BALLET NACIONAL DE CUBA:
NATIONAL IDENTITY AND
GLOBAL PROJECTIONS
Ana María Hernández
CUNY, LaGuardia
October 28 1948: Ballet Alicia Alonso opens in Havana at the Teatro Auditorium
with the collaboration of the Escuela de Ballet of the Sociedad Pro-Arte
Musical and a group of dancers from Ballet Theatre (New York) who had
gone to Cuba with Alicia.
Founding Members were:
Fernando Alonso, Director
Alberto Alonso: Artistic Director and Premier Danseur
Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina
Igor Youskevich: Premier Danseur
Cuban Dancers: Dulce Wohner, Silvia Mediavilla, Magda González, Ada Zanetti,
Karina Blanch, Enrique Martínez, Eduardo Perovani, Eduardo Parera.
Visiting Dancers: Melissa Hayden, Barbara Fallis, Paula Lloyd, Cynthis Riseley,
Helen Komarova, Arlen Garver, Lilliam de L’Aire, Sally bSeven, Francy Falk,
Terry Millie, Ana García, Michael Maule, Royes Fernandez, Gilbert Reed,
Sharon O’Brien, Peter Bonura, Socrates Birsky, David Ardourian, Bernanrd
Pisarsky (Cabrera 1998, 15)
1948-50. Alicia remains in Cuba organizing the Escuela Cubana de Ballet, as she realizes
that a professional company cannot exist without a professional ballet academy, and
relations with Pro-Arte deteriorate. Alicia Alonso, on the founding of the Escuela
Cubana de Ballet:
“I studied with everyone I could, all the great masters. I created my own way of
dancing when I returned to Cuba, together with a group of teachers. We got together
and developed, with the artistic ideas we had and using me as a model, what is the
Cuban School of Ballet, something that agreed with the way we are, with our
physique, our way of moving, our way of interpreting music. The Cuban School of
Ballet has a technical style which is based on the principles of all the great schools of
the world, but the way in which we combine the exercises and the way we later
integrate them choreographically already has the stamp of Cuban personality, of the
Cuban School of Ballet [...]And our dancing is always airy, it always has an aerial
accent, whether it is character or demi-charactère, or whatever it might be, because
our popular dances are always very light and airy.” (My translation) Interview, Grand
Palais de Paris, July 2008, on the opening of “Don Quixote” for Etés de la Danse
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IebJAfzxMwA&feature=PlayList&p=408F841E24854D
0D&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=19
World-renowned teachers and choreographers taught dancers during the
Academy Summer Sessions, among themGeorge Gontcharov (Sadler’s
Wells, London), Ivan Kirev and Olga Kireva (Mariinsky, Ptetersburg),
Leon Fokine, nephew of Mikhail Fokine, Alexandra Fyodorova
(Mariinsky); Mary Skeaping and Phyllis Bedell (Sadler’s Wells), Andre
Eglevsky, Nora Kaye and Royes Fernandez (New York). In addition to
ballet, the school provided training in modern dance, Spanish dance,
folk and character dance, music theory and appreciation, art history,
costume history, esthetics, anatomy, dramatic arts (under the direction
of Violeta Casals), stage direction, stage design, stage make-up and
media production. The integrated curriculum of the Academy was
unique in the Americas and provided a blueprint for the ENA (Escuela
Nacional de Arte) and the ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte), both created
after 1961. (Cabrera 1998, 20).
Andre Eglevsky
Royes Fernandez in “Giselle”
Nora Kaye
Alicia Alonso on the global projections of the Escuela Cubana:“We
aspire to have Cuba as the place in Spanish-speaking America where
dancers can come from the rest of our America to acquire dance
training. We dream of becoming a center of ballet in Latin America”
This goal was soon accomplished in the 1950’s as many young dancers
from the Americas arrived in Cuba, lured by the international recognition
of the school and its graduates, and by the thrill of participating in an
artistic and historical event of major significance. Among these were
Lupe Serrano and Felipe Segura from Mexico; José Parés from Puerto
Rico; Vicente Nebreda, Gabriela Henríquez, Tulio de la Rosa and Irma
Contreras from Venezuela; Carlota Pereyra, Marta Mahr and Armando
Navarro from Argentina, and Víctor Álvarez from Uruguay, to name just
a few. (Cabrera 1998, 20-21)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Crr7HWqd70&feature=PlayList&p=408F
841E24854D0D&index=20&playnext=2&playnext_from=PL
1960. Ballet Alicia Alonso receives national endorsement and becomes
Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Alonso has stated that classics must evolve, since
technical prowess is always in a state of transition and evolution. As any
balletomane well knows, dance videos of the great artists from the 60’s and
early 70’s often pale in comparison to the 180 degree développés and
multiple pirouettes between fouettés that we have come to expect from
dancers of top companies such as the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky, the Royal, La
Scala, Ballet Nacional and American Ballet Theatre. But aside from purely
technical considerations, the melding of ballet and the dramatic arts,
particularly a trait of the British School and exhibited in the Royal Ballet
productions of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets (Manon, Mayerling, Romeo and
Juliet), have changed modern ballet.
Black Swan Variations:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBUSlZAirvc [Dudinskaya 1953]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KIqeQHaaBM&feature=fvw [Alonso late
50’s]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypeUwNAxOCA [Valdes 200?]
Ballet underwent a renaissance of sorts in the sixties and seventies, when the great stars of
the Kirov and Bolshoi—Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Makarova, Godunov—defected to the West
and revitalized a tiring art form with amazing technical feats and interpretive brio. These
artists inspired an entire generation of dancers and choreographers through the end of the
twentieth century. Like her peers, prima ballerina assolutas Margot Fonteyn, Galina
Ulanova and Phyllis Spira, Alicia Alonso brought ballet to a segment of the population that
had been excluded from it because of their economic and educational backgrounds. But
Alonso did even more—she created a technique that allowed non-traditional dancers to
attain technical perfection and to express the uniqueness of their heritage in fresh
interpretations of the great ballets on the global stage. She thus ushered a second rebirth
and transformation of this art form, catapulting it into the twenty-first century with the
advent of great Cuban dancers and Cuban-trained Latin American dancers to global
companies. We have been watching the fruits of her labors for years. Acosta’s
interpretation of Spartacus and the clamoring acclaim accorded to Viengsay Valdes clearly
indicate that ballet is no longer an artistic expression for the exclusive enjoyment of the
élites.

