Ballet in Havana

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Sophisticate and Passionate

Ballet is well-known throughout the biggest and richest countries in the world for its excellence and originality, but has humble beginnings in the tiny nation.

After getting immense government support, the largest classical ballet company in Cuba combined the strong character and passion of the ethnically diverse population together with centuries of technical dance theory from theater powerhouses like Russia and France to form a truly unique style of performance. The undisputed leader of the ballet community in the country is Alicia Alonso, who founded what would become the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. With Alonso still at the helm, this ballet company has overcome numerous financial and social obstacles to become one of the leading dance companies in the world.

Background and Beginnings

In 1948, ballet dancers Alicia and Fernando Alonso started the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company. It did fairly well, but had major issues financing itself. Former dictator Batista, had cut the arts budgets drastically, leaving performing arts groups without enough money to continue operating. In contrast, Castro's policy of wanting to make the arts available to everyone greatly rewarded Alicia Alonso, a revolution supporter. He made her company the official government sponsored dance company and ballet school. The company took on the name:

Ballet Nacional de Cuba

Central to the success of the Ballet Nacional is the School, which is directed by Ramona Saa. The country has an interesting policy regarding its educational program. They scour much of the country of 11 million residents in search of potential dancers. Enrollment currently sits at 4,350 students, making this the largest ballet school in the world and the most highly esteemed educational establishment in the country. It is very popular, accepting only a small percentage of total applicants. The reason for this selectivity is that being trained here offers quite a few benefits. The government sponsors each student, paying for everything they may need to live and complete their education. Additionally, graduated students have a chance to enter the Ballet Nacional, where they can earn a respected living, in terms of both finance and social status. Currently, the school sends forty dancers each year into the Ballet Nacional.

Alicia Alonso, Star of the Cuban Ballet

This passionate and respected woman is regarded as a superb ballet dancer for her renditions of Giselle, Carmen, and Swan Lake. She enjoyed lauded performances in these roles well into her 70s. Additionally, her effort is regarded as the main reason that the Ballet Nacional has achieved its high level of success. Born in 1920 in Cuba, young Alicia showed a strong interest in music and dance, and her education in such things was supported by her parents. While still a teenager, she met and married fellow ballet student Fernando Alonso. Living and working in various countries including Cuba and the United States, Alicia Alonso started to gain worldwide interest for her personal dance style, which was characterized by passion, perfection of technique, and creative interpretation. After Fidel Castro personally requested her to return to the country to direct the Ballet Nacional, she came back home.

Throughout her life, Alicia Alonso had to overcome severe issues with her eyesight, being diagnosed in 1941 with a detached retina. After three mostly unsuccessful surgeries, Alonso decided to get back to dancing, often requiring those dancing with her to maintain perfect placement in order to avoid collisions or missteps. Now in her old age, Alonso is mostly blind, but still finds the power and emotion to direct the Ballet Nacional.

Further Ballet Information

The official website of the Cuban National Ballet ( with information about various news items, biographical information of the leading dancers, and descriptions of the company's repertoire.

Beatrice Siegel wrote a book entitled, Alicia Alonso: The Story of a Ballerina, which gives an excellent account of the famed Cuban dancer.

Suki John has also penned a book relating to this topic titled, Modern Dance in Contemporary Cuba, which gives additional information on the current dance scene in the country.

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