and during that time, I have gotten to know her very well as a dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, and writer. Djassi’s professionalism and work ethic never wavered; she worked tirelessly in her academic classes and was extremely prolific in making and performing dances, as well as films. She also worked outside of our department in NYU’s photography division and was a pioneer in our department, becoming the first graduate ever to study abroad for her thesis research. I, personally have been impressed with not just the amount of things she does, but the quality of her work, her empathy and her artistic eye."
Patricia Beaman, Dance History Professor, NYU Tisch Dance
Djassi DaCosta Johnson
Djassi DaCosta Johnson is a native New Yorker, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, photographer, writer and designer who has worked with, Dance Brazil, Earl Mosley, Bill T. Jones, Hernando Cortez, Urban Bush Women, and MOMIX , among others. After living abroad in Brazil and then Italy for 7 years, Djassi returned to NYC to work in front of the lens on film and TV (The Get Down, The Knick, THE INTERN and BOLDEN!), as well as experimenting with her choreography from behind the lens. Her choreography has been showcased in fashion and trade shows, in fashion films and in her own film work. Djassi collaborates internationally with visual artists such as Eddie Peak, Brendan Fernandes and Lia Chavez. In 2017 Djassi was the Co-Choreographer for Museum of Sex’s VR exhibit featuring DIPLO. Djassi is also a published writer, and, currently the dance writer for lifestyle & fashion magazine, KINFOLK. Djassi completed her M.F.A. in Dance & New Media/ Technology from NYU Tisch in May 2018. Her student film, “sleepless” was screened at the “Moving Body Moving Image” Film Festival in April 2018. She is currently in post-production with two documentary shorts highlighting pioneers of color in the dance worlds and in pre-production as a choreographer & creative director for a motion-capture based film and performance piece. Whether through dance, words, the still or moving image, Djassi explores themes of culture, resistance and equality in order to extend the reach of and access to dance as a social and cultural agent for change.
Havana filmmaker Amílcar Ortiz Cárdenas is a graduate of the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Audiovisual Studies. He has worked extensively in television and music video production. He visited the U.S. during April and May of 2015, and again in April 2017, presenting his films about racism in Cuba. Ortiz produced his first documentary, Contra las Cuerdas (On the Ropes), at ISA, and is now working on a new film, De eso no se habla (We Don't Talk About This), with advisor Roberto Zurbano. Amilcar Ortiz is also the videographer for Red Barrial Afrodescendiente (RBA), a cutting edge neighborhood group that is working on issues of self esteem, anti-racism, and empowerment.
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