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.

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News
English National Ballet in Akram Khan's "Giselle." Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

This week (Feb 28-Mar. 2), English National Ballet brings Akram Khan's widely acclaimed Giselle to Chicago's Harris Theater, the company's first U.S. appearance in 30 years. Commissioned by ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo, Khan, whose work combines contemporary dance and Indian kathak, takes a revisionist approach to the classic story, replacing peasants and aristocrats with migrant factory workers and wealthy landlords. The ballet's look and sound have also been reinterpreted, with music by Vincenzo Lamagna (adapted from Adolphe Adam's original score), sets and costumes by Academy Award-winner Tim Yip and lighting design by Tony-award winner Mark Henderson.

Pointe spoke with Rojo to learn more about why she wanted to modernize one of ballet's best-loved classics—and why the risk was worth it.

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News
Zeleidy Crespo and members of Acosta/Danza in Raúl Reinoso's "Sartori." Photo courtesy Acosta/Danza.

The 2018 Spansih film Yuli recounts the ascendancy of Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta from the impoverished streets of Los Pinos to The Royal Ballet's most decorated guest dancer. Now, as a choreographer, his ambitions turn toward directing Havana's Acosta/Danza, a pocket-sized company he founded bearing the Cubanía stamp. "We encapsulate the best of Cuban dance," Acosta tells me over email. "That's why I've chosen dancers with different backgrounds and preparations: ballet, contemporary, folkloric and theatrical dance, unusual for any company here and internationally."


'Yuli' - first trailer for Icíar Bollaín's San Sebastian Competition title www.youtube.com


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Ballet Training
Elisabeth Beyer and Daniel Sarabia rehearse "Grand Pas Classique" in New York City before heading to Havana. Photo by Kevin Hesse, courtesy Ellison Ballet.

Elisabeth Beyer may only be 16, but she is already cultivating an international following. A Professional Training Program student at Ellison Ballet in New York City, this year she won first place in the senior women's finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and the junior gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition. In late October, she had the opportunity to perform Grand Pas Classique at the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival in a gala alongside stars from The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala and, of course, Cuban National Ballet. Her partner was Cuban-born international guest artist Daniel Sarabia, and the two only had a short time to prepare. We caught up with her to talk about what the whirlwind experience was like.

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Trending
Sixteen-year-old Sofia Castán Vargas on the steps of the Cuban National Ballet School. Photo by Leysis Quesada, courtesy Vargas.

If you've had an opportunity to see the Cuban National Ballet Company perform, or taken class with a Cuban-trained teacher, or observed a Cuban-trained dancer in classical, contemporary or character roles, you've probably wondered what it might be like to study or dance professionally in the island nation. The U.S. trade and travel embargo can seem like an obstacle, but under its provisions, travel to Cuba is permissible for pursuing an education or professional interests. Shortly after the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival, I spoke with two dancers—a student and a professional—whose experience studying and dancing in Cuba sheds some light on what it's like.

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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.

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News
Photo by Quinn Wharton.

The largest performance studio at the Fernando Alonso National School of Ballet in Havana, Cuba, is packed with lower school students, seated helter-skelter around the edges of its new sprung floor. They move over to make room for photographers and visitors in town for the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival, who have come from as far away as Mexico, England and the United States. They are all at the academy, known world-wide for its rigorous adherence to a scientific methodology painstakingly developed by ballet master Fernando Alonso, because Aurora Bosch is giving a mixed-level master class to the upper school, of which she is a graduate, becoming one of its first teachers at the age of 19. Bosch, known as one of the "Four Jewels" of the Cuban National Ballet (along with Loipa Araújo, Josefina Méndez and Mirta Plá), is now based in London, but earlier this month she returned to Havana to attend and participate in the festival.

Shortly afterwards, the school's director Ramona de Saá invited me to speak with her and Bosch about the expanding focus of this distinguished school that has produced such outstanding dancers as Carlos Acosta, Lorena and Lorna Feijóo, José Manuel Carreño, and a host of others who have danced with first-rate companies the world over.

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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?

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