To evoke Fernando Alonso, one of the greatest personalities of Cuban arts, is the premise of the recently released documentary Fernando Danza Infinita, directed by Esther García.
The 42-minute film, dedicated to that legend of Cuban and world ballet, was produced thanks to the Octavio Cortázar Documentary Production House of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and was presented in the institution’s Sala Villena February 15, in the presence of UNEAC President, the poet Miguel Barnet, and several lead dancers of the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), among them Viengsay Valdés, Anett Delgado, Sadaise Arencibia, and Dani Hernández.
BNC historian Miguel Cabrera offered an introduction to the documentary honoring Fernando Alonso, whom he called the maestro of maestros, describing him as one of the greatest ballet pedagogues, creator of the Cuban Ballet School methodology, and teacher of countless generations of ballerinas.
Known throughout the world are the Italian, French, Danish, Russian, and English schools, but the Cuban is the last great ballet school created in the 20th century, he noted.
Cabrera offered an intimate portrait of Fernando Alonso, who he described as diplomatic, a gentleman, a generous and modest man, who above all devoted himself to the quest for perfection.
He recalled how the maestro, recognizing that the dancer’s instrument is his or her body, studied it thoroughly, and thus achieved the great technique of the Cuban ballet school. “Alicia was the model and he created the technique based on her.”
To demonstrate this, the documentary includes numerous fragments of the prima ballerina assoluta dancing in the all-time classic, Giselle; in Swan Lake and Carmen, with the supreme choreography of Cuba’s Alberto Alonso.Principio del formularioFinal del formulario
A school needs “a great teacher, a great dancer, and a great choreographer, and those extraordinary circumstances occurred here, on this island,” with Fernando, Alicia, and Alberto, Cabrera stressed, while noting that this technique has developed over time, because “The school is not a dogma, the technique evolves, but the patterns of our school, including the port de bras, the attitude, can not be lost.”
The BNC historian concluded by stating that to him, Danza Infinita reveals the legacy and the methodology left by Fernando Alonso.
FERNANDO ALONSO: A GREAT TEACHER
Fernando Alonso Rayneri (Havana, December 27, 1914 - July 27, 2013), Alicia Alonso and Alberto Alonso founded, on October 28, 1948, the Alicia Alonso Ballet that would later become the National Ballet of Cuba.
Among the multiple recognitions that Fernando received during his lifetime are the 1999 National Prize for Dance, 2001 National Artistic Teaching Prize, and the Benois de la Danse Prize in 2008, which was created in 1991 by the International Dance Association, and is one of the most valued distinctions in the field of dance.
In making Fernando Danza Infinita, director Esther García relied on the advice of today’s Maître Aurora Bosch, who was a lead dancer of the BNC and one of the famous “Cuatro Joyas” (Four Jewels) of the Cuban Ballet.
The documentary, with a traditional structure using archive material, photographs, and interviews, including with the maestro himself, and historic stars of the BNC, Menia Martínez, Josefina Méndez, Loipa Araujo, Mirta Plá, and Aurora Bosch; as well as Laura Alonso, daughter of Fernando and Alicia; and Cabrera himself; offers both testimony and a tribute.
For ballet lovers, it will be very enjoyable to see Loipa in La Sylphide and Cheek to Cheek; Josefina in Giselle; Aurora in Black Swan; Mirta in Myrtha, Queen of the Willis; and Menia in La bella cubana.
Esther García was also responsible for the general production, the script, along with Otto Braña, and the editing, while the photography and soundtrack were in the hands of Leandro Rodríguez.
The documentary begins with the first act of Giselle (filmed by Enrique Pineda Barnet), with Fernando dancing the role of Hilarión. Throughout the footage, the maestro talks about his performances as a soloist in Pedro and the Wolf, by Adolf Bolm; Three Virgins and a Devil, by Agnes de Mille, and as Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet, by Anthony Tudor.
During the interview, Fernando recalls that it was his mother, pianist Laura Raynieri, who instilled in him the love for music. He notes that from the age of four, dressed as a firefighter, he liked to march, “I always had the sense of moving as an exercise.”
The director offers a brief professional history, from 1935 when, following his younger brother, Alberto, Fernando joined ballet classes taught by Nikolái Yavorski at the Pro-Arte Musical Society. There he also met Alicia Martínez del Hoyo, who would later be known as Alicia Alonso.
In the United States, around 1938, Fernando studied ballet with professors the likes of Mikhail Mordkin, Mikhail Fokine, and Alexandra Fedórova, and joined the companies of Mordkin; the American Ballet Caravan, directed by George Balanchine; the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo; and the American Ballet Theatre.
To appreciate the value of Fernando Alonso’s teachings, the documentary includes the testimonies of Laura Alonso, who notes her father “always saw the need to create an academy to supply the company.” Fernando himself states: “To create the Cuban School, I had to study a great deal... To found a company it was necessary to have a school to support it.”
Prima ballerina Menia Martínez, who taught for many years in the Ballet Royal de Wallonie, remembers that at the beginning, Fernando offered special classes every afternoon to Mirta, Aurora, Carmen Prieto, Mercedes Barrios, and herself, in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. “As for Fernando, we have to talk about cleanliness, how he wrote each class, he was an inspired teacher, a demanding teacher.”
Alicia was a very correct dancer, Menia explains, and she was Fernando’s model, he created a technique based on Alicia. “The school was founded by Alicia and Fernando with the interest of creating good Cuban ballerinas.”
The “Four Jewels” also recall their moments with the maestro. Loipa notes, “Only with Alicia and Fernando could I develop my vocation, and I came to a wonderful environment.” Meanwhile, Aurora explains, “We were his girls, I feel privileged with what Fernando gave me.” Mirta adds, “In addition to the technique, he taught me a passion, a vocation without limits, and how to transmit it to new generations.” Josefina concludes, “Fernando taught me to take classes and rehearsals, he taught me how to see the little details.”
Precisely with regard to the issue addressed by Josefina, Fernando states: “The rehearsal and the class go beyond technique, to the artistic world. The dancer must know what happens around him. He is not alone, for example, a pas de deux is a pas de trois because the audience is there.”
The maestro also worked hard with later generations of dancers. A funny anecdote appears in the documentary. Fernando has a class with prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés. You did a sensational thing, barbarous, he says, and I’ll have to stand up and applaud you.
BNC star Viengsay told this publication at the end of the screening, that the maestro rehearsed Giselle, Quixote, Celeste and many other pieces with her, and recalled that after some performances he even went to her house and asked her to tell him her mistakes and there they repeated the details.
Fernando Danza Infinita is a beautiful tribute to one of Cuba’s finest, that emphasizes the final opinion offered by Alonso himself: behind every great dancer there is always a great teacher.