THE STORY of the Cuban Five is a complicated one, but that’s not stopping a troupe of child actors from tackling history.
The Cuban children’s theater group La Colmenita (Little Beehive) will mix fantasy and reality to tell the tale of these Cuban national heroes tonight at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture.
The play, “Abracadabra,” speaks to a top concern among Cubans, said Carlos Alberto Cremata, who founded the group in 1990.
“In Cuba, in all the neighborhoods, in all the schools, they sing and paint and write poetry about these heroes,” he said. “All the children know they are heroes because they were fighting against terrorism against Cuba.”
To ward off terrorist attacks, Cuba had sent spies to the U.S. to monitor militant Cuban exile groups. U.S. officials had been watching them since the 1960s.
In February 1996, disaster struck when Cuban military jets shot down two airplanes run by an exile group, killing four Americans. Five Cuban intelligence officers were arrested and convicted of espionage, among other crimes, for providing Cuba with information about military bases that was used to down the planes.
Tonight, La Colmenita will revive their story.
This is La Colmenita’s first time in New York, and only its second time in the U.S. It will perform in Harlem tomorrow at Public School 154/The Harriet Tubman Learning Center, 250 W. 127th St., before continuing to California. Troupe members are UNICEF goodwill ambassadors.
Filled with music, singing and dancing, “Abracadabra” was written by the 22 young actors, who range from 6 to 15 years old. In it, a teacher gives students the names of classic fairy tale heroes and challenges them to bring the heroes home.
In real life, the Cuban Five received lengthy prison terms. One, Rene González, was released this month.
Asked whether he considered the subject matter controversial, Cremata said he “never thought about it.”
“We come bringing the best will and hope,” he said. “We hope that people who come to see us understand what Cubans today are feeling.”
Hostos’ arts center has a long history of hosting Cuban performers, like Los Van Van, dating to the early 1990s, said Wally Edgecombe, the center’s director.
There was a lull in the mid-2000s, when the Bush administration clamped down on this cultural exchange, but that has since changed under President Obama.
In recent years, the arts center has hosted such Cuban groups as pianist Dayramir González and Septeto Nacional.
“Our focus is on Afro-Caribbean and African-American arts,” Edgecombe said. “We have a lot of Puerto Rican programming and a lot of Dominican programming. Now we’re getting back into Cuban arts, and it’s great.”