The 22nd International Ballet Festival of Havana, dedicated to the 90th year of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, saw polished performances led by the American Ballet Theatre which, after an absence of half a century, deeply moved the Cuban audience, acknowledged connoisseurs of this art form.
Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of the renowned company appearing at Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre - seating capacity 5, 000– said this appearance of the ABT constitutes a cultural bridge between the United States and Cuba. He recalled Cuba’s tie with this artistic group, with which Alicia Alonso began her career in 1940.
“Theme and Variations” and “Fancy Free,” two works premiered in the ‘40s in New York, “The Corsair” and “Seven Sonatas” figured in the opening day programme presented by ABT at this important biannual event. Fifty dancers participated, among whom were Cubans José Manuel Carreño and Xiomara Herrera, and Argentinean Paloma Herrera. “I feel a special thrill to welcome to Cuba the American Ballet Theatre, an artistic group that has meant so much in my professional career as a dancer, and to which I’m bound by deep artistic and emotional ties,” said Alicia Alonso.
The first time the Ballet Theatre performed in Cuba, in 1947, Alicia was part of the group who headed the company, along with Igor Youskevitch, Nora Kaye, John Kriza, Lucia Chase – who was also its director – and Antony Tudor, among other artists.
“I had the pleasure of welcoming the American Ballet Theatre anew in 1960, on the occasion of their meaningful participation in the First International Ballet Festival of Havana. Now, for the 22nd Festival – half a century later – I renew these feelings upon receiving them in our country when the company is commemorating seventy years since its foundation, and when I am personally celebrating a beautiful birthday,” she added.
During this twenty-second edition of the Festival, which ran from October 28th to November 7th, the New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, and many other groups from around the world also performed.
The City Ballet’s performances in Havana included “Tarantella and Chaconne” by George Balanchine, “Liturgy” by Christopher Wheeldon, and “In the Night” by Jerome Robbins.
The closing performance in Havana’s Grand Theatre, in the old city, was a night of high emotions. That night, the performance by Spanish dancer Tamara Rojo, of the Royal Ballet, in “Five Brahms Waltzes” in the manner of Isadora Duncan, with piano accompaniment by the prominent Cuban musician Aldo López Gavilán, was particularly outstanding.
Other participants in this conclusion of 10 days of intense activities, were Roberta Márquez and Steven McRae (Royal Ballet) who, with exceptional technicality and purity, performed the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. From the same British company, Cuban Carlos Acosta demonstrated his qualities in contemporary dance with the piece “Two,” a lesson in control in the small space circumscribed by an overhead light.
On behalf of the American Ballet Theatre, Cuban José Manuel Carreño garnered applause in the solo piece, “Sinatra Suite.”
The Ballet “Estable del Teatro Colón,” with a tango by Astor Piazzolla performed by Argentineans Nadia Muzyka and Juan Pablo Ledo and flamenco by Antonio El Pipa, with his Doble Sentir in which he reveals cadenced energy that increases while the Andalusian guitar moves forward, joined many others on this special night.
Spain was also present in the creativity of Alicia Alonso, with the piece Preciosa y el aire, based on the poem of that name by Federico García Lorca, and in “El ultimo encuentro,” a choreography mixing classical and contemporary dance performed by Lola Greco and Fernando Velasco.
Special mention must be made of the host company, the National Ballet of Cuba, and its leading figures, who sparkled during those intense days of dance. Among them were Viengsay Valdés, Janela Piñera, Anette Delgado and Sadaise Arencibia (in the “Grand Pas de Quatre”) and four promising male dancers: Arian Molina, Serafín Castro, Javier Gómez and Osniel Gunod, in the “Canto Vital” by Azari Plisetski. With a contemporary slant, “The Dying Swan,” performed by Javier Torres, aroused deserved applause for the exquisite technicality in the famous miniature choreography by Michel Fokine.
At the closure was the premiere performance on the Island of a fragment of “Samsara”, a work by Spaniard Víctor Ullate, with ethnic music from Egypt, Iran, India, Nepal, China and Japan. Bárbara García, Cuba’s prima ballerina, and other figures from the National Ballet, danced this clearly modern piece with marked glints of classical technique.
During the Festival, whose inauguration was attended by President Raúl Castro, Alicia Alonso received numerous tributes and her choreography “Impromptu,” inspired by melodies of the legendary Cuban musician Ernesto Lecuona, was premiered. Also shown was the Spanish TV documentary “Alicia Alonso: para que Giselle no muera” (Alicia Alonso: To Keep Giselle Alive), directed by Nicolás García.
Other choreographies by the prima ballerina assoluta, who will celebrate her 90th birthday on December 21st, were “La muerte de Narciso,” inspired by a book of poems by José Lezama Lima (1910-1976), and “La noche del eclipse”.
Among the parallel activities of this international event figured the exhibition Lezama y la danza en Cuba (Lezama and dance in Cuba), with documents by the writer of “Paradiso” related to this art form.