This 2018, the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) is set for abundant celebrations. Firstly, its 70th anniversary. The BNC was founded in 1948 by Alicia Alonso and the brothers Fernando (1914-2013) and Alberto Alonso (1917-2007). This year also marks 75 years since Alicia debuted in Giselle with the American Ballet Theatre, and the bicentenary of the birth of maestro Marius Petipa (1818-1910), as well as the 30th anniversary of the premiere of the Cuban version of his Don Quixote.
It is in this splendid context that the company directed by prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso is starting a new tour of the United States (May 15 through June 9), performing two monuments of world ballet representing resounding successes of its own: Giselle and Don Quixote.
A LIFE DEVOTED TO ART
As a significant historical reference, it should be noted that Alicia Alonso (Havana, 1920), one of the great legends of dance, is included among the founding members of the American Ballet Theatre. Her substitution of the famed Alicia Márkova in the leading role of Giselle on November 2, 1943, became legendary.
The illustrious ballerina retired from the stage in 1995, but as she has stated in several interviews, dance in all its senses, as a technique, as a teacher, as a choreographer, is her life.
Her devotion to this art can be appreciated in the extraordinary technique and stylistic care of the company she directs, especially in its lead dancers, including Anette Delgado, Viengsay Valdés and Sadaise Arencibia.
Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature winner, José Saramago, noted that in order to continue to have the same meaning, proverbs must be adapted to the times, and this is something Alicia Alonso has cleverly done with the great ballet classics, without losing their stylistic essence. Thus she has “dusted off,” as she herself has described it, not only Giselle and Don Quixote, but also The Sleeping Beauty, La Sylphide and The Nutcracker.
THE CUBAN VERSION OF DON QUIXOTE
The first performances by the BNC in the United States (May 18, 19 and 20) were in Chicago, at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, the headquarters of the Joffrey Ballet, where the company presented Alicia’s 1988 version of Don Quixote, with prima ballerinas Marta García and María Elena Llorente, based on the original piece by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorski.
As a ballet created from Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra’s (1547-1616) masterpiece, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Alicia took great pains to maintain the folkloric references in the choreography and dramaturgy, demonstrating maximum respect for the character of Don Quixote, an icon of world literature.
GISELLE: ONE OF THE MOST MAJESTIC PIECES
And Giselle lived among us, wrote the great Cuban intellectual Alejo Carpentier, after watching Alicia dance in Paris. The BNC performed this obligatory piece for all leading ballet companies, on May 23 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, in Tampa.
Over time, Alicia not only enriched her personal performance of this piece, considered by critics as representing the peak of her career, but she did the same in her rigorous and beautiful version of the classic created in 1841 by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, with a libretto by Théophile Gautier, inspired by the Germanic folk tale by Heinrich Heine.
Alicia’s staging is distinguished by the excellent set, the character, strength and expression of the drama, seen in each character on stage, and her absolute respect for the romantic style. Alicia received the Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1966 for this version of Giselle and her own performance.
The Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World Festival, underway in Washington’s Kennedy Center, will close with these two great classics: Don Quixote and Giselle, running until June 3.
After visiting the U.S. capital, and to conclude the tour, the company will perform Giselle at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, New York, June 6 through 8.
As well as various seasons at its headquarters, the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana, and several international tours throughout this 2018, the BNC will see an immense celebration in October-November, to mark the 70th anniversary of its foundation, with the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival.