Age? What’s that? Okay, it’s a bit more than just a number to Cuba’s prima ballerina emerita, but she’s still on her feet:
Famous Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, retired from the dance for decades due to age and physical limitations, surprised the audience at the Havana Festival of Ballet on Monday night with a short dance performance, which was received with a standing ovation.
Nearly 92 years old, and despite difficulties with movement and vision, Alonso interpreted “Retrato para el recuerdo” in homage to Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), one of Cuba’s greatest composers, whose best-known composition, “La Comparsa”, is 100 years old this year.
“The applause on Monday was interminable, and will surely be repeated during the next days of the 23rd Festival”, according to Juventud Rebelde.
Alonso, director and choreographer of the National Ballet of Cuba and president of the festival, demonstrated that “her spirit still dances at the level of legends”.
Alonso was partnered with Jorge Vega, a Cuban former principal dancer now living in Mexico, along with other retirees of the dance such as Martha García, María Elena Llorente, Orlando Salgado, Lázaro Carreño, and Osmay Molina, who all danced in tribute to Lecuona.
The 11-day festival takes place in the great halls of Havana and Cárdenas (150 km east of Havana), with 30 grand performances and 56 débuts, nine of them world-class, under the motto “Of Tradition and New Paths”.
Among the invited ballet companies are Ballet Preijocaj and Malandain Ballet Biarritz (both from France), Jo Strømgren Kompani (Norway), the Concert Ballet of Puerto Rico, and José Manuel Carreño and Estrellas del Ballet Norteamericano.
Along with the homage to Lecuona, two other gala performances are scheduled: one to the centenary of the birth of Cuban author Virgilio Piñera (1912-79), and a 40th-anniversary retrospective of Alicia Alonso’s performance in Giselle, which elevated her to fame as prima ballerina and choreographer.
The festival also celebrates the 64 years of the National Ballet of Cuba, founded by Alonso, which has achieved international renown and has elevated numerous dancers to worldwide recognition.
Much was made at the time of Alicia Alonso’s decision to return to Cuba and contribute to the revolution, instead of staying in the US where her ballet career could have been that much more lucrative. But her choice was vindicated in that Cuba has maintained its culture, and grown, too, thanks to her contribution. Coming hot on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, too, this festival is a peaceful reminder that Cuba remains unbowed, even in the face of aggression from just ninety miles to the north. ¡Viva Compañera Alicia!