Alicia – our Alicia – on this island of hers there is no need to use her surname, celebrated her 97th birthday surrounded by the affection, admiration, and respect, not only of her compatriots, but of the entire legion of admirers across the four corners of the world.
Born on December 21, 1920, to veterinarian and Lieutenant Antonio Martínez Arredondo and dressmaker Ernestina del Hoyo, in Pogolotti’s modest Marianao neighborhood, she made her stage debut as a dancer in the ballet school of the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical of Havana, on December 29, 1931. Hence began a career on her toes that set a record, coming to an end 64 years later, on November 28, 1995, at the Masini Theater in Faenza, Italy, dancing the role of the volatile Farfalla in Le papillon.
Her rise to stardom knew no parallel, as she represented Cuba in 61 countries across the five continents, proving to be a dazzling figure from the early days of the Broadway musical comedies, to later groups with which she performed regularly, such as the American Ballet Caravan, the Ballet Theatre of New York, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and the Washington Ballet, and many others around the world where she appeared as a guest star.
Her technical strength, “which was 20 years ahead of the standards of the time,” as well as her stylistic adaptability, led her to perform an amazing repertoire of 134 titles, 82 of them worldwide, the result of the work of the most important choreographers of the romantic-classical tradition of the 19th century, such as Jean Dauberval, Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and of 62 of the most important figures of the 20th century, among them Mikhail Fokine, Eugene Loríng, Anton Dolin, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, Alberto Alonso, and Alberto Méndez, to mention just a few of the most relevant.
“Everything I’ve danced I’ve enjoyed a lot, it’s been very important to me, but Giselle has a special place in my life as a dancer and as a human being. It was a big challenge after a long and tough break. But I overcame it. A dancer, if a real artist, must be willing to give their all or to die on stage,” she once said.
As UNESCO Goodwill and World Dance Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba, her artistic and cultural work has been recognized with the highest distinctions both in her homeland and the rest of the world, as demonstrated by the 222 national awards and 264 international awards received from 37 nations.
Tireless in her long career, she continues to be, as Juan Marinello well defined: “A tenacious, frantic, heroic force, discharged against disease and against time, toward tireless perfection.”
Ballet dancer, choreographer, director, representative and defender of the culture of her homeland, today she defies the challenges of time, with a clear mind, determined not to be overcome. A few days ago, as a Board of Directors meeting in the National Ballet of Cuba concluded, an institution that she has led with a firm hand for 69 years, she lifted her glass for a toast to some close collaborators and asked us: “What is it to be old?”
With that sentence she summarized the vital key to her life and offered her most faithful definition.