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Loving the Ballet Nacional de Cuba

By Brian Lloyd French / Posted January 10, 2013

In my novel, “Mojito!” the main character is so anti-ballet that he commits himself to never, ever going to a performance. Until he actually does, in Havana, and then swears he will never miss a chance to attend again.

Communist countries, notably the old Soviet Union and contemporary China, have an admirable ability (at considerable cost) to produce performing artists of the highest standard. So does Cuba, although the country and government don’t exactly have the resources of their larger cohorts in economic theory. When Fidel Castro took power from the Batista dictatorship on 1 January 1959, Castro vowed to increase funding to the nation’s languishing cultural programs. Cuba in the 1950s was the center of Modern Latin American entertainment and art. It was a Mecca for Latin American and other International artists to come and earn international acclaim.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing the Ballet Nacional de Cuba several times at the old grand theatre in Havana and also enjoyed Liszt Alfonso’s “Danza Cubana” performance at “Luminato” in Toronto a few years ago. And Cuban dance is top notch.

The Cuban School existed more than a decade before Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, since 1948, and quite impossibly is still directed by its founder, Alicia Alonso. To say that Ms Alonso is a legend is an understatement.

She started studying ballet in 1928 at the age of seven and gave her first public performance (Sleeping Beauty) at the age of nine. After marrying a dancer at the ripe old age of sixteen, she and her husband moved to New York City. After giving birth to a daughter she continued her training until a detached retina put her on her back for two years, and forced her to learn to dance without peripheral vision.

Then she did “Giselle”, and the rest is ballet history. At the age of ninety-one she is one of a handful of living prima ballerina assolutas and has performed with every major ballet company in the world. She danced for Balachine and with everyone from Nureyev to Baryshnikov.

Her latest performance was just a few weeks ago, at the Havana International Ballet Festival. At ninety-one.

Her National School of Ballet has become one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world and is notable for the athletic and artistic perfection of its members, its superior performance of the classical repertoire, as well as its development of uniquely Cuban choreography.

As director and leading dancer of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alicia Alonso has been an inspiration and guide to the new generations of Cuban dancers. With her own consummate style, she has left her mark on the international world of dance. Some of her former and more famous students are now dancing at the American Ballet Theatre, the Boston Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, the Washington Ballet, the Cincinnati and the Royal Ballet, among others. She has created her own works including La Tinaja, Ensayos Sinfonicos, and Lidia. She appeared in a feature-length documentary made in Cuba about her and her work Alicia (1977). She has served on juries at international dance competitions in Bulgaria, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the United States.

The Company regularly tours the world (as a source of revenue for the government as well as a source of inspiration for its audiences) and when they come to a venue near you, you must not miss it.

In Havana, the National Ballet of Cuba performs at the Gran Teatro, on the corner of San Rafael and Prado, next to the venerable Inglaterra Hotel. The Teatro itself shows its age, despite new seating installed a few years ago. Tickets are a bargain at about $20. Warning that some ne’er do wells will be offering special passes for sale outside but these peso passes are for Cuban nationals only.

 

details on Ms Alonso’s biography were sourced from Wikipedia based upon several different articles originally published under a creative common license

Brian Lloyd French

Brian Lloyd French was born in Eastern Canada and studied English Literature at the University of New Brunswick and generally interacted quite well with some much smarter people. He was previously a columnist for one of Canada's largest circulation newspapers.

He's author of "Mojito" www.mojitonovel.com

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