Carlos Acosta’s Spartacus (2008, Bolshoi)

Monologue from Act I, in which Spartacus enters the stage in chains:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbbSEs92f2Q [Mukhamedov 1984; Vasiliev 1968]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EL89V0lWoY [Acosta excerpts]

Rebellion scene from Act II followed by duel with Crassus:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbbSEs92f2Q [7:56: fouettes; Mukhamedov
1984]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPWVzJDG15w [Carlos fouettes 2008]
 “Muñecos” (1978)
 Choreography: Alberto Méndez
 Music: Rembert Egues
 Dancers: Annette Delgado, Carlos Acosta
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YZ_gmE
xTeI
 Menia Martínez: Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet; partnered
Rudolf Nureyev.
Xiomara Reyes: American Ballet Theatre
Lorena Feijóo: Joffrey Ballet of Chicago
Lorna Feijóo: Boston Ballet
Cuban-trained Dancers Who Have Starred With International Companies:
Fernando Bujones: American Ballet Theatre, Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet,Ballet de la
Opera de Paris, Ballet della Scala, Danish Royal Ballet. Artistic Director, Orlando Ballet.
Lázaro Carreňo: Houston Ballet, La Scala, Australian Ballet, National Ballet of Canada.
Jorge Esquivel: San Francisco Ballet.
Carlos Acosta: Houston Ballet, Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Bolshoi Ballet.
José Manuel Carreňo: American Ballet Theatre
SOURCES
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Cabrera, Miguel. 1998. Ballet Nacional de Cuba: Medio Siglo de Gloria.
La Habana: Ediciones Cuba en el Ballet. 1998.
Distinciones y condecoraciones de la primerísima bailarina Alicia Alonso. 1978.
La Habana: Museo Numismático del Banco Nacional de Cuba.
Gilbert, Jenny. 2008. “Carlos Acosta in Spartacus.” In Carlos Acosta
Spartacus. The Bolshoi Ballet. DVD. London, England: Decca Music Group,
Limited.
Guerra, Ramiro. 1969. Apreciación de la danza. La Habana: U de La Habana.
“Interview and rehearsals with Alicia Alonso, Viengsay Valdés and Romel
Frómeta”.Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Don Quijote. DVD. Paris: Bel Air
Classiques.
John, Suki. 2008. “A Revolution in Dance: Técnica Cubana”. Paper read at
the International Conference A Changing Cuba in a Changing World.Bildner
Center, CUNY Graduate Center, March 12-15.
Martin, Randy. 1998. Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics.
Durham, N.C.: Duke UP.
Martínez, Caridad. 2009. Conversations with author about Escuela Cubana
de Ballet And Cuban Technique. New York, N.Y., Fall 2009.
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