Forty years ago, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba made its U.S. debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Among the performers was its iconic founder, Alicia Alonso, then in her late 50s and already nearly blind. This month the historic company will return for a tour that includes a six-day run at the Kennedy Center as well as stops in Tampa, Chicago and Saratoga Springs, New York. And if her health permits, the now-97-year-old director will also be back.
Viengsay Valdés and Ernesto Diaz (right) with the company in "Giselle." Photo by Nancy Reyes, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
BNC is known for its technically flawless execution of classical story ballets, as well as a charismatic duende (passionate spirit) born of the unique multicultural influences of Cuba's heritage. Alonso and her former husband, the late Fernando Alonso, are credited with making ballet the preeminent cultural export of the Caribbean nation. "She is an icon in the dance world," says Alicia Adams, vice president of international programming and dance at the Kennedy Center. "She has trained some of the best dancers that exist in companies all over the world. This is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution she's made."
The upcoming tour, which includes Alonso's stagings of Giselle and Don Quixote, begins at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre (May 18–20), followed by a single performance at the Straz Center in Tampa (May 23), and a run at the Kennedy Center as part of the Artes de Cuba festival (May 29–June 2). It concludes at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (June 6–8).
Viengsay Valdés and Patricio Revé in "Don Quixote." Photo by Nancy Reyes, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
When planning for the tour began more than two years ago, the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba was the most cordial it had been in decades. Under the Trump administration, however, travel between the two countries has become more restricted. The U.S. embassy in Havana is no longer issuing visas, forcing all the performers to visit another country with an American embassy prior to the tour in order to finalize their travel.