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Photo Essay : Dancing Around Conformity in Cuba

June 06, 1995|DAVID STORK | For The Times

In Camaguey, in the heart of Cuba, a bastion of machismo, Hugo Hernandez tugs at his tutu and lumbers onto stage, feigning arthritis and old age.

His audience is almost entirely gay, and the target of his parody is Alicia Alonso, a prima ballerina and paragon of Cuban culture, now past her prime. Hernandez stumbles into a pirouette and bumps into stage props, and the audience roars.

There are points here beyond buffoonery: To insult Alonso is to rebuke Cuba's cultural orthodoxy; to put on transvestite programs is to spite machismo. But what's happening in Cuba today is shock therapy by outspoken artists, who push and pull the laws and customs to suit personal needs. Cubans call the process resolviendo , resolving.

Through shows like this one at La Tisana restaurant in Camaguey, Hernandez, his troupe and their followers say they are trying to educate Cubans about the existence of homosexuality.

"We are trying to civilize Cuba," says Alside Manso, Hernandez's makeup artist. It's no small sacrifice in the case of the 32-year-old entertainer, who had his upper teeth removed to look more like the aged Alonso.

At the end of the show, Hernandez takes off the tutu, removes his makeup, slips his false teeth into his mouth and blends back into Cuban society.

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