Painting and photography are art forms with more points in common with ballet than may be apparent. From the beginning, in the Renaissance, there were Leonardo da Vinci's sketches. In France, baroque painters preserved the gods of dance, and those of Rococo incorporated dancers; and finally lithographers allow us to see the greats of romanticism.
In the 20th century, all the great movements joined in the communion, even Picasso. It is universal and the tradition exists in Cuba, as well.
As early as 1946, Servando Cabrera Moreno painted Alicia in Giselle, other greats of Cuban visual arts did so as well: Carlos Enríquez, René Portocarrero, Luis Martínez Pedro, and above all, Mariano Rodríguez and Marcelo Pogolotti, who made ballets like Flora and Evasión.
This dialogue between the visual arts and dance seems to seek meeting a request made by the great German literato Goethe, who asked, "Instant, be eternal, you are so beautiful."
This year in Havana, painting and photography return to be seduced by the beauty of a perfect move, a perfect gesture, and have tried, and achieved, making time stand still.
To the pleasure of all, the marvelous result can be seen in ten expositions inaugurated on the occasion of two important celebrations in the world of dance: the 75th anniversary of prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso's debut as Giselle and the 70th of the National Ballet of Cuba's founding (BNC). We take a look at five of these.
GISELLE-ALICIA, THE BEGINNING OF A LEGEND
A year had passed since Alicia Alonso had undergone surgery for a serious eye problem. It was 1943. She was with the American Ballet Theatre. The great Cuban ballerina recalls in Alicia Alonso, Diálogos con la danza, "Markova suddenly fell ill and the theater (the former Metropolitan Opera House in New York) was selling tickets for the ballet Giselle on the basis of the names Markova and Anton Dolin. The Ballet Theatre's directors didn't know what to do, and it occurred to them to ask the principal young ballerinas to step in ... Everyone said no… At first they didn't think to ask me, because of my recent operation... But when they proposed it to me, I simply said yes... I accepted, not thinking about literally replacing Markova… I wasn't interested in being compared to her... I accepted because this meant I could dance Giselle. I had wanted so much to do it. So much! The other ballerinas who refused to dance it had their reasons. They used their brains, and I used my heart."
A LOFTY DREAM
As president of the Havana International Ballet Festival, Alicia noted in her introduction to the 26th edition of the beautiful general catalogue, “Seven decades since the beginning of a lofty dream’s realization… after years of arduous work, sacrifice, and great satisfactions, the company, its principals figures, and the Cuban School of Ballet have international artistic recognition… We have great confidence in the youngest generation of the National Ballet of Cuba… they will be capable of carrying the company forward, defending its traditions and its artistic and stylistic personality.”
A MYTH CAPTURED
The greatest difficulty in photographing ballet, according to the experts, is the lighting, since it must be adjusted to the work and the stage light. Moreover, the instant when the dancer becomes a statue, when the full dimension of a movement is achieved, lasts only a second. And in terms of Alicia in particular, she is always supernatural, with her precise, unmistakable movements, and her face that seems to reflect an inner light.
Everyone has been enchanted by the art of Alicia Alonso and five artists have now returned these moments to us in exceptional photos and paintings that have captured a magical instant.
At the Museum of Fine Arts’ universal arts building, for the first time, on exhibit are 75 photographs from the Dance Museum’s collection, taken by eminent international photographers of the prima ballerina’s performances of Giselle over the decades, including stagings in several countries with her most celebrated partners.
The National Theater is hosting three expositions. In the lobby of Avellaneda Hall, Cuban photographer Leysis Quesada presents her vision of the Giselle’s Second Act, which the BNC has always made a sublime experience. The show entitled Desde el paraíso (From paradise) the well known photographer Nancy Reyes offers her surprises in the same hall’s first balcony. She devoted an entire year to taking shots of the company’s different performances from a new angle – the top floor of the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater’s García Lorca Hall, known to Cuban ballet-lovers as “paradise.”
Reyes has achieved intriguing images from this height and offers viewers a different perspective of well-known works.
Anni Collier, a U.S. artist of Bulgarian origin - a dancer, choreographer, and now photographer - presents 20 images in the show entitled A través del lente, making clear her passion for ballet.
Painting joins the tribute to the diva with an extraordinary exhibit, Mi amiga Alicia, at the Grand Theater by Cuban artist Nelson Domínguez, 2009 National Prize for Visual Arts winner. As is the case with all of his series, Domínguez is looking to exploit all expressive possibilities and shows Alicia in all facets of life, as an artist, teacher, and symbol of Cuban culture. He provokes viewers with a very human, frontal Alicia, a myth in reality.
During the show’s opening ceremony, BNC historian Miguel Cabrera shared a detail of a personal conversation with Alicia a few days earlier, saying, “A few days ago, I approached her and said that the Festival was coming soon. She said: How much time is left? I asked her: What would you like to dance? And she immediately responded: Giselle. And why Giselle, I insisted. Without hesitation, she told me: Because Giselle must be danced with the heart and the mind. The greatest definition an artist can give about how to approach a work.”
Alicia-Giselle, seven and a half decades of performing a role considered the most demanding and exquisite of classical ballet’s entire repertory. Dozens of choreographers and critics have offered opinions of Alicia as the peasant girl-wili. That of Oliver Merlin in Le Monde, 1966, is of special impact; “Olga Spessívtseva, Alicia Markova, Galina Ulanova, in the past; Margot Fontayne and Ivette Chauviré, in the present. I have here the only great, moving Giselles.
Nonetheless, Alonso, for some mysterious reason, has been able to preserve her rank as the first star of this Milky Way.”
A magnificent tribute to the sublime Alicia Alonso, who this coming December will again celebrate on her 98th birthday.