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National Ballet of Cuba, 60 years later

12 / 03 / 2007
In 1918, on a group of high class ladies' initiative and of markedly exclusive nature, the Pro-Musical Art Society of Havana was founded. In it, "were born" the two great figures that, years later, would carry out the incredible venture of creating a ballet academy in the small island of Cuba : Fernando Alonso and Alicia Martínez del Hoyo (later known on the world stage as Alicia Alonso).

But even when this was an important beginning, it was impossible that any dancer could get a professional training in a country where there was no a well-trained group of professors or a company with a certain artistic level to dance at.

That is why Alicia and Fernando Alonso, joining their love lives and their artistic preoccupations, decided to face the adversity and go off to the United States to fulfill their training, despite not having any guarantee of doing so.

Their first times in the city of New York were very hard for both of them. They had to manage in an unknown environment and an extremely competitive world from an artistic point of view.
Fernando joined for a short time the corps de ballet of the Mordkin Ballet, but at the same time he had to (together with Alicia) alternate sessions with the extras at some musical comedies. In 1939, they both joined the Caravan Ballet, directed at that time by Mr. Lincoln Kirstein.

The next year, however, the American Ballet Theatre was founded and both dancers passed the acceptance testing made by the managers. In this company "where they went up from corps de ballet to the position of main dancers", they would finish their training, covering a wide range of interpretation, from classic tradition to the most contemporary elements.

Despite their successful career overseas, they never stopped thinking about the possibility of developing professional ballet in Cuba.
They saw an opportunity when, in the midst of a financial crisis of the Ballet Theatre, a group of dancer lost their jobs. Taking all sort of economic risks, they signed up outstanding figures like Igor Youskevitch, Bárbara Fallis and Melissa Hayden to work in Cuba .

That is the way the Ballet Alicia Alonso was created, with Fernando Alonso as its general manager, Alberto Alonso, his brother, was in charge of the art direction and Alicia Alonso was the prima ballerina.
Even when the company was not entirely made up by Cuban dancers, the presence of these three figures in the main managerial positions guaranteed a national leaning that not only was to focus the repertoire towards the classics, but also was to favor the interpretation of Cuban and Latin-American ballets.

In due course, it was necessary guaranteeing the replacement of the foreign dancers for Cubans, which gave rise in 1950 to the opening of the Alicia Alonso Ballet Academy, the first institution in Cuba intended for training high level ballet dancers; a school that was to set aside the private academies regulations and go after a new teaching method that meet our cultural characteristics.

Despite the economic limitations, the company did not restrict itself to regular performances. It also took their shows to main squares and theaters in other provinces of the country, where ballet was little known.
This was followed by tours around several Latin-American countries and the United States, always covered by the flattering comments of the press about the artistic quality and the admirable creation of a high level ballet company in a Latin-American country.

During the years of Fulgencio Batista regime (1952-1958), the difficult situation and the constant attacks from the Government, plunged ballet into a deep crisis. Despite the protests in support of the Ballet de Cuba (this name was given to it in 1955) issued by cultural institutions, the press and the Federation of University Students, the company had to dissolve, remaining open only the Academy. Alicia left the country, taking with her some of the most young, promising talents, to continue their training.

But after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, the new Government showed a great interest in promoting dance and culture in general. A bill making official the company and approving a fixed budget for it was signed. And so was established the National Ballet of Cuba, the ranks of which would be joined by new generations trained in the newly made ballet academies of the Island, until a true Cuban School of Ballet was finally established.

All this made immediately possible to create a festival that was to enjoy great prestige with the passing of time. In 1960, Alicia Alonso opened at the Teatro Auditórium the 1st International Ballet Festival of Havana, one of the oldest and most renowned world-wide.
Possible thanks to the collaboration between the National Ballet of Cuba, the National Institute of Tourist Industry and other cultural organizations of the just established Revolutionary Government, the Festival became very popular not only among the foreign professionals and the public, but also among the Cuban people, for whom this is an event of great significance within national culture.

The Festival is a biannual, non-competitive event that has kept the objectives for which it was conceived: allowing the public to enjoy the dancing standards of prestigious dancers (national and foreign), becoming a meeting-place for our professional dancers and important figures from other countries, as well as showing the visitors the achievements of the Cuban ballet.

Like the eminent British dance critic Arnold Haskell pointed out during his visit to Cuba on occasion of the International Ballet Festival of Havana (1967): "The Cuban School of Ballet is a real national school, like the Russian, the French or the English school and it is properly established (...) With an absolute integrity, within the rigor of the classic condition, the Cuban temperament gives it a especial note (...)"

But this will not interfere in the preparations that are already taking place in the Cuban capital.
All we have to do is waiting until next January, when the celebrations planned on the occasion of this event of our national culture are to begin: the 60th anniversary of the National Ballet of Cuba, which has not only stolen the hearts of all Cubans, but also the hearts of universal ballet dance lovers.

(www.cubanow.net)





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