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Alicia Alonso
May 7, 2018
Portrait of the choreographer Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso is a prima ballerina assoluta and General Director of the National Ballet of Cuba. Not only is she the top figure of classical ballet in Spanish-American culture, but Alicia Alonso also stands as one of the most famous personalities in all of ballet history. Born in Havana, she started her training in 1931 at the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical ballet school. She went on to study in the United States with Enrico Zanfretta, Alexandra Fedorova and other eminent teachers of the School of American Ballet.

Alonso’s professional activity began in 1938 on Broadway, with her debut in two variety shows: Great Lady and Star in Your Eyes. A year later, she joined the American Ballet Caravan, the predecessor of today’s New York City Ballet. In 1940, she went on to the newly-formed American Ballet Theatre of New York at which time her extraordinary career truly took off. She danced principal roles in the masterpieces of the classical and romantic repertories. Working with Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and other important choreographers of the 20th century, Alonso danced lead roles in major world premieres such as Undertow, Fall River Legend and Theme and Variations, and was a principal dancer in various European and Latin American countries.

In 1948, in the interest of developing ballet in Cuba, Alonso created the Ballet Alicia Alonso in Havana, the precursor to the National Ballet of Cuba. In this period, she divided her time between the American Ballet Theatre and her own company, which she maintained with very little financial support. In 1959, the Cuban Revolutionary Government offered its support.

Alonso’s adaptations of the great classic choreographies are famous worldwide and have been performed by major companies such as the Opéra de Paris (Giselle, Grand Pas de Quatre, and Sleeping Beauty), the Vienna Opéra and the Naples San Carlo Ballet Theatre (Giselle), the Prague Opera (La Fille Mal Gardée), the Teatro alla Scala in Milan (Sleeping Beauty), and the Royal Danish Ballet (Don Quixote).

Alicia Alonso is an eminence of Cuban culture. She has been granted honorary doctorates by the Universidad de la Habana, Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte, Spain’s Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and Mexico’s Universidad de Guadalajara. In 1982, she was given the Orden El Águila Azteca, the highest award Mexico may bestow upon a foreigner. In 1993, she accepted the title of encomienda of the Orden Isabel la Católica from King Juan Carlos I of Spain. That same year, Madrid’s Universidad Complutense created an Alicia Alonso chair in dance. A dance foundation carries her name, as does the Instituto Superior de Danza Alicia Alonso of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. She was also nominated as an honorary member of Spain’s association of stage directors (ADE). In September 1996, she was paid public tribute at the Ateneo Científico, Artístico y Literario of Madrid, for her invaluable artistic and cultural creations. In 1998, she was awarded the gold medal of the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid; the Republic of France bestowed upon her the title of commandeur in its ordre des Arts et des Lettres. The Republic of Cuba’s Council of State decorated her as Héroe de la República de Cuba. In 2000 she was given a lifetime achievement award by Benois de la danse, and the Cuban Council of State’s greatest decoration, the Orden José Martí. In January 2002 she became an ambassador for the Republic of Cuba by act of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Paris, UNESCO named her a Goodwill Ambassador. In 2003, the French President conferred upon her the degree of officier of l’ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, and in 2005 she received the Irène Lidova Lifetime Achievement Award in Cannes. More recently she accepted from the hands of Their Majesties of Spain the Orden de las Artes y las Letras de España.

As general director and former principal dancer of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso is the inspiration and guide for generations of Cuban dancers who follow her. Her unique style has made a mark on the international world of dance.

Beverley Aitchison
May 7, 2018
Portrait of the choreographer Beverley Aitchison