BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO | Miami Herald
Whether he’s talking up avant-garde Cuban films or the Chinese dances of Shen Wei, cultural promoter Ever Chávez is everywhere there’s action in Miami-Dade.
On this Thursday night, he’s standing outside the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana waiting for a flamenco fusion concert to begin. But the energetic Chávez is already on the next page, talking to cultural connoisseurs about Shen Wei, the Chinese choreographer coming to Miami Friday with his fusion of dance theater, Chinese opera, painting and sculpture.
‘‘Tiene tremenda onda (It has a great groove),’’ Chávez says in his typical habanero lingo.
Only three years after arriving from Cuba, Chávez is a program coordinator at Miami Dade College’s high-charged cultural affairs department, which created the acclaimed Cultura de Lobo Performance Series. Fresh on the job last year, Chávez took on the role of helping organize MDC’s first Cuban Alternative Film Festival, which screened more than 100 movies, documentaries, video clips and shorts from both Cuba and the diaspora.
‘‘Like most people, I had seen him everywhere—in the visual arts community, in the performing arts community, behind the desk at every event I thought was significant in Miami,’’ says his boss, MDC cultural affairs director Michelle Heffner Hayes. “We were lucky to get someone with so much talent and energy on our team.’‘
When he’s not working for MDC, Chávez is a freelance producer and event coordinator. Last month, he founded with friend Niurka Márquez the nonprofit FUNDarte to develop theater, film, dance, theater and art projects.
He’s got hustle when it comes to promoting artists and has a keen eye for breakthrough cultural acts, but call to interview him and he confesses: “I have stage fright. Really.’‘
Born in Havana to a bar and restaurant administrator and his wife—‘‘habanero de pura cepa,’’ he gloats, meaning he’s ‘‘of pure Havana stock’’—Chávez just turned 37 “intensely lived years.’‘
He left home at 13 in 1982 to study in Russia.
“I wasn’t sure whether it was my family or the island, but I decided I had to leave. I applied for a scholarship and I got it. I studied radio communications with no vocation whatsoever for it, but I had to study something and that was the closest I found to my interests.’‘
He returned to the island four years later ‘‘already half Russian, half Cuban, totally confused.’’ He found his calling in 1993, when he went to work as an assistant producer at the newly founded theater company El Público, under the direction of Carlos Diáz, considered a top talent in Cuban theater.
‘‘The company produced work that was so out there, very provocative in every sense. From the esthetic to the political, it marked a different standard for the theater being done in Havana then,’’ Chávez says. “We were sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, but because we were so peculiar and the economy was going through such difficult times, we looked for foreign financing wherever we could get it, from the Spanish Cultural Center to the U.S. Interests Section to friends in Miami and Spain.’‘
In 1998 and 1999, Chávez went on tour with the company to Spain, and from there, was able to obtain a U.S. visa to visit his brother in Miami. Here, he met Márquez and arts promoter Susan Caraballo, who was launching a project to bring arts and culture to Little Havana. Although he returned to the company’s tour through Spain, Portugal, France and Mexico, he fell in love with Miami and its possibilities to grow culturally.
‘‘The only place where I saw my compatriots prosperous was in Miami,’’ Chávez says. “I saw that everyone worked hard, but there was possibility. All of it depended on you—that’s perhaps even more difficult—but, I realized that I wanted to be a part of it.’‘
WORK IN MIAMI
He came to Miami in April 2000, invited by Caraballo’s nonprofit Artemis Performance Network and started promoting young actors, musicians, artists, ‘‘people who have talent but no infrastructure to help them present their work,’’ he says.
He also worked for Teatro Avante, helping produce the annual Hispanic International Theatre Festival in 2001 and 2002. Then came the MDC offer.
‘‘I’m a bit restless,’’ Chávez says. “I get home at 5 p.m. and I start to think about what else I can do. There’s a lot of talent spread out all over Miami, a lot of lost artists that need help channeling their work. I like to get involved in projects that say something. You want to be entertained, you go to Disney World. I like to break molds.’‘
He’s an advocate for a Miami that can be ‘‘more cosmopolitan’’ and less ‘‘provincially’’ focused on Cuban politics.
‘‘In a little while, I’m going to the house of a Haitian and a Colombian. To me, what is interesting is the human being, not just our Cuba problem. If you stay stuck on that, you only limit yourself,’’ he says. “We have to cross borders because, after all, the most delicious places in the world—like Cuba—became that way because of la mezcla, the mix.’‘