Asylum Papers In, It's Back to Work for Cuban Dancers
By NICK MADIGAN
LAS VEGAS, Nov. 15 - Barely an hour after tendering their applications for political asylum in the United States, two dozen Cuban dancers were back on stage here on Monday in sweatpants and leotards, stretching and warming their muscles, rehearsing for their big opening night.
"It's best to go right back to work," Nicole Durr, the artistic director of the "Havana Night Club" revue, said as she watched the run-through. "That's their life."
In all, 43 singers, dancers and musicians defected, victims, they said, of a harsh policy in Cuba that had declared illegal their decision to perform in the United States. One member of the troupe, who had initially decided to defect, was on the fence on Monday, and did not submit his 10-page asylum application along with those of his colleagues at federal offices here.
An additional six members of the revue applied for asylum to American authorities in Germany in September and were granted entry visas on Monday. The paperwork of a seventh was delayed. They were expected to fly immediately to Las Vegas, in time to take the stage for Tuesday night's opening of the show at the Stardust Resort and Casino.
Citing family obligations, the remaining two artists of the 53-member ensemble have decided to return to Cuba after the engagement at the Stardust concludes on Jan. 11.
Most of the other players were no less conflicted. Daisy Alvarez, 32, a choreographer and dancer, said during a rehearsal break that she had not yet told her son, Giancarlo, 10, who remains in Cuba with relatives, that their separation might last longer than either of them had expected.
"Even though he's very mature, I had to be very careful with him," Ms. Alvarez, who arrived hereon Aug. 23, said. "What I told him when I called him was that I was working very hard so that one day soon I can bring him to this country to live."
It was the hardest decision she ever made, Ms. Alvarez said. "In the end, I left my flesh and blood in Cuba," she said. "That's one of the risks we're taking with this madness."
Then, after thinking about it for a moment, she went on: "It's not really madness - it's our reality. The madness is that we really can't go back to Cuba now. If we go back, we'll have no work. What would we live on?"
Members of the company said they were warned by officials from Cuba's Ministry of Culture this summer that they would not be permitted to resume their careers if they insisted on going to Las Vegas. Ten performers decided to stay home.
The asylum applications were being forwarded to the Los Angeles office of the Department of Homeland Security. While federal officials do not normally comment on pending applications, the process for the performers will be made easier by a law that favors Cuban immigrants above those from most other nations, said Pamela Falk, a law professor at the City University of New York, who has extensive experience in asylum cases and is helping the troupe here.
Most of the cast members believe they will be able to return to Cuba when the conflict between Fidel Castro and the United States ends, or when Mr. Castro dies, whichever comes first. In the meantime, the experience of seeking residency in the United States is exciting, they said, even though their home, for the moment, is a motel that is not in the first rank of Las Vegas establishments.
"In Cuba, we were so accustomed to hearing all the propaganda about the United States being a bad place," said Ms. Alvarez, who has appeared with the troupe in 17 countries since its founding in 1998. "But as with any country, you've got to get to know it, both good and bad."
Several of the company's musicians were given a tour of music stores in Los Angeles and had their picture taken in front of the Hollywood sign, although most of the troupe has so far seen nothing of the United States but Las Vegas and its other-worldly attractions.
"This is like a planet inside a continent," Ariel Machado, the group's manager, said as he stood in the Stardust's Wayne Newton Theater, where the Cuban show is to be presented. "It's a little crazy here, but I think the group deserves to play in a place like this."
Vivian Herrera, 26, a singer and the company's first dancer, who was once a national gymnastics champion, said many people in Cuba, including her family, might not understand the performers' motivation.
"A lot of people there have been brainwashed politically," Ms. Herrera said. "The government has a pretty solid base, and none of us have any idea when that's going to change. Everything is unpredictable."