Tradition and Mirror Images / Regina Coyula

Alicia Alonso
Alicia Alonso

I stopped having any contact with the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) almost thirty years ago. That experience was marked by some close friendships, affection and oversized hatreds. But reading “BNC’s Dancers Reveal a Long Tradition” brought me back to an Orwellian 1984 when a group of dancers — all young people at the time — staged an attempted protest. Basically the issues were the same as those being raised in writing today: poor lodging, transportation and food during international tours. In addition the dancers of that time, who “we are now longer the same people,” also complained of favoritism, which was a factor in choosing who would go on tour. Though everyone would have preferred to practice internationalism in Europe, it was the era of friendship with Nicaragua. And then there were the roles. The principal ones were also under fire, since many of them were cast based on personal rapport rather than on merit.

Among the non-conformists there were excellent professional leaders in both the company and the UJC (Union of Communist Youth), who were treated badly by the BNC. The atmosphere was tense in classrooms, dressing rooms and behind the scenes. Situations were neutralized with threats or favors, which explains the anonymous nature of the current complaint.

Certainly our dancers live better than most Cubans, but if we compare them to their counterparts in world-class companies — a league which includes the BNC — they are malnourished, exploited and involved in shady dealings. Everything is done to increase the stipend and better the quality of life. Because for many years dancers and maitres were able to work anywhere in the world without having to hand over a substantial portion of their earnings to the Ministry of Culture — a gift courtesy of its prima ballerina assoluta — the BNC opened a pathway to exile.

Nothing seems to have changed, nor do I think it will, but it is my heart’s desire that the young people who authored the letter of complaint in 2013 might be able to fight for their artistic and labor rights without the need for anonymity.

It was well-known within the BNC that Alicia Alonso and Fidel Castro were mirror images of each other. Each ruled at whim, as in a royal court. Each was surrounded by sycophants, eager to fawn and even to play the fool. Some did it out of conviction, others in hopes of gaining advantage. Subordinates maintained a love-hate relationship with the matriarchal-patriarchal figure. But woe to anyone who dared question a decision or challenge their leaderships! It was embarrassing to see how many of the people who mocked her backstage would file through the diva’s dressing room after a disastrous performance, or her office on the following day, to assure her that she had been magnificent, divine (though never a “bitch.” No, that would have been very coarse). At the time Jorge Esquivel was still her partenaire. With Orlando Salgado it would have been even worse.

My personal relationship with Alicia was decent enough until Fidel Castro gave a reception for the BNC after a successful international tour. Bruzón, one of Castro’s personal bodyguards, approached me to say that Fidel wanted to meet and chat with some young dancers. I rounded up a few, including some who inevitably felt uncomfortable, and drove them to a small establishment.

Castro was talking to Alicia, her husband, Sonia Calero and Alberto Alonso when I burst in, preceded by Bruzón and this insolent group. As directed by the bodyguard, I introduced them one-by-one to Fidel, who went about asking them questions. At one point Alicia’s thumb, painted “pink pearl,” found its way into my shoulder, a gesture which foretold of problems. “He already knows them,” she told me in a tone of voice that matched the finger in my shoulder.

The next day my boss was called into Carlos Aldana’s office. At the time he was the heir apparent and was “dealing” with ideological issues, in other words party-related matters. Alicia had called him to demand my ouster. Aldana realized it was just a tantrum; my boss was aware of everything there was to know and backed me up. But in light of complaints from “the old lady,” I was not allowed to have further dealings with the company. Almost all the rebels of that period now live outside of Cuba, so it does not behoove me to lie.

For some scatterbrain who plugs along cluelessly, in the same way that Aldana used to deal with ideological issues, I “dealt” with the country’s dance movement. It’s the stuff of G2.*

Regina Coyula
*Translator’s note: Also known as DI, an acronym for Intelligence Directorate, the main state intelligence agency of the Cuban government.

Diario de Cuba, December 1, 2013