5 Must-See Performances at the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival

Hundreds of Cuban and Cuban-American artists will be taking part.
See La Dame Blanche perform on May 15. Photograph courtesy of Kennedy Center.

Artes de Cuba is two-week extravaganza brings 400 Cuban and Cuban-American artists to town for a ridiculously broad array of events—from dance lessons to films to cocktail tastings (prices vary). These are five we can’t wait to check out.

Manuel Mendive

May 8–20

Photograph of Mendive courtesy of Manuel Mendive.
Photograph courtesy of Manuel Mendive.

The renowned Afro-Cuban visual artist is displaying an assortment of specially commissioned wooden sculptures throughout the festival (free). He’ll also participate in an intriguing live performance on May 14 that involves music, dance, and body paint ($25).

Celia Ledón

May 14

Photograph of Ledón courtesy of Kennedy Center.
Photograph of Ledón courtesy of Kennedy Center.

As costume designer for Havana’s Teatro El Público, Ledón has to get especially creative because many fabrics are hard to come by on the island. Instead, she uses materials like soda-can tops and rubber car mats. Her work will be on display in the atrium and as part of a fashion show. Free.

La Dame Blanche

May 15

Photograph of La Dame Blanche courtesy of Kennedy Center.
Photograph courtesy of Kennedy Center.

Born in Cuba, Yaite Ramos now lives in Paris and makes music under the name La Dame Blanche. It’s a sound as bold as her cigar-chomping persona, mixing Spanish-language rapping with nu cumbia, reggae, and hip-hop sounds. Free.

Los Van Van

May 19

Photograph of Los Van Van Courtesy of Los Van Van.
Photograph courtesy of Los Van Van.

Still going despite the 2014 death of founder Juan Formell, this revered band has been fusing rock and Cuban sounds since the late ’60s. Even if you’re not a superfan—or “Vanvanero”—you’ll want to sing along: “Somos Cubanos, Español y Africanos.” $15 to $69.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba

May 29–June 3

Photograph of Ballet Nacional de Cuba by Nancy Reyes.
Photograph by Nancy Reyes.

In 1978, Cuba’s national ballet company made its American debut at the Kennedy Center. Now it’s finally back for a return engagement—along with the group’s 97-year-old cofounder, Alicia Alonso, who is the artistic director and choreographer of these performances. $29 to $129.

The Artes de Cuba festival will run at the Kennedy Center from May 8-June 3.

This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of Washingtonian.


Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in fall 2016. She likes to write about race, culture, music, and politics. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in International Relations and French with a minor in Journalism. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.