Lester Tomé, “Movement and Modernism: Carpentier’s Transatlantic Ballet” | National Humanities Center


Lester Tomé, “Movement and Modernism: Carpentier’s Transatlantic Ballet”

June 22, 2021

Though modernist ballet is often associated with European companies such as the Ballets Russes, the ideas and concepts that emerged from this movement soon found their way around the globe. In Latin countries such as Cuba, this foreign cultural form was adapted to meet local needs and provided an important way to articulate national identity.

In this podcast, Lester Tomé, associate professor of dance at Smith College, discusses how artists such as Alejo Carpentier adopted and reimagined the formal methods of modernist ballet in order to promote an indigenous form of Afro-Cuban culture. In doing so, he suggests, they developed a distinctive visual language through which to resist and oppose widespread colonial stereotypes.

Lester Tomé
Lester Tomé, Smith College
Lester Tomé is an associate professor in the Dance Department and the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program at Smith College in Massachusetts. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Body Politic: Ballet and Revolution in Cuba, which analyzes embodiments of socialist ideology, proletarianism, multiracialism, and hypermasculinity in ballet vis-à-vis the Cuban Revolution’s broad spectrum of political spectacles, everyday corporealites, and social choreographies. As a 2020–21 Fellow at the National Humanities Center, he is conducting research for his second book, tentatively titled The Avant-garde Imagination: Transatlantic Visions of Ballet. This project examines the ballet librettos of the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier as a case study of the intersections between early twentieth-century ballet, modernism, and ethnography in the Americas.