The excitement was indescribable. Alicia Alonso, a great figure of the ballet world, returned to the stage smiling and satisfied. Both a myth and a genius of universal dance, she closed the the inaugural Gala’s traditional procession, this time at the Karl Marx Theater, a true Coliseum of Havana.
Since the beginning of these encounters, in 1960, the opening Gala on October 28, recalls, in a kind of apotheosis, the creation in 1948 of the Ballet Alicia Alonso, now the National Ballet of Cuba.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, First Vice President of the Councils of Ministers and State, poet Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Ramona de Saa, director of the National Ballet School, and emblematic figures of the Cuban dance company such as the lead dancers Aurora Bosch, Marta García, María Elena Llorente, Orlando Salgado and Lázaro Carreño, all attended the first function.
The International Ballet Festival of Havana has its pedigree, and this time, the president has brought together the world of dance to demonstrate its present and envision the future, without forgetting the past.
With its legendary power, the festival has brought stars and companies from a score of countries to the island, who will demonstrate the best of their work through November 7.
A bow from the prima ballerina assoluta concluded a touching parade, which saw even the littlest ones from the National Ballet’s Dance Class, followed by students from the National School of Ballet, take to the stage, together with the complete line-up of the company, including its leading figures.
The 24th International Ballet Festival of Havana is dedicated to the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare and for that reason, the curtains opened to a choreography by Alonso herself inspired by Romeo and Julieta and entitled Shakespeare and his masks.
The piece, with orchestral adaptations Juan Piñera and libretto by José Ramón Neyra, saw Dani Hernández and Anette Delgado, two of the top figures from the company in the roles of Romeo and Juliet.
As the general director of the Cuban National Ballet, Alicia Alonso has also demonstrated a special interest in cultivating the art of choreography. The sublime ballerina has given the world of dance her version of several classics (Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quijote, Coppelia), with her adherence to tradition, but stripped of the superfluous, and understandable to the public of today.
Giselle, the quintessential romantic ballet, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are included, as could not be otherwise, in the Festival program.
The assoluta has also completed several new works, among which those included in the Festival are The Magic of Dance, and Tula, dedicated this year to celebrating the poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda on the bicentennial of her birth.
The librettist of this piece, José Ramón Neyra, in comments for this article, noted that those who saw the premiere in 1998, "will see a difference at the end of the piece which is what Alicia has added as a variation for Tula before the final scene, which if you remember, is set in the Tacon Theatre when Avellaneda is crowned with laurels by Luisa Pérez de Zambrana, another great Cuban poet."
Neyra added, "Fortunately for the artists who will represent the piece this time, Alicia has commissioned Svetlana Ballestar, to premier the piece, as responsible for the replacement. The primer ballerina Amaya Rodriguez will reincarnate the role of Tula."
At the premiere, Alonso said, "As you know, my eyes are weak, but I see everything in my mind." Neyra explained how she had asked for the librettos of Tula and also Shakespeare and his masks.
"Alicia does not make someone responsible and then leave it at that. Alicia takes charge and checks, reviews, discusses a lot as a director, not only with the librettist, but with the costume designer, the person responsible for scenery and the discussions continue right up to the moment of staging with the figures that are going to perform the ballet."
The legendary dancer is an extraordinary person. A brilliant artist devoted to dance in the broadest sense. A notable choreographer capable of recreating the best of the classics, renewing them, enriching them and combining them with new elements, and as an exceptional dancer with her unique arabesques, her balance, her intrepid fouetes, her port de bras, her lightness, she was Giselle, Odette-Odile , Taglioni, Carmen, Dido, Princess Aurora, and over a hundred other roles in her vast repertoire.
And there’s more. There is her status as a great teacher, generating a style known as the Cuban School of Ballet which rests on a supreme technique and a virtuosity difficult to surpass, which has bequeathed to the world valuable exponents from the first Cuatro Joyas, (Four Gems) to world figures such as José Manuel Carreño and Carlos Acosta.
Alicia Alonso is an indisputable etoile in the galaxy of world ballet. In one of her many interviews she said, "When I started dancing I didn’t think I was going to be a star. What I wanted was to dance and dance well. All my life I have danced because I like it, not to be a big star."
The grandeur of a prima ballerina assoluta who, at the age of 93, inspires five thousand spectators to break out into a standing ovation, at the close of an opening Gala procession.