Bolshoi celebrates Cuba’s peerless ballerina Alonso

MOSCOW, (Reuters Life!) – Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre  celebrated the 90th birthday of Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso with  a gala performance this week of Russian classics performed by  her pupils and countrymen.

Alicia Alonso

The Havana-native, who turned 90 last December, received a  standing ovation at the packed theatre last Tuesday night where  she was honoured alongside Russian dancers — such as Vladimir  Vasiliev and Azari Plisetsky — who have worked with her over a  career that has spanned more than six decades.

“I really feel like Alicia in Wonderland,” Alonso gushed on  stage after the performance.

In her youth, Alonso studied ballet with choreographers  Michel Fokine, George Balanchine and Leonide Massine, and later  brought their ballets to the Cuban National Ballet company,  which she founded in 1948.

On her 17th visit to Russia since 1958, Alonso praised the  country’s dancers for innovating partnered ballets, with lifts  and acrobatics for male dancers, which she said did not exist in  the United States or Cuba when she graced the stage in the  1940s. Scenes from Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Coppelia are among  the classics adapted by Alonso and danced for her during the  gala show by eight Cuban dancers from her troupe.

“What’s different about the performance is that it’s done by  Cubans. The school of dance is always the same, but the troupes  are different,” Alonso said proudly.

Joining the Cuban dancers on stage, the Bolshoi’s principal  dancers Svetlana Zakharova and Andrey Uvarov gave a passionate  rendition of Carmen Suite, choreographed by Alicia Alonso’s  husband Alberto, who accompanied her to the gala evening.      Alonso, who suffers from life-long visual problems watched  the performance bleary eyed, glowed with proud joy when former  Bolshoi star Vasiliev praised her company as a “troupe with  immense potential”.

It was with Vasiliev at her side in her role as Giselle that  Alonso caused a stir in the ballet world in the 1980s, dancing a  title role written for a much younger woman and combining her  old world elegant style with Vasiliev’s brash, youthful power.

“It is we, who need to learn male ballet dancing from the  Cubans now. All thanks to Alicia, who founded classical ballet  in Cuba, where it was previously non-existent before,” Vasiliev  said on stage, presenting Alonso with a huge bouquet of flowers.

The Cuban ballet’s gala performance marked the close of the  Russian Bolshoi season until October.

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