The Source for Media Coverage of The Arts in Miami.
Articles, reviews, previews and features on dance and music performances and events.
Sign Up
No one logged in. Log in

Chucho Valdés’ Solo Piano Stars in New Cuban Film

Written by: Fernando González
Article Rating

Esteban, the debut of Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela being premiered at The Miami Light Project tells the story of a 9 year old, living in Havana with his mother, who’s raising him as a single parent, and his perseverance following his dream of becoming a musician. The challenges seem overwhelming. Esteban and his mother struggle to make ends meet – his estranged father offers little, and unreliable, support; Esteban has to help out selling their home-made beauty products door to door; his school snack is a bun and a bottle of water with sugar. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and Esteban falls in love with the piano.

Convincing a cranky teacher to give him lessons, scamming enough money to pay for them, and getting his mother to go along are just bumps on the road. He has to learn to play the piano.

Esteban gets its South Florida premiere at the The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, in Wynwood, Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

Naturally, piano music is a key character in the story and to create it and perform it, Cosculluela and producer Maritza Ceballo, keeping with Esteban´s spirit, pursued Chucho Valdés, one of the greatest living pianists and composers in Cuban music. Improbably, Valdés accepted.

His soundtrack, which he improvised while watching the scenes, is both delicate and deeply affecting.

Unlike Esteban, Valdés, the son of the late Bebo Valdés, one of Cuba’ leading pianists, arrangers, and bandleaders, had his first teacher, and his first piano, at home. But as he noted in a recent conversation, he knows about Esteban´s struggles.

Chucho Valdés spoke of that and more to Artburst from his home in South Florida.

How did you get involved in the film? Like the teacher in the film, you started by saying “No.” What convinced you to do it?

The producers came to see me about doing the soundtrack for the film and flat out I told them ‘Thank you, but no. No way.’ I wasn’t interested. I had a very complicated schedule of concerts and travel and I had no time. But they kept at it and said they would wait for me — and they gave me the script and I got interested in the story.

Also I saw them [Cosculluela and Ceballo] so enthusiastic, making their first movie with such love, such dedication. I’m always moved when I see young people trying to do something. So I said, ‘Yes but,’ and the conditions were that it was solo piano and that we recorded it at my home studio in Málaga. And that’s what we did.

How did you work on the music? Director Cosculluela mentioned in an interview that, to his dismay, he realized, too late, that he had shot close-ups of the hands of the piano player hitting the keys, so you were boxed in and had to compose to those images.

I improvised the music to the images. Joel had a clear idea of where he wanted the music. I wrote a theme, the professor’s piece, “Diego,” which appears in fragments throughout the film and you get to hear finally in full under the credits. But yes, they shot sequences of the hands at the keyboard, playing a melody — and [the actor Manuel Porto] does not play the piano, so there is no sense of rhythm, tempo or anything; I had to study what keys he was hitting and how, and create a melody to fit the images. Let me tell you, I was ready to quit. (He laughs).

There is more than one Valdés involved on this film. Here’s a bit of trivia: your sister Miriam, a piano teacher in real life, appears in the film as the head of the jury testing Esteban.

Yes! Miriam is the best piano teacher in Cuba — especially for kids who are starting with the piano. She is unbelievable. And she taught the basics to both Esteban (Reynaldo Guanche) and the professor (Porto).

Was there anything in the film that made you think in your own story with the piano?

Yes, beginning with the passion that Esteban has for the piano that makes him jump the gate at the professor’s house. In my case, when my dad went to work I would jump on the bench and start searching for the notes he had played, and little by little, note by note, I would find them and they tell me that’s how I started. The cat was out of the bag one day when [dad] left for the Tropicana and realized he had forgotten some music, so came he came back to the house and heard someone playing the piano. He opened the door and saw me playing and asked my mom, “What’s going on?” and she told him: “That’s what he does every time you go to work.”

