Site Network
A flyer showing Alberto Alonso, Fernando Alonso, Benjamin Steinberg and Alicia Alonso. Photo courtesy the author

Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Ballet Nacional de Cuba's corps de ballet performs Giselle's famous arabesque chugs. Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

During the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's tour to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center earlier this year, the company brought longtime artistic director Alicia Alonso's Giselle. And while the production was admittedly well-worn and the style of dancing old-fashioned, the dancers rose to the occasion, led sensitively by longtime BNC star Viengsay Valdés in the title role.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Cuba's Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, one of the four theaters in use during the festival. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Anyone attending the National Ballet of Cuba's biennial Havana International Ballet Festival can expect an adventure that is equal parts treasure hunt and lottery, amidst a cornucopia of choices. This year's festival, the 26th, was no exception, offering 25 programs in four theaters. The event, held October 28-November 6, was also notable for the unanticipated absence of 96-year-old Alicia Alonso, the host company's founder and Cuba's ballerina assoluta. Due to flagging health, Alonso was unable to make her customary opening night appearance, where she would have been seated alongside Cuba's new President, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Sadaise Arencibía as Giselle. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Grettel Morejón and Sadaise Arencibía, principal ballerinas with the National Ballet of Cuba, danced the title role of Giselle in the company's performances on June 6 and 8 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. SPAC was the final stop on a U.S. tour that took the company to Tampa, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Morejón's was an intimate, caring, and protective Giselle, placing complete confidence in Albrecht before he becomes her deepest disappointment; Arencibía's was a spectral capture, as present as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, but also the vigilantly mad witness to her own downfall. To say that both interpretations are as distinctive as they are mesmerizing might sound like a false equivalency. Yet, Morejón and Arencibía demonstrate that two vastly different articulations can wax both genuine and stunning, with the same steps to the very same music.

I knocked on their shared dressing room door at SPAC last week, and the welcome from each was as warm as their enthusiastic and forthcoming responses to my questions.

Has the role of Giselle changed over the years since Alicia Alonso created it for the Cuban National Ballet? If so, how?

Keep reading... Show less
News
Members of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in "Giselle." Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

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.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Susan Bestul, Courtesy Verb Ballets.

Ever since President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, the two countries' dance communities have been eager to strengthen relationships. Now, in spite of tightened travel and business restrictions by the Trump administration, an exciting new collaboration is on the horizon: Cleveland–based Verb Ballets is teaming up with Cuban ballet company ProDanza for a series of performances in Havana. There, the two companies will combine to form the Cleveland Havana Ballet, presenting a full-length production at the prestigious Alicia Alonso Grand Theater.

Last spring, the Cleveland Foundation, through its Creative Fusion: Cuba Edition program, brought ProDanza artistic director Laura Alonso to Ohio for a two-month residency with Verb Ballets, where she taught classes in the rigorous Cuban style. "We're not a classical company, so the dancers needed that kind of training," says artistic director Dr. Margaret Carlson in a phone interview. Alonso—a former dancer with the National Ballet of Cuba and daughter of its founder, prima ballerina Alicia Alonso—worked with the company to break technique "down to the little finger," says Carlson, who points out that "it's hard to get that kind of training anymore."

Laura Alonso (far left) works with dancers of Verb Ballets during her two-month residency last spring. Photo by Susan Bestul, Courtesy Verb Ballets.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Alicia Alonso in "Giselle." Photo by Frank Alvarez, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Over the years, many companies have premiered works or made their U.S. debut at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, and some of the world's most famous ballet dancers have performed there. This week I will give some more insights from the Pillow's extensive archives into the dancers that have graced this world famous festival's stage. Click on the links below to watch video footage of their performances.


Alonso and Bruhn performing "Giselle" in 1955. Photo Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Keep reading... Show less
NBC principals Grettel Morejón and Alfredo Ibáñez perform at the opening weekend of the newly restored theater.

Photography by Quinn Wharton

“My dream was to dance in Cuba," says Lorena Feijóo. “I didn't want to leave my country." It's a lament the San Francisco Ballet principal shares with countless other members of the Cuban ballet diaspora: dancers who left their families, culture and country behind to escape economic hardship and seek artistic freedom abroad. The diaspora extends from Miami to Seattle to Oslo, where Cuban dancers' superb classical training and refined artistry are sought after.

The problem is not a lack of appreciation at home—“The Cuban audience is absolutely insane about ballet," Feijóo says—but subsistence wages and artistic conservatism at the National Ballet of Cuba, and rigid restrictions on guesting overseas. In Cuba, dancers earn an estimated $30 to $50 per month. However, a balletic revolution may be on the horizon.

Keep reading... Show less

During the Cold War, Alicia Alonso was one of the first Western dancers to be invited to perform in the Soviet Union—where she danced Giselle, her signature role, in this 1958 clip. It’s not just her precise, sprightly footwork or her fluid, emotive arms that make her portrayal of Giselle so enchanting. Nor is it merely her acting, which successfully evokes a girl vacillating between reticence one moment and readiness the next in her lover’s company. Every ballerina must have these qualities, but Alonso has something more. Take the moment in Giselle’s variation after the hops on pointe. Even with talented dance actresses, the steps transitioning back upstage for the final pirouettes can seem like just that, a transition. Not so with Alonso. She leans off balance in a coupé, swings into a sauté and, in a joyous flurry, rushes to the corner. The heart she puts into the simplest steps goes beyond acting; Alonso shows us that this, indeed, is a girl whose passion is so great it could kill her.

 

At 94 years old, Alonso still leads the National Ballet of Cuba, which she founded in 1948. By documenting the lives of two of her students, the 2015 film Horizontes (watch the trailer here) tells the story of Alonso’s legacy—which is still in the making. Her distinctly Cuban staging of Giselle for Ballet Silicon Valley opens tomorrow. Happy #TBT!

 

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Abi Stafford in Bournonville's Flower Festival in Ganzano. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Abi Stafford recently performed in Cuba as part of the Havana International Dance Festival. Read her follow-up post here.

DAY 1

Seven of my NYCB colleagues and I are heading to Havana, Cuba for the Festival, joining other prestigious companies, including American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet. It's truly a star-studded event! NYCB principals Jared and Tyler Angle are our bosses: They conceived the program, put together the group of dancers and are in charge of making all the last-minute decisions.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox