Spectacular Miraculous Story Behind The Ballet de Cuba

By | July 18, 2017

Paris is privileged to welcome many great ballet companies every year, but I was totally surprised to see Ballet de Cuba was on its way.

Ballet de Cuba is not a ballet corps you expect to see, and for many, including myself,   constituted a surprise that one even exists.

Little did I know that its existence is as much of a miracle as the woman who founded it!

Most of my sorties are to the marvelous concerts to be found  every week here. Cherries on the cake is that many concerts are free every week of the year and they have become needed distractions for me.

Classical ballet performance however, are rarely if ever free, but the quality offered here is worth monies spent.

I love ballet and the spectacular story of the woman behind the Cuban Ballet is one worth knowing!

I remember well as a young child the raves my parents had after visiting Havana before Fidel Castro; and turning Cuba into forbidden territory only 93 miles south of the Florida coast.

After that the Cuban Missile Crisis turned this Caribbean island into a much feared regime; during which  many Americans were frightened enough to  prompt some to build bomb shelters.

It is a miracle than any ballet company could survive the dire poverty and harsh existence in Cuba where chronic food and fuel shortages caused rations to be instituted.

A crumbling and dilapidated infrastructure can hardly nurture such extraneous delights such as ballet, but nothing could tear down the dream of one woman, who had already fought for her survival!

It is a story to inspire us all.   This woman was not to be messed with under any circumstances!

Alicia Alonso was born in Havana on December 21, 1920.  She went to study ballet in New York City and by 1930, she had already  built quite a reputation as a ballerina at the American Ballet.

When she was only 21 years old, she suffered a detached retina, and despite multiple surgeries, she became legally blind.

Even that couldn’t keep her away from her beloved ballet!  When she had to be immobilized in bed for months on end in hopes of regaining her sight, she never gave up.

Doctors told her that she would never be able to dance professionally again.  “I never abandoned my dream to return” “I was the only one who believed in my future”.

She could have easily stayed in New York City, but wanted to return to her native Cuba and in 1948, founded her company with her own financial means.

In 1955, it became know as the Ballet de Cuba.   Baptista refused to support it and Ms Alonso exiled briefly to Mexico.

According to Ms Alonso, is was surprising that Fidel Castro encouraged her to return her ballet company to Havana.

What is even more fascinating is the story of how Ms Alonso continued to dance and teach despite have suffered a detached retina that left her partially blind since 1941!

Even though her sight is impaired, she is said to be able to  choreograph by memory and can tell just by sounds, if a dancer has correctly executed the required steps correctly and to her wishes.

She said she also used her fingers “to dance ” the positions before practicing them as an aide to learning.

She danced till the age of 73, using overhead spot lights to help direct her where she should be, until she acquired perfect memory of her positions on stage.

The more astounding thing about this ballet company is that it is still directed by its founder, who is the incredible age of 96 years old!

Summer ballets in Paris are more highlighted by the immensely successful Les Étés des Dance, which I usually try to attend.

Alvin Ailey New York Ballet was invited again, but because I had already seen his wonderful dance troop, had put off buying any tickets.

When I first saw that the Ballet de Cuba was coming to Paris, I was taken by surprise by the uniqueness of such and immediately had a quick desire to attend.

We chose to attend Giselle as Ms. Alfonso is considered one the best choreographers worldwide of this ballet.

Additionally the company is known for being one of the best for classical ballet interpretations, perhaps due in part by the hand of  Ms Alonso, who studied with famous Russian masters.

In my eyes ballet is emotional charged poetry in motion and is a wonderful feast for the eyes and ears. I only dabbled in it for several years as a child, perhaps a right of passage of many little girls.

My senses can easily get pulled into all of its beauty, as  I find myself wishing that I could also leap across the stage in delight. What takes years of study and practice, the dancers seem to do so effortlessly and natural.

With the flowing colourful costumes and tutus swishing about, the air takes of a magical glow shimmering in the changing lights.

I would attend more ballet if not for the hefty ticket prices that puts a dent in my entertainment budget. So for me, I pick and choose wisely.

Another reason to witness this ballet company is frankly because of  Ms Alonso ; to do so before she “retires”, which apparently is not something she desires to do.

As one Paris critique pointed out and what I presumed would be the case, the Ballet de Cuba is a poor company with meager financial support, yet the dancers all make up for the less than lavish set designs nor costumes you would find in other more well endowed companies.

I found the costumes beautiful and the set designs more than adequate, but I really agree that the dancers were all superb!

There was an intense energy to please, that I sensed more present than in troupes where the name alone acts as a guarantee of greatness.

Ballet de Cuba shines because of the obvious passion of its dancers, who  captured the heart of the audience.  Sorry, but photos were not allowed.

What they lacked in material fringes, could not stop their tremendous talent and explosive artistic energy as if to say to the world, that Yes, We can Dance!

For those of us who love cheering for the underdogs, who had to go against the odds to achieve their measure of greatness, Alicia Alonso and her Ballet de Cuba is a monumental showcase of the human spirit.

She was given an atrocious obstacle in life that would have caused many of us to have sacked our dreams,  Yet she persisted with diligence and hope against all odds.

Even a forced exile and extreme poverty did not dim her spirit and vision.  Throughout the years, she has lost dancers, who deflected to more endowed ballet corps, which is understandable, given their salaries are but a pittance.

Alicia Alonso is a wonderful lesson of perseverance and following your dream.  Her passion is very much evident and continues to nourish her in her daily pursuit of living.

She was in attendance at opening night, which I did not attend and gracefully accepted the long red roses and roaring ovation much deserved for this miracle icone of ballet.

For those of us not in the performing arts, we have to learn to give ourselves applause now and then and a pat of the back for our own achievements, big or small.

We all have talent to offer, and though humility is a gift that allows us to see the greatness in others, we should not forget to give thanks for whatever passion we have been blessed to have.



3 thoughts on “Spectacular Miraculous Story Behind The Ballet de Cuba

  1. David Stone

    Alicia Alonso appears to be what people can achieve in spite of great adversities and even physical “challenges” if they have the passion, ambition, and disciplined perseverance to be successful. It seems that many successful and great persons arose out of poverty, disadvantages or hardships that steeled their ambitions and their passionate drives in whatever they do. It is the old adage about how “the tempering is in the fire . . .” Alicia is one of those rather unique persons who had the “fire” to overcome adversities . . . like the “Helen Kellers” of the world.

    Your living in Paris certainly seems to afford you a life full of opportunities to enjoy the diversities of life . . . and you obviously make the effort to get out and enjoy it all as much as you can. That should be inspiring to others.

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you David for your comment about Alicia Alonso. She serves as an inspiration to all to carry on. I was very astonished to learn that she was still heading the ballet company at her age. Yes, it was her passion that sustained her.

      1. David Stone

        Cherry, while I am not a patron of ballet, from what I have read and seen on documentaries, the majority of ballerinas wind up with severe health problems. Ballet is an extremely difficult career with high risks for injuries, and many of the ballerinas wind up crippled in their forties; that is supposedly very common. . And due to their excessive type of extreme dieting to maintain their weight many of the 20+ and 40+ y/o wind up with the bone density of 80 y/o women. .

        It is amazing that Alicia was able to dance into her seventies, and then be actively involved in the ballet company into her nineties. She truly had a remarkable career.

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