As for not being able to pay for classes, as a kid I had my teacher at home, but when my father left in 1960 [Chucho was then 18] I became the breadwinner of the family and what I made playing was not enough to pay the bills and my lessons. In those days, 20 pesos was a lot of money and bought the food for the family.

I was studying with Rosario Franco, a tremendous teacher, and many times I had no way of paying her, but she gave me lessons anyway. And later I was studying with Zenaida Romeu, and she saw what was happening, I was working but it was not enough and, like the professor in the film, decided not to charge me anymore.

South Florida premiere of Esteban, the debut film of Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela, featuring Reynaldo Guanche, Yuliet Cruz and Manuel Porto, is presented by Miami Light Project in collaboration with Horns to Havana; June 13-15, 7:00 p.m.; The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami; tickets: $10, available at or 305.576.4350.


Leave a comment...
Must be Logged in
No one logged in. Log in
Leave a comment...
Was this helpful?
No Very

Captcha Image

About The writer


M. John Richard has never hung back from the challenges that shape a life. Not when a knee injury ended his dreams of playing football at Syracuse University. Not when he was persuad..

For many choreographers, a new project is an opportunity to dig into fresh ideas. But for local choreographer Pioneer Winter, his latest work “Reprise” returns to the same terrain he has been..

There are few shortcuts for anyone hoping to make it in ballet, but for black dancers that road has always been particularly arduous. A lack of access to training, scant rewards, and cultura..

For sheer pageantry, there are few dance companies that can rival the Ballet Nacional de España. In its 40th season, with 40 dancers and 11 musicians, Spain’s effusive, no-holds-barred love l..

When the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater returns to town this week, Miami native son Jamar Roberts will take center stage. As one of the company’s star dancers, he has long shined as a performer. B..

He says his dance comes from his dreams. French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi’s most recent work, “What the Day Owes the Night” combines Sufi rhythms with cutting edge b-boy moves, class..

A world premiere always comes with a drum roll. And, throughout the years, Miami City Ballet has brought to light its fair share of resounding new works. Still, Brian Brooks’ freshly-minted O..

Wednesday night at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Martha Graham Dance company presented “Appalachian Spring Suite” and “The R..

Cooking may be Dan Froot’s favorite thing. This is saying a lot since Froot is also a composer, a dancer, a sax-player, a play-wright, an oral-historian -- an all-around performance artist an..

With the closing of Tigertail Productions last year, Miami lost one of its preeminent artistic champions. Under the direction of founder Mary Luft, Tigertail brought an endless parade of boundary-..

Anytime would be a good time to devote a dance program to the works of Jerome Robbins, our most versatile and celebrated American-born choreographer. But, given that 2018 marks the centennial..

Due to winter storms in the Northeast impacting travel, with great regrets the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company announced the cancellation of the Saturday, Jan. 6 performance. At age..

It is fitting at this time of the year that our thoughts often turn to what connects us not what divides us. Whether we are driven by religious or secular motives, many of us are in the spiri..

The end of the 19th century was a golden age for ballet. In 15 years of collaboration, two great Russian geniuses – choreographer Marius Petipa, and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky – produced ballet st..

Here’s a riddle – name the 1892 box office flop panned by critics for lack of seriousness and for casting too many kids, which has now transformed into a force of nature timed to occur yearly..

It happens every year, right around Thanksgiving, productions of the Nutcracker pop up from coast to coast, marking the start of the holiday season. But on Saturday, Miami audiences have the ..

As Art Week approaches, Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s Alma Dance Theater is getting ready to add its distinctive voice, rehearsing for the upcoming performance of “Flowers” at the C..

Promising a night of airiness and ardor, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami will bring “Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, where the company joins an att..

Great friendships can nurture and prod an artist to make greater work. Think Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Such is also the case fo..

It’s a tall order to present a season as surprising as it is moving, as disturbing as it is delightful. Miami-Dade College’s Live Arts 2017-2018 season -- Ojala/Inshallah: Wishes from the Mu..

It was only a few decades ago that finding a professional, locally produced performance was an aerobic dance in itself. But after the Miami City Ballet (established 1985), the New World Schoo..

