|Alicia Alonso, who during her 88 years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher contributed with her brilliant art to raising the prestige of her homeland to the highest rank around the world, died at the CIMEQ Hospital, in Havana, at 11:00 am on the morning of Thursday, October 17, 2019, two months and three days before reaching 99 years of age.
She founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Havana 71 years ago, today known as the National Ballet of Cuba. As its director and main figure, she has been an inspiration and guide for the training of several generations of Cuban dancers, with her own style that has conquered a prominent place in international ballet.
“Alicia Alonso has gone and left an enormous void but unbeatable legacy,” the president of the Republic of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, wrote on Twitter.
She was born on December 21, 1920, in the Redención area, a popular neighbourhood of Marianao, in the modest home of Antonio Martínez Arredondo, a veteran army lieutenant, and Ernestina del Hoyo y Lugo, a skilled dressmaker. From a very young age the illustrious dancer found in dance the vocation that would guide her whole life.
Her stellar path, that began in 1931 at the Ballet School of the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical de La Habana, was forced to take alternate routes abroad due to the low level, prejudices and elitist character of ballet in Cuba.
Her professional artistic orbit was varied, spanning Broadway musical comedies, the Ballet Caravan, the American Ballet Theatre in New York, the Washington Ballet and the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo, with colossal triumphs as a guest star of the most significant companies, festivals and galas of that artistic genre throughout the world.
Her exceptional status as prima ballerina assoluta was not due to a capricious hierarchical reputation, but to the mastery of a vast repertoire of 134 titles that encompassed the great works of the romantic-classical tradition and creations of contemporary choreographers.
When on November 28, 1995, at the Teatro Massini in Faenza, Italy, she gave the final performance of her career as a dancer, she had already managed to establish a hard-to-match record, not only for the length of her time on pointe, but for the level of excellence with which she danced.
But Alonso’s greatness lies not only in having represented Cuba triumphantly in 65 countries, receiving countless thunderous ovations, from Helsinki to Buenos Aires, from New York to Tokyo and Melbourne, but in having put at the service of her homeland all the honours she received, among them 266 international awards and distinctions, 225 national awards and 69 choreographic creations — romantic, classic and contemporary, which she did, returning them as fruits of the labour that she had always seen as a modest contribution not only to Cuba’s culture, but to world dance culture:
– Honorary doctorate in art from the University of Havana, the Superior Institute of Arts of Cuba, the Technical University of Valencia, Spain, and the University of Guadalajara, Mexico.
– Order of the Aztec Eagle, awarded by the Mexican state in 1982.
– Commendation of Isabel Catholic Order, given by King of Spain Juan Carlos in 1993.
– Dance Foundation named for her, along with the University Institute of Dance “Alicia Alonso” affiliated with the Rey Juan Carlos University.
– Honourary Member of the Association of Stage Directors of Spain (ADE).
– Gold medal from the Circulo de Bellas Artes of Madrid, in 1998.
– National Hero of Labour in Cuba.
– Order of José Martí, the highest award granted by the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba.
– Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba, appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002.
– UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, invested in Paris.
– Legion of Honour, awarded by the President of France in 2003.
– Iréne Lidova Lifetime Achievement Award presented in Cannes in 2005.
– Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts awarded by the Spanish government, presented by the King of Spain.
– ALBA Prize for the Arts, from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, in 2012
– Title of World Dance Ambassador, awarded by UNESCO in 2017.
More than half a century ago when she returned to Cuba with her foreign honours, she did not hesitate to declare:
“All my hopes and dreams consist in not returning to the world representing another country, but carrying our own flag and our art. My desire is that there is no one left who does not shout: Bravo for Cuba! when I dance. If I cannot fulfill that dream, sadness will be the reward of my efforts.”
That patriotic position led her to found, together with Fernando and Alberto Alonso, the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company, on October 28, 1948, known since 1950 as the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC). It had the historical task of training the first generation of dancers within the technical, aesthetic and ethical principles of the world-renowned Cuban ballet school of today.
For 71 years, especially after the triumph of the Revolution, she was able, with a firm hand, to place the BNC among the most prestigious companies worldwide, to found a teaching system that today encompasses the entire island and is the guarantee of Cuban ballet, as well as stimulating an internationalist collaboration movement in the field of ballet in Cuba that has extended to almost fifty countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
It is Alicia, guide and mentor, who with her gift of bringing people together, was able to convene in 26 International Ballet Festivals in Havana the most famous dance personalities, in a celebration of art and friendship. And this is the same Alicia that we have seen delivering the best teaching, as well as performances of the highest calibre, be it on rustic platforms, in public squares, factories, schools and military units, aware that the people, whoever they may be, always ascend and never descend.
Those who had the privilege of being by her side, also knew the extraordinary human being that she was, who by courage and iron discipline was never defeated by physical failures, changes in fortune or misunderstandings.
It was our Alicia who, while bathed in cosmopolitanism, longed to hear the songs of our roosters, to taste and smell the salt spray of her Malecón in Havana, appreciated the butterfly and coral as most exquisite, or was fascinated with the scientific advances and the mysteries of the cosmos.
“A tenacious force, frenetic, heroic — shooting at illness and against time — toward untiring perfection,” as Juan Marinello rightly defined her.