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  • 05 / 30 / 2010

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Legendary Cuban Ballerina Inspires Company's Performance of 'Don Quixote'

Anyone who reaches the age of 90 deserves a party. But Alicia Alonso will get much more than that. On Thursday evening, the American Ballet Theater will celebrate her life and influence with a special performance and an onstage reception at the Metropolitan Opera House.

In homage to Ms. Alonso's legacy, the evening's performance of "Don Quixote" will feature the company's top Hispanic dancers. Each of the ballet's three acts will have a different lead couple —and each of the pairings will highlight a different aspect of the choreography and the company's talent.

Ms. Alonso is a grand figure of ballet's past—not only because of her own artistry, but because she ensured the art form's growth and evolution. "Alicia Alonso is Cuban ballet," said Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of American Ballet Theater.

Born in Havana in 1920, Ms. Alonso came to New York to dance. She joined Ballet Caravan, one of Lincoln Kirstein's early ballet efforts, in 1937, and was among the founding dancers of ABT in 1940.

After making a name for herself in the city, she returned home to Cuba to start her own company in 1948. After that faltered, she later founded what would become the National Ballet of Cuba and school.

Through the school and company, Ms. Alonso's work has produced dancers who have become international stars, including ABT's Jose Manuel Carreno and Carlos Acosta.

And as with every outpost of ballet, the form is maintained in a way that is unique to the vision of the founder.

"Their classical training is rooted in the Russian tradition, but the Cuban tradition changed it into something unique," said Mr. McKenzie. "What they have is a formidable technical ability."

During her visit—which is just one leg of a birthday tour that will include a trip to Europe—Ms. Alonso will speak to the students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, which trains dancers who wish to join ABT and other companies.

Her mere presence, Mr. McKenzie said, provides the students with a connection to a deeply devoted artist who can share "her historical links to the world, her love and respect for the art form."



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