Now Reading
SF prima ballerina talks Cinderella and growing up in Cuba
Amos Gregory   In October of 2011, I created the San Francisco Veterans Mural Project (Veterans Alley), one that allows U.S. military veterans to paint their own stories upon the public facing walls of an alley in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.     The project was created to give voice to the Tenderloin’s veteran population, which has long been oppressed, and suffered due to their veteran status, chronic homelessness, and self-medication in this community.   Since its inception, the project has created a constant dialogue with the society-at-large and the formerly voiceless veterans population. This communication, facilitated through art, has raised the awareness and understanding of the effects of trauma and the true reality of war within the community.   During the summer of 2012, myself and several of San Francisco’s homeless youth, who themselves were living with the trauma of street life at such a young age, painted a mural in Veterans Alley to help raise awareness concerning the plight of the Syrian people and the massacre in Homs, Syria. During this massacre, government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad killed over 200 men, women and children.   This act of showing solidarity with the Syrian people, who are presently suffering from the most violent war of the 21st century, began a three-year conversation with community members and activists in the U.S., Europe and ultimately Syrian refugees living in the Turkish city of Antakya, located 40 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border.    Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, over 4.4 million Syrians have fled the massive chaos and destruction gripping their country—contributing to the worst worldwide refugee crisis since the end of World War II. With over 1.5 million Syrian refugees within its borders, Turkey is experiencing the creation of new vibrant Syrian communities in neighborhoods like the Fatih District in Istanbul and the low cost housing areas of Antakya—the ghetto. During the winter of 2014, I was invited by a “new” Syrian community in Antakya, Turkey to come and paint murals upon one of the community’s four schools that educate 2,000 displaced Syrian children, who range in age from 4-17 years.   With well over 75 percent of Syrian refugees identifying as women and children, there is an overwhelming need to provide quality education to these displaced school-aged children, many of whom are orphaned or live in female run households. The Turkish educational system, which is considered very modern, does not have a formalized program for teaching a bi-lingual curriculum in both Turkish and Arabic (which most Syrians speak). There are also no classes solely based in Arabic offered to the children of Syrian refugees. With no formalized educational system or proper immigration documentation to enroll in Turkish-speaking schools, most Syrians living outside of United Nations refugee camps are left with few options.   In the city of Antakya, a Syrian community is solving this problem by simply creating their own educational system. Men and women, who before the war were educators, architects, engineers, religious leaders and activists, make up the backbone of a community-based effort to educate their own children in Turkey. I lived within this community during my time spent in Antakya, and I was afforded the unique opportunity to hear these stories of anguish, trauma, and harm that the Syrian people have suffered at the hands of their own government and foreign fighters who have claimed the lives of over 220,000 Syrians since the war started.   As I began my journey, I knew that I was bringing with me a wealth of experience in helping heal trauma, for I myself am a U.S. military veteran who creates art with fellow veterans, but this would be the first time to actually work so closely with civilian populations who face the realities of war from an entirely, almost innocent, perspective.   I am also a resident of San Francisco’s Mission District, which is a neighborhood filled with many immigrants who came to the U.S. as war refugees from countries such as El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, and Liberia. These neighbors have been so kind to share their stories with me and inspire me to travel and bear witness to the human tragedy and triumph of a diaspora caused by war.   Part 2 of “Healing through Art: The Syrian Diaspora,” will share the stories of these community members who are being forced to deal with aftermath of the Syrian civil war. To read part 2, please read the next issue of El Tecolote, which publishes on April 9.   Amos Gregory is a U.S military veteran, visual artist and activist.             Amos Gregory   In October of 2011, I created the San Francisco Veterans Mural Project (Veterans Alley), one that allows U.S. military veterans to paint their own stories upon the public facing walls of an alley in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.     The project was created to give voice to the Tenderloin’s veteran population, which has long been oppressed, and suffered due to their veteran status, chronic homelessness, and self-medication in this community.   Since its inception, the project has created a constant dialogue with the society-at-large and the formerly voiceless veterans population. This communication, facilitated through art, has raised the awareness and understanding of the effects of trauma and the true reality of war within the community.   During the summer of 2012, myself and several of San Francisco’s homeless youth, who themselves were living with the trauma of street life at such a young age, painted a mural in Veterans Alley to help raise awareness concerning the plight of the Syrian people and the massacre in Homs, Syria. During this massacre, government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad killed over 200 men, women and children.   This act of showing solidarity with the Syrian people, who are presently suffering from the most violent war of the 21st century, began a three-year conversation with community members and activists in the U.S., Europe and ultimately Syrian refugees living in the Turkish city of Antakya, located 40 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border.    Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, over 4.4 million Syrians have fled the massive chaos and destruction gripping their country—contributing to the worst worldwide refugee crisis since the end of World War II. With over 1.5 million Syrian refugees within its borders, Turkey is experiencing the creation of new vibrant Syrian communities in neighborhoods like the Fatih District in Istanbul and the low cost housing areas of Antakya—the ghetto. During the winter of 2014, I was invited by a “new” Syrian community in Antakya, Turkey to come and paint murals upon one of the community’s four schools that educate 2,000 displaced Syrian children, who range in age from 4-17 years.   With well over 75 percent of Syrian refugees identifying as women and children, there is an overwhelming need to provide quality education to these displaced school-aged children, many of whom are orphaned or live in female run households. The Turkish educational system, which is considered very modern, does not have a formalized program for teaching a bi-lingual curriculum in both Turkish and Arabic (which most Syrians speak). There are also no classes solely based in Arabic offered to the children of Syrian refugees. With no formalized educational system or proper immigration documentation to enroll in Turkish-speaking schools, most Syrians living outside of United Nations refugee camps are left with few options.   In the city of Antakya, a Syrian community is solving this problem by simply creating their own educational system. Men and women, who before the war were educators, architects, engineers, religious leaders and activists, make up the backbone of a community-based effort to educate their own children in Turkey. I lived within this community during my time spent in Antakya, and I was afforded the unique opportunity to hear these stories of anguish, trauma, and harm that the Syrian people have suffered at the hands of their own government and foreign fighters who have claimed the lives of over 220,000 Syrians since the war started.   As I began my journey, I knew that I was bringing with me a wealth of experience in helping heal trauma, for I myself am a U.S. military veteran who creates art with fellow veterans, but this would be the first time to actually work so closely with civilian populations who face the realities of war from an entirely, almost innocent, perspective.   I am also a resident of San Francisco’s Mission District, which is a neighborhood filled with many immigrants who came to the U.S. as war refugees from countries such as El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, and Liberia. These neighbors have been so kind to share their stories with me and inspire me to travel and bear witness to the human tragedy and triumph of a diaspora caused by war.   Part 2 of “Healing through Art: The Syrian Diaspora,” will share the stories of these community members who are being forced to deal with aftermath of the Syrian civil war. To read part 2, please read the next issue of El Tecolote, which publishes on April 9.   Amos Gregory is a U.S military veteran, visual artist and activist.          Lorena Feijoo. Photo Nick Garcia/Via Facebook
Lorena Feijoo. Photo Nick Garcia/via Facebook

