Mirror Dance

The story of Cuban twins forever linked through birth and dance but separated by a revolution

“Independent Lens,” a Film Festival in Your Living Room
Hosted by Edie Falco, on PBS Tuesday, November 15, at 10:30 PM (Check Local Listings)

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Program companion website: www.pbs.org/independentlens/mirrordance/ 

(San Francisco)—Two sisters. One passion. Romance. Revolution. MIRROR DANCE is the story of Cuban-born identical twins Ramona and Margarita de Saá, who become estranged through politics when one moves to the United States and the other remains behind. Though separated for almost 40 years, both continue to share a passion for dance. Shot in the United States and Cuba over a period of four years, the film reveals some of the complexities of the sisters' relationship: the worlds in which they live, the choices each has made and the conflicts each has endured. Set within the context of the turbulent dynamic between the two countries, MIRROR DANCE focuses on the twins' story of division, difference and ongoing efforts at reconciliation. It is a universal story that speaks to the personal pain, loss and waste that can result from international hostilities. MIRROR DANCE will be broadcast on Independent Lens, hosted by Edie Falco, on Tuesday, November 15, at 10:30 PM (check local listings). 

Ramona and Margarita knew they wanted to be ballerinas. At age 11, they were dancing with Alicia Alonso and were being mentored by master teacher Fernando Alonso. Enter the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro pledged a strong commitment to the arts, especially ballet, a commitment that continues to this day. 

Margarita flourished in the system, rising through the ranks from corps de ballet to prima ballerina. She married John White, an American who was recruited by Alicia Alonso to dance with the newly formed National Ballet of Cuba. Ramona married Santiago Bello, one of Castro's close associates. Using old family photographs and archival footage of their days as young dancers in Havana, including footage of Margarita performing in Enrique Pineda Barnet's film Giselle, MIRROR DANCE introduces viewers to the sisters and their worlds. In addition, archival and Super 8 footage recalls Havana in the turbulent '50s and early '60s when the twins were growing up, during their respective courtships and marriages and through the political events leading up to their dramatic separation. A soundtrack that mixes original music composed by Cuban-born Elio Villafranca with trational ballet music further evokes the era. 

Following their marriages, the twins began to grow apart. In 1964, concerned about the changing political environment, Margarita, her infant son and her husband—now a ballet master—made the painful decision to leave their life, careers and family in Cuba. Ramona remained in Havana. A self-described “revolutionary woman,” she was dismayed by her twin's lack of commitment to the revolution. Believing Margarita was a traitor, Ramona refused to have contact with her. 

In the 40 years since the sisters' separation, Margarita and John opened a small dance academy in Narberth, Penn., near Philadelphia, where they remain committed to helping young dancers pursue their dream. Ramona became director of the Cuban National Schools of Ballet. It was not until 2000, after being approached by the filmmakers, that Margarita began to think seriously about returning to Cuba. 

In the film, Margarita reflects, “When I left Cuba I didn't just lose my biological family, I lost something very special to me—the National Ballet of Cuba. I lost two families.” Despite pouring her heart into her work and trying to create a new ballet family in the United States, she remains haunted by memories and loss. 

In Cuba, the film follows Ramona in her routine as the sole woman who determines the fate of every aspiring dancer in the country, and viewers experience the all-encompassing, government-endowed National School of Ballet. 

Finally, on February 28, 2004, Margarita, her husband, John, and her daughter, Melinda, depart for Havana. In a touching scene at José Mart' Airport, Margarita, Ramona and their brother, Jovito, are finally reunited. 

Still, the short visit between the twins remains guarded. On Margarita's last day in Havana, a visit to their parents' grave helps the twins put the loss of the past 40 years into some perspective. The desire to recover their past relationship exists, but as Margarita reflects, it will be work. “The ice has been broken to continue this relationship. But we have to work at it, in person.” 

But once again, politics intervene in the twins' relationship. In June 2004, the U.S. government tightened travel restrictions to Cuba. Now Margarita must wait until 2007 to see her sister again. Like the ongoing political situation between the United States and Cuba, the twins' story still awaits an outcome. 

The companion website for MIRROR DANCE (www.pbs.org/independentlens/mirrordance/) features detailed information about the film, including exclusive filmmaker interviews, filmmaker and cast bios, and Learn More links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features video previews and a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions. 

