Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, El Malecón, oldtimers, salsa and cigars: Cuba’s clichés are omnipresent, maybe due to the fact that most people haven’t had the chance to visit the socialist republic.
Cuba has always promoted sports. Fidel Castro once said that sports should be “the right of the people”, not the right of the wealthy. Baseball is by far the most popular sport, but Cubans also like football, basketball, volleyball, and athletics. Cuba is a dominant force in amateur boxing, regularly achieving high medal tallies in international competitions.
Cuba’s most important artistic exports, music and dance, are not limited to salsa, son and rumba. Ballet is very popular in Cuba. The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is one of the best ballet schools in the world. It was founded in 1948 by the celebrated Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso and her first husband, Fernando. The performance level of its dancers is very high. It is often said that the Cuban company is a fusion of Russian technique, Spanish soul, and Afro-Caribbean vigour.
ALICIA ALONSO, THE CUBAN PRIMA BALLERINA WHO CONQUERED THE WORLD
Alicia Alonso (93) is a world-famous Cuban ballerina highly regarded for her convincing portrayals of leading roles in the great works of classical and Romantic ballet, especially Giselle and Carmen.
Alonso took flamenco and ballet lessons in her childhood in Havana. At the age of 17, she enrolled in the School of American Ballet in New York City. She joined George Balanchine’s Ballet Caravan in 1939 but moved to the newly formed Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre) in 1940. After one year she was forced to leave because of eye problems (a few years later she lost her eyesight). Alonso returned to Ballet Theatre in 1943 and danced the lead in Giselle, remaining with the company for five years. She then began to tour as a guest dancer, often with partner Igor Youskevitch, and in 1948 founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Cuba, through which she became known for her artistry as a choreographer.
THE FIRST WESTERN DANCER TO PERFORM IN THE SOVIET UNION
Over the next 14 years Alonso danced with many companies, including the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1955 to 1959. In 1957 she became the first Western dancer invited to perform in the Soviet Union. After Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba in 1959, her ballet company was renamed Ballet Nacional de Cuba, with Alonso remaining as its director. Unesco awarded her the Pablo Picasso Medal, its award for notable contributions to arts or culture, in 1999. Today, at the age of 94, Alicia Alonso still teaches at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Alicia Alonso and her former husband Fernando Alonso succeeded in transforming ballet into a revolutionary art, popularizing a discipline, which before then had been almost exclusive to the white upper-classes. Idolized by her people, she performed on stage well into her seventies and today, in her nineties, continues to direct the National Ballet of Cuba.
HORIZONTES, A TRIBUTE TO CUBAN BALLET
The film Horizontes by Eileen Hofer will be presented at the Festival del film Locarno on 7 August 2015 in the category Panorama Suisse. It presents a selection of Swiss films that were or will be released as premieres nationally or internationally in the course of this year, such as festival successes, audience favorites and films that have not yet been released in theaters.
Horizontes was shot in Havana, Cuba. From run-down rehearsal rooms to to the legendary stages of Havana’s Grand Theater, Amanda and Viengsay dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the demands of classical ballet. Their every step and aspiration echo the great achievements of their predeccessor Alicia Alonso “prima ballerina assoluta” still invincibile, even at 90.
At times frightful, at times outstanding, Alicia Alonso in my eyes is one of a kind: one of the best dancers in the world, a genius in all her rigor, comparable to a Maurice Béjart or Yves Saint Laurent in the world of fashion,” says director Eileen Hofer. “This woman has accomplished the unthinkable by dancing – first with limited vision, then almost blind – throughout her 60 – year long career. Her incessant determination has inspired dancers such as Viengsay Valdès and Amanda de Jesús Pérez Duarte – the two other protagonists of my film – and even beyond the confines of ballet and the borders of Cuba, she has become a universal example for courage and achievement.”
THREE CUBAN WOMEN WHO DEDICATE THEIR LIFE TO BALLET
(Above) One of the main three characters of the film Horizontes, A Tribute To Cuban Ballet: Amanda de Jesús Pérez Duarte, 14, a young and aspiring ballet dancer, has dedicated all her efforts into preparing for her exam, the first step towards being accepted into Alicia Alonso’s ballet company.
(Above) Amanda’s parents gave up their jobs and house in the provinces to move to the capital, where the family now lives in a small run-down one-bedroom apartment in Havana Vieja. They firmly believe in their daughter’s talent and are prepared to do anything to see Amanda succeed as a classical dancer.
(Above) Viengsay Valdés has been dancing at the heart of the National Ballet of Cuba for almost 20 years. Today, she is one of the ballet company’s four star dancers and one of the few whose name is recognized the world over.
(Above) Viengsay dances in front of Alicia Alonso. She has already achieved the status young Amanda dreams of one day attaining. Viengsay dazzles audiences with her technical brilliance and her interpretation skills.
(Above) Alicia Alonso’s splendor still radiates throughout the world of ballet today. Even now at the age of ninety, she continues to encourage the dreams of young dancers who seek to follow in her footsteps.
(Above) Film poster of Horizontes (2015), a film directed by Eileen Hofer. Cinematography by Grégory Bindschedler. Music by Julien Painot and Ladislav Agabekov.
VIDEO: HORIZONTES, A TRIBUTE TO CUBAN BALLET (TRAILER)
INTERVIEW WITH FILM DIRECTOR EILEEN HOFER
VIDEO: ALICIA ALONSO, PARA QUE GISELE NO MUERA (in Spanish)
Photos of the film: Courtesy of Intermezzo Films
Biography source (Alicia Alonso): Britannica
Website of the film Horizontes
Website of Eileen Hofer