The San Francisco Ballet’s prima ballerina, Lorena Feijoo, hosted a special pre-screening of Disney’s Cinderella at AMC Van Ness Theater March 9, imparting her wisdom of dance, grace and artistry to the audience. Afterwards, the Cuban-born ballerina, who portrayed Cinderella in choreographer Val Caniporali’s “A Cinderella Story,” spoke with El Tecolote about that experience and her journey to becoming one of the most celebrated ballerinas in recent history:

When did your passion for ballet begin?
Really early, when I was three or four. My mother took me to the Cuban National Ballet all the time and I was taken care of by the wardrobe people, surrounded by pointe shoes and music and dance—so very early on.

Tell me about your upbringing in Cuba.
It was a phenomenal time of my life, I learned a lot. I was a very happy child. I didn’t have 70 channels and lots of distraction; I was absolutely thrilled with my upbringing. I was just a happy girl with a lot of responsibilities. Being a dancer meant having to study French and piano and character painting, so it wasn’t just classes. I was a very well rounded young girl and that didn’t give me a lot of time to play around and do other things. Today, I’m very happy with what I learned and experienced.

Being born and raised as a Cuban, how has that affected your dance career and the dancer that you’ve become?
I think we all carry with us our idiosyncrasies and our roots and our upbringing and our childhood, so I think, as a dancer, I tend to hear that we [Cubans] have a lot of pizzazz and a lot of freedom and a lot of passion and [are] very committed for what we do every day, even during rehearsals and class—not just show time. I think it’s part of being a Cuban or being a Latino; it integrates those factors into your daily job.

Tell me about your performance in the Val Caniporali’s “A Cinderella Story.” How was this performance special or unique for you?
Performing Val’s Cinderella has been great, because his choreography particularly is based in the ‘50s. He uses a lot of elements like harps and costumes, mimicking Audrey Hepburn like in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and it has a lot of humor in it, which is usually not that present. For example in one part, Cinderella brings the shoes to the prince, and that’s completely the reverse. So it is a very humorous story and the steps have an ease to them because it’s based on wonderful Broadway music, and [the] composer is Bernstein so it’s wonderful music to dance to. And working with Val C. is always wonderful, so he makes it even better.

Do you think that being a Latina affects this role and, if yes how so?
From Val C., yes I think it does because he uses a lot more movement with the hips. And he gives you a certain freedom where you can use a lot of your body and shoulders and sense of musicality and movement, which I think Latin dancers have it in them a lot because, since you’re a little kid, you’re moving salsa or popular rhythms—even people who didn’t happen to be a ballerina. It’s a little in your DNA and upbringing. That’s why Val tends to love Latina woman, because they come with that chip and I’ve been very blessed with that.

Most girls hear about the tale of Cinderella when they’re little in books, film, or simple bedtime stories. When was the first time you heard the tale of Cinderella?
I think I must have been around three, very early on my mom was a really good story reader. It’s one of those [stories] that is timeless and it’s been there for centuries and when you’re a kid you imagine things when you don’t see in the pictures yet. I remember in my head I had a different image of Cinderella than when I saw the movie the first time, but it was fascinating and of course it’s something that little kids adore—and even moms because now I happen to be a mom and you just discover a whole new entire world inside a fairytale. But at the same time you learn values that you can apply in your daily life of kindness, courage and love, and persistence.

What about the Cinderella folktale do you think continues to captivate people even today?
I think the beauty of her personality and the beauty of her actions being always secluded and not treated well and having the humanity to treat others nicely and be wonderful to the little animals. There are timeless values and themes that run in the movie. We learn about values and principles, following our passion and believing that you are doing the right thing.

Disney’s “Cinderella” is now showing at AMC Van Ness, AMC Metreon, Cinéarts, Kabuiki Cinemas and Century 2

Story by: Noura Khoury