Cuban performer attracts loyal following in China
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2023-06-19  ·   Source: NO.25 JUNE 22, 2023
Liubin Lima performs for a group of children in Hefei, Anhui Province (COURTESY PHOTO)

Moving to China was not only a professional turning point for Liubin Lima, but also a challenge that led him to explore new horizons to win the hearts and smiles of the public.

For the Cuban artist and performer, China did not even appear on his radar when he was young. "I saw it as something impossible and far away," he said.

In fact, many of his friends and classmates went to China after being selected by recruitment agents for dance performances, according to Lima. As he had only basic training as a dancer, he never joined his friends at dance auditions. However, fate had a surprise in store for him. In April 2019, he was hired to incarnate different characters as a performer at Hefei Sunac Land, an amusement park located in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province. "This was a very special place for me because it was where I had my first encounter with Chinese culture and where, in a way, I had to mold myself in order to mingle," he said.

Growing up among artists

Lima has had extensive training in the plastic and visual arts, having been born into a Cuban family of artists that pushed him down this path from an early age. "They say this is something you are born with, but obviously family plays an important role in the development of skills," he said. "They, along with some teachers, saw [these abilities] in me and helped me develop into who I proudly am today."

On his father's side, Lima has distant relatives who are musicians, some of whom are even part of the front lines of Cuban music. At the same time, his mother's side has teachers and writers with a wide repertoire of drawing and painting, whose illustrations appear in various books. It didn't take long for Lima to immerse himself in this artistic universe and for seven years he

studied the piano, while simultaneously learning how to draw from his relatives and embarking on professional dance training. The theater finally came knocking in 1999, when he was in his teens and, since then, his face and body have been covered in makeup and outlandish costumes to bring to life many characters.

A style adaptation

In Cuba, Lima worked in a children's theater troupe that used various techniques to simultaneously educate and entertain. Despite his strong performance experience, he discovered the sense of humor and the acting itself were very different in China, which was a challenge initially. "It was a bit difficult for me to adapt to other energies, customs, codes and such different verbal and non-verbal languages," he explained.

For this reason, he leaned on his coworkers, who quickly became a kind of family. "I made many friends on the team and I outlined a strategy," he said. "I helped them by sharing my experiences and they taught me their ways and codes to enable me to reach such a different market."

During the two years Lima worked in Hefei, he portrayed many different characters or "clowns," as they would say in artist slang, as well as participated in dance shows.

Back on stage

When Lima's contract with Hefei Sunac Land was about to end, he found out that auditions were being held to be part of a renowned circus in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. At that point, he was 38 and did not know if he was up for the challenge. However, his friends encouraged him to audition, believing he had the talent and met the requirements. As he was scheduled to audition just two days later, Lima did not have the time to prepare a routine from scratch. He had no choice but to rely on his past experiences.

"On my way to Hangzhou, I remembered a performance I'd staged five years earlier and figured that might be suitable. I also prepared some elements and moves that could serve me in the moment," he said.

His audition had been set for the afternoon but was unexpectedly moved forward to the morning, immediately after a group of dancers. Lima still remembers how nervous he was that day. Even so, he plucked up his courage and jumped on stage ready to give it his all. "I tried to be charming and, above all, to have fun—as always," he said.

His friends had been right. Lima's performance went over well with the judging panel, who then invited him to come watch the X Show Hangzhou created by Canadian circus producer Cirque du Soleil. Among all the actors and characters on stage, one captivated the Cuban from the get-go. In addition to being one of the protagonists, this character possessed an energy that resonated with his own style of artistic interpretation. "Some time later they told me that I had been approved for the circus and that my character would be Khino, the one I couldn't take my eyes off throughout the show," he said.

Lima said Khino has a lot to do with the references that he himself had used for the creation of Michiflio, a character he created in Cuba. In addition, upon the request of the directors, he also frequently embodies the antagonistic character or other roles. "The fact I perform as several characters forces me to study each move so that they have a personal and distinctive stamp," he said.

His day usually revolves around the show, so at 5:30 p.m. he is in makeup, at 7 p.m. everything is ready and at 7:30 p.m. the curtain is raised to start the unforgettable X Show Hangzhou, which incorporates elements of renowned international circuses as well as maintains an aesthetic deeply rooted in East Asia and China in particular.

For Lima, being part of the X Show Hangzhou has been a great achievement. "Returning to the stage in a totally different and demanding role represents personal growth, not only because of the majesty of the theatrical installation, the mega-production or the virtuosity of the circus actors whom I am proud to work with, but also because it is a different role that requires more from me as a professional," he said.

For that same reason, Lima takes his job very seriously. He continually tries to improve himself by reviewing show recordings to hone his moves, and he works out to stay in shape. "That meeting with the public that comes in to see a show forces you to give them everything so that they can take home an unforgettable experience," he said. 

(Print Edition Title: A Man of Many Faces)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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