The walls of the Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center in Kadikoy are quivering as exuberant cries of “Cuba, Cuba, Cubaaa” melt into those of “Viva Turquía, viva Turquia!”
Today is no ordinary Monday evening – it is Cuban night and an infectious joie de vivre clings to the atmosphere as children’s theater troupe La Colmenita returns to Istanbul for the last show of their Turkey tour. While wooing the audience with popular Cuban songs such as “Hasta Siempre Comandante” and readings of the poems of the Uruguayan Mario Bernadetti and Hikmet, La Colmenita are also here to premiere the first performance of their politically charged play “The Five Cuban Heroes” and do their bit against “U.S Imperialist Terror.”
The “Cuban Five” refers to the case of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez, arrested by FBI officers in September 1998 in Miami under loose and unfounded charges of espionage against the American state. Following the rulings of a trial in Miami, the five stacked up an incredible four life imprisonments and 77 years between them.
Both the international and Cuban communities recognize that the five were only in the U.S to report back on a group of Cuban-Americans (the invasion group) who have carried out terrorist acts against Cuba over the past few years. Nonetheless, despite the alleged innocence of the five men and international pressure in the form of petitions signed by Nobel prize winners, politicians, human rights organizations and solid arguments drawn up by their defense attorneys, the U.S Supreme Court refused to overturn the case on June 15, 2009.
The five remain imprisoned and are denied family visits.
[HH] The voice of innocence
Spreading a political message while ensuring that it remains accessible to all has not always been an easy task.
In this case, La Colmenita alludes to the complicated issue of unfair imprisonment through the endearing story of one of the prisoners: Hernandez’s friendship with a little bird that he saves. The audience sits entranced as each member of the troupe, whose ages range from 5 to 15, takes it in turns to narrate a section of the story.
One day Hernandez discovers a newly hatched chick, decides to take care of it and names him Kardinal. As Kardinal grows up, the friendship between him and Hernandez develops. Even when Hernandez releases Kardinal into the courtyard, the latter remains loyal to Hernandez by always returning to his shoulder. This unusual friendship between prisoner and bird provides a block of resistance against the cynical remarks of a prison guard who doubts Kardinal’s loyalty to Hernandez. The story ends when Hernandez is moved to a different high-security cell and, unable to take Kardinal with him, liberates him forever.
[HH] Grassroots beginnings
When I ask the director of the troupe, Carlos Cremata Malberti, affectionately known as “Tim,” how this all began, there is an undeniable twinkle in his eyes as he enthusiastically recounts the founding and philosophy behind the Cuban children’s theater troupe, La Colmenita (The Little Beehive).
Tim explains that he was always drawn to arts for children due to his mother’s position as the director and founder of children’s television in Cuba.
“The thing is that I just get too stressed in the editing room, it’s too claustrophobic. I saw recorded images of these children in the editing room and told myself that we had to do something more spontaneous. I wanted to set up a theater project.”
And this is just what he did. La Colmenita was founded in Havana as a family and community project on Feb. 14, 1990, for all those that have a “child’s heart.” Tim explains that the aim of the group is not to form professionals, but rather to give confidence to shy, impoverished or disabled children through art and enjoyment. He repeats a favorite quote from the renowned Cuban poet José Marti to stress his point: “Children should get together at least once every week to see who they can help all together.”
The company is funded by the Ministry of Cuban Culture and performs remixed adaptations of classic tales, one such example being “Cinderella according to the Beatles.” As for the name of the group, Tim refers back to the famous actress and theater director Berta Martinez, whose vision of theater was one where all the bees in a beehive, in this case members of a theater troupe, work together to build and fortify it.
For Tim, the principles of his company are founded on adventure, discovery and self-development. He energetically adds that if Tom Sawyer could have, he would have also gone to Cuba because the best thing that one can do is to go traveling and discover new things with one’s gang.
La Colmenita has been operating for 20 years, has traveled internationally and is now a theatrical company that has branches throughout Cuba and in five different countries, including Venezuela, Colombia and Spain. It is currently discussing the possibility of setting up a group in Istanbul in December with the Comparative Cinema Association of Turkey. So watch this space.
In the meantime, wouldn’t you say that it was definitely on par with Tom Sawyer’s gang?
ISTANBUL-Hürriyet Daily News | 9/3/2010 12:00:00 AM | EMIKO JOZUKA