This November, the American Ballet Theatre will perform in Cuba for the first time in half a century. The company, based in New York City, has long had ties to the island: Cuba’s prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso, moved to the United States, and then joined the ballet theatre in 1940. She became one of the troupe's biggest stars. The dancer is especially acclaimed for her interpretation of the title role in "Giselle" and for founding the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Cuba in 1948, which reportedly became the National Ballet of Cuba. Alonso's ballet company took off after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and began to lend it both personal and financial support. The ABT visit is in honor of her 90th birthday, which she’ll celebrate on December 21.
In June, as part of her birthday celebrations, Alonso came to New York and attended an American Ballet Theatre performance of “Don Quixote.” Says the company’s Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, “It became evident that ABT has not been to Cuba since Alicia was in her prime dancing. If we're going to bring her to New York to celebrate her 90th birthday,” he says, “why not bring ABT to Cuba?”
The visit also coincides with the 22nd edition of the Havana International Ballet Festival, which is held in Cuba every two years. The ABT’s last visit was in 1960 for the festival’s inaugural installment. The company will perform three ballets on November 3 and 4 at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater. Two of them, “Theme and Variations” and “Fancy Free,” are iconic works from her time with the ballet. The third piece, “Seven Sonatas,” is a new work created about 18 months ago by an artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky.
McKenzie says it's the type of work that had Alicia been dancing today, she would have excelled in. "It's without an actual story, but is dependant on the dancers' expressiveness and expansiveness to suggest what their relationships are like and what the situation is," he says.