Cuba's 89-year-old prima ballerina Alonso to visit New York, company where she once danced
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- 05 / 09 / 2010
HAVANA - Cuban prima ballerina Alicia Alonso will return next month to New York and the American Ballet Theater, one of the places where she got her start in dance seven decades ago, for an early celebration of her 90th birthday.
The National Ballet of Cuba said Friday that U.S. authorities have approved a visa for the grande dame of Cuban dance and she will visit the American Ballet Theater on June 3 for a celebratory version of Don Quixote featuring three principal casts.
The show is part of the company's season-long commemoration of its 70th anniversary.
Word of Alonso's visit arrived a day after the office of legendary Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez announced plans to perform June 4 at Carnegie Hall, though Washington had yet to approve his visa.
While icy U.S.-Cuba political relations have changed little under President Barack Obama, important cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries are fast becoming commonplace.
Born in Havana on Dec. 20, 1920, Alonso began dancing professionally in the United States, joining the American Ballet Caravan in 1937. She became part of the American Ballet Theater four years later, the theater said.
Alonso briefly returned to Cuba, then rejoined the company in 1943. She was promoted to the role of principal dancer three years after that, becoming especially acclaimed for her interpretation of Giselle.
American Ballet Theater spokeswoman Kelly Ryan said there will be a special on-stage reception for Alonso and other invited guests.
"It's very exciting. She is one of our very early members ... a charter member almost," Ryan said by phone from New York. "She means so much to the history of this company."
Still spry, Alonso will travel to New York as part of a tour that should also take her to England and France, the National Ballet of Cuba said. Details of her itinerary are still being worked out.
"The American public has always been precious for me," she told The Associated Press in a 2007 interview. "We grew up at the same time. Back then, American ballet wasn't developed and we were among the first."
Alonso founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Cuba in 1948, but had to close it frequently because of money problems. The company took off again after Fidel Castro took power on New Year's Day 1959 and began to lend both personal and financial support. Her company became the National Ballet of Cuba, and Alonso later founded a national ballet school.
The ballerina appears frequently at dance events in Havana despite her failing eyesight. She has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba for decades, but has also traveled to America relatively regularly over the years.
Ryan said Alonso last visited the American Ballet Theater in January 1990, when the company was marking its 50th anniversary.
U.S. economic sanctions took their current form in 1962 and prohibit American tourists from coming to Cuba while choking off nearly all trade between both countries.
U.S. performers, artists and academics have been granted official permission to travel to the island for years, though many of those cultural exchanges stalled under President George W. Bush.
Cuban artists also have been allowed to travel to the United States for performances, award shows and other events, though some complained of lengthy delays in getting visas or being denied American permission with little explanation while Bush was in office.
Under the Obama administration, cultural exchanges have happened more often.
The Puerto Rican rock and reggaeton group Calle 13 gave a concert in Havana in March and American funk and R&B pioneers Kool & the Gang came to Cuba in December.
Calle 13's members openly criticized U.S. policy during their visit. A number of top Cuban musical favorites have played Miami and other U.S. locales in recent months, including Los Van Van, Buena Fe and Carlos Varela.
By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA , Associated Press