THE NEW YORK TIMES
The International Festival of Ballet here, which ends on Saturday, has given some ballet-crazed Cubans their first chance to savor the choreography of George Balanchine.
Lourdes Libertad, a bolero singer, saw the work of the man many say was the 20th century's greatest choreographer for the first time on Monday night. ''It's very beautiful,'' she said at intermission. ''It's different. It's more contemporary.''
All that is true. But is it Balanchine?
Only one of the seven pieces performed this week is currently licensed by the George Balanchine Foundation. Two have expired licenses, and the rest were copied from videotapes.
The debate over the authenticity of these productions has emerged at a festival already hurt by the United States government's restrictions on travel to Cuba. Nine dancers from the New York City Ballet and one from the Dance Theater of Harlem were barred from attending, making this the first time in 30 years that an American has not performed at the festival.
Piracy is rampant in Cuba. A sampling of the shows offered by state-run television this week includes ''Charlie's Angels,'' ''Law and Order'' and the film ''The Truth About Charlie.'' The problem is also acute in dance, a medium whose integrity depends on human contact.
''Cuba does not acknowledge the Geneva Conventions, so we have no control over what they might perform,'' said Ellen Sorrin, the director of the Balanchine Foundation in New York. ''If they lived anywhere else in the world, they'd have to license the ballets. The copyrights are owned. None of those ballets are in the public domain.''
The foundation's mission is to preserve the artistic integrity of Balanchine's legacy. As part of the licensing process, the foundation sends a teacher to present the material on a new company. It also charges a fee and, said Ms. Sorrin, vigorously pursues any copyright violations that come to its attention.
''Our preference would be to have someone go and not only stage but keep the ballet looking as it should,'' she added. ''But it's been difficult to do that. There used to be a time when there was more opportunity to do that, when the cultural exchange was more open.''
Alicia Alonso, the director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, invited Nilas Martins and eight other New York City Ballet dancers to perform an all-Balanchine program at the festival this year, but the Treasury Department barred their participation, citing a regulation that prohibits Americans from taking part in international festivals in Cuba.
In addition, Rasta Thomas, from the Dance Theater of Harlem, was invited to perform ''Don Quixote'' with one of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's biggest stars, Viengsay Valdes, but was unable to attend.
''We don't license travel to Cuba when you could be engaging in similar activities elsewhere,'' said Molly Millerwise, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department. She added, ''There are countless countries around the world -- not ruled by an oppressive and dangerous dictator -- in which Americans can participate in and promote cultural exchange at the international level.'' Those who travel to Cuba illegally can face penalties of up to $65,000.
Two dancers from the Houston Ballet -- Zdenek Konvalina, a citizen of the Czech Republic, and Leticia Oliveira, a citizen of Brazil -- arrived in Havana late Monday and performed a licensed version of Balanchine's ''Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux'' on Tuesday. They did not apply to the Treasury Department for permission because, Mr. Konvalina's agent said, they had been advised by a lawyer that it was unnecessary.
Nilas Martins and Company (featuring dancers from City Ballet) was to perform licensed productions of Balanchine's ''Sylvia Pas de Deux,'' the ''Minkus Pas de Trois,'' ''Tarantella'' and excerpts from ''Who Cares?'' and ''Chaconne'' at the festival. What Cuban audiences are seeing instead are performances of ''Theme and Variations'' and ''Apollo,'' which have expired licenses, as well as unlicensed performances of ''Agon,'' ''Scotch Symphony,'' the ''Sylvia Pas de Deux'' and the ''Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,'' performed by dancers from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. ''Ballo Della Regina,'' which Merrill Ashley taught to the company in 2000, is the only authorized production.
''It's a shame in the sense that they would have been bringing to Cuba what they've missed in these last 45 years of dance,'' said Lourdes Lopez, a Cuban-born former City Ballet dancer who is now the executive director of the Balanchine Foundation. ''They've been in many ways left behind. George Balanchine is the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, and they have no access to his work other than through pirated tapes.''
To be sure, Ms. Alonso, the director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, is no stranger to Balanchine's work. She danced in his production of ''Apollo'' in the American Ballet Caravan, a precursor to the New York City Ballet, and Balanchine created the ballerina role for her in ''Theme and Variations.'' But neither she nor anyone else in Cuba is authorized by the foundation to teach Balanchine's ballets, and it is unclear how effectively Ms. Alonso, who is nearly blind, can ensure the integrity of the choreography.
''If the National Ballet of Cuba is mounting ballets based on film or video or someone's memory of something, there is no question the performance will suffer,'' Ms. Sorrin said.
The Ballet Nacional is known for its careful allegiance to stylistic variations, and Miguel Cabrera, the company's historian, maintains that the company has been vigilant in its respect for Balanchine's work.
''Alicia knows there are international regulations for Balanchine's pieces, and she respects them internationally,'' he said. ''But in the national context, she thinks the Cuban public has the right to enjoy Balanchine's pieces.''
He added: ''Here it is considered that Balanchine's work belongs to humanity. These economic rules civilization has imposed against the spiritual enrichment of human beings, I am 100 percent against.'' Ms. Alonso herself was not available for comment.
Loipa Araujo, a ballet master with the company who spends much of the year teaching abroad, said that she had watched authorized teachers present Balanchine's works to European companies and that she brought that knowledge back to Cuba.
The embargo has also made it difficult to maintain ballets by American choreographers, and some say that the quality of even those ballets that were obtained legally has decayed over time. In 1978 Jerome Robbins's production of ''In the Night'' was licensed for two years to the Ballet Nacional. In 1998 Ms. Lopez went to Havana to dance in the International Festival of Ballet and saw the piece performed. ''The ballet was unrecognizable,'' she said. ''It had disintegrated. The choreography had been changed. Hard steps were taken out. I know this ballet well. I had danced it. The music was slow. It was not the same ballet.''
Ms. Araujo said the dance had been pulled from the company's repertory. ''Alicia thinks it is not done the right way,'' she said. ''It was something given to her by Jerome Robbins, and she takes good care of it.''
Another dispute involves the costuming in the Ballet Nacional's production of ''Apollo.'' When it was performed on Monday, the three muses, who are usually bareheaded, wore sparkling white caps. In the original production, the three muses wore wigs, but Balanchine quickly discarded them.
''If for 30 years, 'Apollo' under George Balanchine had not been danced with the wigs, who are you to put a wig on it?'' Ms. Lopez said. But the Ballet Nacional maintains that both early and late versions of a ballet are valid.
''We keep the piece like Balanchine created it,'' Ms. Araujo said. ''It's not that we invented the wigs. It was the first vision Balanchine had of 'Apollo.'''
''If you want to see how the first 'Apollo' was done,'' she added, ''come to Cuba.''