A 50th anniversary calls for gold in celebration. But Balanchine’s “Jewels”­—a sublime marriage of music and choreography from 1967—brings Emeralds, Rubies,and Diamonds. Those pre..

When the Limon Dance Company returns to Miami-Dade this weekend, it brings with it the powerful vision of founder José Limon. He was a man deeply concerned about and connected to the humanity..

When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit N..

Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera ..

Anniversaries usually celebrate the success of a partnership with symbolic gifts of crystal, china, silver and gold. For the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, the company celebrates 20 years of..

The songs are familiar; the love story is also familiar but made fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the musical biography that comes to Miami this week. The narrative of Emilio and Gloria Estefan meet..

Drummer Dafnis Prieto and pianist Omar Sosa closed this year’s Global Cuba Fest at the Light Box in Wynwood, Miami, with shows on Friday and Saturday, March 16-17 that suggested a sort of mus..

Mention flamenco and the immediate associations are with dancing, singing and the guitar. The piano has a rather tentative history in flamenco. While some scholars include the instrument in p..

The ancient Japanese art of Taiko drumming comes to Miami this Friday, with Tao: Drum Heart, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has gone on to tour internationally, getting ..

It’s not by chance that the music of Cuban drummer, composer, educator and bandleader Dafnis Prieto unfolds with such purpose. An accidental immigrant in 1999 — he was living with ..

In the music of Las Cafeteras and Orkesta Mendoza, presented by Fundarte at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center Saturday, the border is no place for walls but rather, a moveable feast. ..

Performance Hall at New World Center was packed Saturday, Feb. 3 for the New Work program, which NWS conductor and artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas introduced as “one of the more adve..

Having grown up in Buenos Aires with a strong interest in music, one would think that Jaime Bronsztein ( would have slid down the well-lubricated tracks towar..

A creepy old king ogles his beautiful stepdaughter. Powerless to stop him, her mother, the queen, protests drunkenly. The girl, age maybe 12 or so, falls for the only man who does not lust af..

At first their sound is reminiscent of Bob Marley. Just as plaintive but with added punch. But listen longer -- the more familiar the music feels, the harder it is to pin down. This is t..

La undécima edición del Flamenco Festival que se desarrolló del jueves 8 al domingo 11 de marzo en el Arsht Center resultó ser un hermoso reencuentro con el Ballet Nacional de España (BNE), u..

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida (ABTF) y su escuela de ballet adjunta, ambas bajo la dirección de Vladimir Issaev, se encuentran por estos días entregadas de lleno a la celebración del bicente..

El lugar privilegiado que ocupa Miami hoy en día en el mundo de la danza no tiene discusión. Además de contar con una vibrante oferta local de proyección internacional que dura todo el año y ..

Después de una serie de actuaciones muy exitosas en varias ciudades del Este del país, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) llega a Miami para ofrecer seis presentaciones del jueves 22 ..

La ofensiva espontánea protagonizada por BalletBoyz y Cie. Herve Koubi el fin de semana pasado en teatros de Fort Laudedarle y Miami, con dos propuestas artísticas absolutamente fuera de seri..

La atracción principal del tercer programa de la temporada 2017-2018 del Miami City Ballet (MCB) que se presentó el fin de semana pasado en el Arsht Center fue el estreno mundial de One Line ..

Llegados en vuelo directo desde Inglaterra, BalletBoyz (Premio Nacional de Danza 2013 a la Mejor Compañía Independiente) ofrecerá el sábado 10 de febrero una función patrocinada por Culture Shock ..

Por dos noches consecutivas, el Miami City Ballet (MCB), que dirige Lourdes López desde 2012, abrió las puertas de sus instalaciones en Miami Beach para ofrecer un encuentro Open Barre con e..

El segundo programa de la temporada 2017-2018 del Miami City Ballet (MCB) dedicado a los 100 años del nacimiento de Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), el gran coreógrafo norteamericano que triunfó ..