The Miami Herald
Wed, Feb. 18, 2004

3 Cuban dancers get asylum

With immigration papers in hand, two ex-members of the national Cuban ballet company are joining the Cincinnati Ballet. A third dancer will audition for the company.


  The lives of three former dancers of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba who four months ago defected in the United States took a new turn when they received political asylum and were allowed to begin a new professional life, their lawyer said Tuesday.

  Two of them, Adiarys Almeida and Cervilio Amador, were recently hired by the Cincinnati Ballet, and a third dancer, Gema Díaz, will audition for that company Thursday, the dancers said in the offices of their lawyer, Willy Allen.

  ''Thank God, everything has gone well for us,'' said Almeida, 19. ''We have our papers and our contracts,'' said the ballerina, who left the Ballet Nacional in New York in October during a tour of 20 U.S. cities.

  Days earlier, Amador and Díaz had done the same in Daytona Beach, where they were supposed to dance in the company's production of Don Quixote. Instead, the dancers slipped away, hailed a taxi -- and told the driver to head to West Palm Beach. With the help of friends, the pair was referred to immigration attorneys in Coral Gables and began the process of applying for political asylum.

  The list of defections grew when performer Luis Valdés and a fifth dancer -- a woman whose name her colleagues decline to divulge -- quit the troupe.

  According to Allen, immigration authorities accepted the three asylum applications because they consider the Ballet Nacional -- directed by Alicia Alonso -- to be a political pawn of the Cuban government. Defecting from it, the authorities contend, is the equivalent of ''rejecting'' the government, which might then take reprisals. ''[The dancers] were able to demonstrate that, if they returned to Cuba, they would be persecuted,'' the immigration lawyer said. Contract in hand, after almost four months of uncertainty after quitting the internationally renowned Cuban ballet troupe, the three dancers appeared at ease. ''Now we are relaxed, but a week ago we couldn't even talk,'' said Amador, 20, who is romantically involved with Díaz, 21. The three said they have spent the past several months training and attending classes with local dance groups. They also performed in some of the traditional Christmas performances of the ballet The Nutcracker. The worst part of their experience is being separated from their families, who remain in Cuba. ''That weighs heavily on us, because, sentimentally, each of us is alone,'' Amador said.

  The Cincinnati Ballet contacted the dancers after a company official read about them in a New York Times article, Almeida and Amador said. Details of their contract were not disclosed, but Allen said their weekly salary after they join the Ohio troupe in June will be the equivalent of their yearly wage at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

  Herald writer Tere Figueras contributed to this report.