The Final Death of Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso, director of the National Ballet of Cuba, poses for a photo in New York in 1998. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | 17 October 2019 — She had already died many times on stage: nicely as  Giselle; in the role of the swan of the lake; or stabbed like Carmen. But this time it has been the interpreter of these fatal characters, Alicia Alonso, who has disappeared from the stage of life.

Born in Havana on 21 December 1920, she was baptized as Alicia Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez del Hoyo. She started dancing as a child when she began her ballet studies at the Pro-Arte Musical Society. She was first introduced to the public as Alicia Martínez when at age 15 she married Fernando Alonso and acquired her husband’s last name as a stage name.

Shee founded the American Ballet Theater in the ’40s of the last century where she was one of its most prominent figures. In 1941 she had to leave it to receive treatment for the problems she suffered inwithher eyesight, problems that later left her almost blind.

Upon returning to the Ballet Theater in 1943 she replaced Alicia Markova in the lead role of  Giselle. The resounding success of her interpretation, full of nuances, was a turningpoint in her career and marked the birth of the legend she became as the years went by.  The character of Carmen was another that marked a moment of success as well as her time on the American stage in 1975, in the company of Jorge Esquivel.

Next year she would have celebrated her 100th birthday, and she had one of the longest careers in classical ballet, almost nine decades. In her dance she combined mastery and talent with an exquisite interpretation of several classics, teaching and choreography. In addition, she led the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) until last February, at which time she delegated her position to the dancer and actress Viengsay Valdés.

Twentieth century ballet was marked by her imprint but her figure in culture has been very controversial. Artists such as Loipa Araújo, Aurora Bosch, Mirta Plá, Josefina Méndez, known as the “four jewels,” and later Rosario Suárez were among the main dancers who, in Alicia’s glory years, had to wait for permission from the general director to assume certain roles that she herself monopolized. For her work she was recognized in a unique category held by her alone, that of  Prima Ballerina Assoluta

Beginning in 1948 Alonso directed  the company that she founded with her husband Fernando Alonso under the name of Alicia Alonso’s Ballet but that later became in the BNC after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The Colombian Ministry of Culture regretted the death of the emblematic dancer on its Twitter account and stressed that her “love and work for the art” made her “the Latin American silhouette that best represented the expressive strength and interpretative delicacy of classical dance.”

Miguel Díaz Canel, recently appointed as president of the republic and in these moments on an official visit in Mexico, said that Alicia Alonso “leaves a huge void” among Cubans but also leaves “an insurmountable legacy.”

Throughout her life and work Alicia Alonso was what the official discourse catalogs as an artist “faithful to the Revolution” and that is why her death is a cultural event but also a matter of national politics.

The BNC’s prima ballerina Grettel Morejón wrote on her Facebook page: “It’s a sad day. Alicia Alonso has died. But she will live in the dance. The physical life of a woman ends; the endless legend begins.”

In honor of her career she received several distinctions, awards and recognitions from many latitudes. In Cuba she received the National Dance Prize, but beyond her homeland she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Circle of Fine Arts in Madrid, in France the Legion of Honor, and in Mexico the  Order The Aztec Eagle. In addition to these awards for her work on stage, she was distinguished by UNESCO as a World Ambassador for Dance and Goodwill.


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