Story of Cuban Twins Forever Linked Through Birth and Dance But Separated By a Revolution

LOS ANGELES, CA, October 6, 2005 Two sisters. One passion. Romance. Revolution. MIRROR DANCE is the story of Cuban-born twins Ramona and Margarita de Saá, who become estranged through politics when one moves to the U.S. and the other remains behind. Though separated for almost 40 years, both continue to share a passion for dance. Shot over a period of four years in the U.S. and Cuba, the film reveals some of the complexities of their 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).

Identical twins Ramona and Margarita de Saá knew they wanted to be ballerinas. At age 11 they were dancing with Alicia Alonso and 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. Margarita married John White, an American who was recruited by Alicia Alonso to dance with the newly formed National Ballet of Cuba. Ramona married Santiago, one of Fidel Castro’s close associates.

Using old family photographs and archival footage of their days as young dancers in Havana, including footage of Margarita de Saá performing in Enrique Pineda Barnet’s film “Giselle,” MIRROR DANCE introduces viewers to the twin sisters and their worlds. Archival and super 8 footage further suggest 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 of original music composed by Cuban-born Elio Villafranca and traditional ballet music further evoke the era.

Following the marriages, the twins began to grow apart. In 1964, concerned about the changing political environment, Margarita, her infant son and 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 forty years since the sisters’ separation, Margarita and John opened a small dance academy in Narberth, near Philadelphia, where they remain committed to helping young dancers pursue their dream. Ramona has become 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.

During the course of 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, memory and loss still persist.

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

Finally, on February 28th, 2004, Margarita, her husband John and daughter Melinda depart for Havana. In a touching scene at Jose Marti 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 forty 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.”

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 U.S. and Cuba, the twins’ story still awaits an outcome.

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


Frances McElroy and María Teresa Rodríguez
Ann Tegnell
David Sarasti
Additional videography
Juan Nuevo and María Teresa Rodríguez
Sound Recordists
David G. Rainey
Juan Nuevo
Andy Wenrich
Diego Javier Figueroa
Emily Zeitlyn-Morillo
Elio Villafranca
Iris Bianco
Ole Mathisen
Benna Shelanski
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 is produced by Shirley Road Productions and Pata de Perro Productions for the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB).

MIRROR DANCE is produced by Shirley Road Productions and Pata de Perro Productions for the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB).

MIRROR DANCE – Participants, in Alphabetical Order

Alicia Alonso, co-founder of the National Ballet of Cuba; former teacher and mentor to Margarita and Ramona de Saa Marta Bautis, childhood friend of the twins and former ballerina who danced with the twins at the National Ballet of Cuba Ramona de Saá Bello, subject of MIRROR DANCE 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 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 Rodríguez, student at the National School of Ballet, Havana. Jovito de Saá, Margarita and Ramona’s brother who lives in Havana Margarita de Saá White, subject of MIRROR DANCE with her twin, Ramona Jay Senker, Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet volunteer Sara Vaaler, student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Sara Aloma Viuda de Ochoa, Jovito de Saa’s mother-in-law John White, son of Margarita and John White John White, Jr., husband of Margarita de Saá; dance master and co-director of Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet


Frances McElroy (Director/Producer) began her career as an independent filmmaker in 1991, when she founded Shirley Road Productions, an award-winning, non-profit 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. It won a 2004 Cine Golden Eagle Award. National distribution by American Public Television is being planned. An Angel in the Village, a documentary she 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 independent, Frances was Director of Program Development and an Emmy award-winning producer/director at WHYY, (Philadelphia PBS). Her credits there include Philadelphia’s Ed Bacon, a documentary on renowned city planner Edmund Bacon, and Who Is Red Grooms?, a documentary about the beloved American artist. In 1987/1988, she directed INPUT ’88, the International Public Television Screening Conference.

María Teresa Rodríguez (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 Philadephia Stories and From Here to There/De Aquí 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 La Plaza. Maria Teresa also directed six half- hour programs on Literature and the Arts for the PBS educational series GED Connection which 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.


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 their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history, which prompted Nancy Franklin to write in The New Yorker: “Watching Independent Lens… is like going into an independent bookstore-you don’t always find what you were looking for but you often find something you didn’t even know you wanted.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach 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 (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 PM on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.


PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, the leading dot-org Web site on the Internet

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