Directors/Producers: Frances McElroy and Mar'a Teresa Rodr'guez
Editor: Ann Tegnell
Videographer: David Sarasti
Additional Videography: Juan Nuevo and Mar'a Teresa Rodr'guez
Sound Recordists: David G. Rainey, Juan Nuevo, Andy Wenrich, Diego Javier Figueroa, Emily Zeitlyn-Morillo
Composer: Elio Villafranca
Piano: Iris Bianco
Clarinet: Ole Mathisen
Cello: Benna Shelanski
Violin: Maura DiBerardinis
Bass Violin: Matthew Roberts 

Funding for MIRROR DANCE was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Philadelphia Foundation, the 5-County Arts Fund and the Montgomery County Foundation. MIRROR DANCE was produced by Shirley Road Productions and Pata de Perro Productions for Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with Latino Public Broadcasting. 

Participants (in alphabetical order)
Alicia Alonso, co-founder of the National Ballet of Cuba; former teacher and mentor to Margarita and Ramona
Marta Bautis, childhood friend of the twins and former ballerina; danced with the twins at the National Ballet of Cuba
Ramona de Saá Bello, subject of MIRROR DANCE, along with her twin, Margarita
Miguel Cabrera, historian of the National Ballet of Cuba; introduces Margarita to several young ballerinas during her visit to the National Ballet of Cuba in 2004
Lois Carrozza, reflexologist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Jovito de Saá, Margarita and Ramona's brother, who lives in Havana
Tanya Featherman, ballet teacher and pianist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Linda Mintzer, ballet teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Ernest Pendleton, Jr., grandson of Margarita and John White
Melinda White Pendleton, daughter of Margarita and John White; teacher and co-director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Anayansi Sánchez Rodr'guez, student at the National School of Ballet, Havana
Jay Senker, Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet volunteer
Sara Vaaler, student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Sara Aloma Viuda de Ochoa, Jovito de Saá's mother-in-law
John White, Jr., son of Margarita and John White
John White, husband of Margarita de Saá; dance master and co-director of Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet
Margarita de Saá White, subject of MIRROR DANCE, along with her twin, Ramona Frances McElroy 

About the Filmmakers
Frances McElroy (Director/Producer) began her career as an independent filmmaker in 1991, when she founded Shirley Road Productions, an award-winning nonprofit independent production company in Philadelphia. She is especially drawn to subjects that relate to the arts, community development and social change, often with an international perspective. Recent production credits include Ballycastle, a documentary she produced and directed, which tells the story of Stuart Shils, a Philadelphia painter of Jewish heritage whose infatuation with a remote Irish village changed his life. The film won a 2004 CINE Golden Eagle Award, and national distribution by American Public Television is being planned. An Angel in the Village, a documentary McElroy produced about Chinese-born community-based artist Lily Yeh, was supported by ITVS and premiered nationally in 1999. It received a regional Emmy Award, First Prize for Documentary Excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists, Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and a Gabriel Award. 

Before becoming an independent filmmaker, McElroy was director of Program Development and an Emmy Award–winning producer/director at WHYY (PBS affiliate in Philadelphia). Her credits there include Philadelphia's Ed Bacon, a documentary about renowned city planner Edmund Bacon, and Who Is Red Grooms? a documentary about the beloved American artist. In 1987/1988, she directed INPUT 1988, the International Public Television Screening Conference. 

Mar'a Teresa Rodr'guez (Director/Producer) is an award-winning producer/director whose work has screened both nationally and internationally. She is drawn to subjects that explore family, memory and community, often in a cross-cultural context. Her previous work includes Under New Management, which was commissioned by WYBE's Philadelphia Stories, and From Here to There/De Aqu' a Allá, which received a First Place Award for Short Documentary at the XVII International Film Festival of Uruguay, played at the Smithsonian Institution and was acquired by WGBH's (PBS affiliate in Boston) La Plaza. Rodr'guez also directed six half-hour programs on literature and the arts for GED Connection, a PBS educational series that premiered nationally in 2001. She has facilitated community media projects through Scribe Video Center and is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, including a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. 

A film festival in your living room, Independent Lens is an Emmy Award–winning weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10 PM on PBS. Hosted by Edie Falco, the acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of independent producers, which has prompted Television Week to call it “entertaining as hell and better than any other documentary series around.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites and community engagement campaigns. Further information about the series is available at www.pbs.org/independentlens. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

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Posted on September 30, 2005