Cuban dancers join Ruth Page Center's annual 'Nutcracker' performance

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Another result of the improving relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is one that is benefitting people who love the arts right here in Chicago.

"The Nutcracker" is a timeless holiday classic performed on stages around the world. Just about every dance studio has its own version, but none quite like the one debuting this weekend in Chicago. The production is the result of a unique collaboration with Cuba's National School of Ballet and Chicago's Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts.

"What I like about our Nutcracker is that it pulls from the original Ruth Page historic work, but it's influenced by the dancers we have now," said Venetia Stifler, executive director and artistic director at the Ruth Page Center.

Those talented dancers include four from Cuba. They're in Chicago performing this timeless classic while sharing their strong passion for the art with the city's young dancers.

"My students change a lot since we started this collaboration. It teaches them a little more about different cultures and appreciate a little bit more what they have in their own school," said Victor Alexander, director of the Ruth Page School of Dance.

"Dance is a universal language. When the Cubans came here the first time I went into some of their dances, they came into some of our dances, we felt the connection," said Catherine Conley, dance student and Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker."

Conley and her dance partner from Cuba take on the lead roles in this special version of "The Nutcracker." She just returned from Havana, having been the first American dancer invited to study at the world-renowned Cuba National School of Ballet.

"Since I've been in Cuba, I've learned to be more a relaxed dancer on stage. I'm a more consistent performer and I'm more able to convey my emotions to the audience," she said.

"It's a great opportunity. I have seen the progress and improvement of Catherine during this whole process to the point when I saw her perform in Havana, tears came to my eyes," Alexander said.

Catherine will return to Havana at the end of December and will continue her studies there until June.

This production of "The Nutcracker" runs this weekend only, at the Northeastern Illinois University at 3701 West Bryn Mawr Avenue. Performances will be held Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors and children under 12, and $10 for NEIU students, faculty and staff with every I.D. card eligible for one ticket.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit
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