Alicia Alonso

Biography of Alicia Alonso, Cuban dancer and choreographer. She is the greatest ballet figure in Latin America and one of the great dance myths.

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Alicia Alonso is the legendary dancer of classical dance, the pride of all Cubans.

She stood out internationally for the great beauty of her performances.

Childhood and family of Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso was born on December 21, 1920, in Havana, Cuba. She was baptized as Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez del Hoyo.

Only a year earlier, Margot Fontaine (1919-1991), a quintessential symbol of classical ballet, had been born in England.

La Habana
The Old Square of Havana was designed as a public space in 1559. Credit: Wikipedia

Her parents were Spanish. Alicia Alonso was the youngest of four siblings: Blanca, Elizardo, Antonio and herself.

In 1929, when she was nine years old, Alicia started ballet classes at the “Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical”. Her sister Blanca also enrolled in these classes.

Youth and marriage of Alicia Alonso

In 1935, in ballet classes taught by the “Sociedad Pro Arte Musical“, Ernestina de la Caridad Martínez del Hoyo met Fernando Alonso Rayneri (born in Havana, on December 27, 1914).

Fernando Alicia
Fernando Alonso dancing with his wife Alicia. Credit: web ecured.cu

The young ballet student married Fernando Alonso. Since then, Ernestina Martínez del Hoyo was renamed Alicia Alonso.

In 1937 they went to New York, in search of artistic opportunities that did not exist in Cuba.

There in the United States, Alicia Alonso continued her ballet studies under the direction of Anatole Vilzak and Ludmila Shollar.

At the same time, the young dancer Fernando Alonso danced with the Mikhail Mordkin company, at the same time that she was part of the choirs of some Broadway musicals.

At age 18, in 1938, Alicia Alonso was already a dancer who stood out for her grace and elegance. She was chosen to dance in the musical “Great Lady” in New York.

Almost immediately, in 1939, Alicia Alonso was chosen to dance in another successful musical, also in New York, “Stars in your eyes.”

Alicia Alonso in the American Ballet of New York

In 1940, Alicia Alonso successfully passed auditions with Fernando to join a new company, the “American Ballet Theater” in New York.

There they completed their training, participated in productions directed by leading choreographers of the time, and studied the traditional and contemporary repertoire.

As prima ballerina of the “American Ballet Theater”, Alicia Alonso had the opportunity to work with the greatest ballet choreographers of the 20th century.

At that time, Alicia had to undergo eye surgery. This vision problem plagued her throughout her life and eventually left her almost blind.

November 2, 1940 marked an important milestone in Alicia Alonso’s career. That day she had to replace the great British dancer Alicia Markova, in the play “Giselle”.

Alicia Alonso Giselle
Alicia Alonso and Reyes Fernández in “’ Giselle “(1940). Credit: web elcultural.com Photo: Anne Marie Heinrich

Since then, Alicia Alonso has become world famous with the character of the innocent deluded peasant girl, in the beautiful romantic ballet in two acts, called “Giselle”.

At the American Ballet, Alicia Alonso recreated leading roles in Anthony Tudor’s “Undertow” and George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations.”

In 1948, Alicia Alonso replaced with great success the prima ballerina Nora Kaye-Ross (also born in 1920) who, due to illness, could not act in the play “Fall River Legend” by Agnes De Mille, Cecil’s niece. From Mille.

Alicia Alonso and Fernando return to Cuba

The opportunity was presented to the young couple Alonso, in 1948, when the “American Ballet Theater” in New York had to cancel its season for financial reasons.

The Alonso family (Alicia, her husband Fernando and her brother-in-law Alberto) managed to form a group of 40 members, 16 of them Cubans, to perform in Havana under the name of “Ballet Alicia Alonso“.

Alicia Alonso
Alicia Alonso was an indisputable figure in dance. Credit: web beat.es October 18, 2019

Since 1959, when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, this company was called “Ballet Nacional de Cuba“.

The couple formed by Alicia Alonso and Igor Yushkévich was one of the best ballet couples. Both participated together in the “Russian Ballets” in Monte Carlo in 1955.

Between 1955 and 1959, Alicia danced every year with the Monte Carlo “Ballets Russes” as a guest star.

The triumphal tours of Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso’s fame as a prima ballerina and the fact that she was Cuban made her the first American representative to dance with the Bolshoi and the Kirov in the theaters of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. That was in 1957 and 1958 respectively.

Alicia Alonso continued doing artistic tours in Europe, Asia, the United States and throughout America.

She danced as a guest star in the “Paris Opera Ballet“, with the “Royal Danish Ballet” in Copenhagen, with the “Bolshoi” and with many other companies.

Opera Paris
The Paris opera ballet has its origins in 1661. Credit: web medici.tv

Her most remembered and successful performances were:

  • The many versions of Giselle
  • The “Grand pas de quattre
  • The sleeping beauty of the forest
  • La fille mal gardé

These works were performed at the “Paris Opera“, at the “San Carlo Theater in Naples“, at the “Vienna Opera“, at the “Prague Opera“, at “La Scala in Milan“.

The extraordinary artistic quality of Alicia Alonso can be seen in the spectacular stages that welcomed her and also in the notable partners who accompanied her in her performances.

  • Igor Youskevitch (Ukrainian), for 11 years (1948-1959).
  • Azari Plisetsky (Muscovite), for 9 years (1963-1972).
  • Jorge Esquivel (Cuban), for 16 years (1970-1986).
  • Orlando Salgado (Cuban), for 24 years (1971-1995).

In 1975, Fernando Alonso divorced Alicia Alonso to contract a second marriage with the Cuban dancer Aida Villoch.

Fernando Alonso was a legend of world dance. He passed away at the age of 98, on July 27, 2013.

Death of Alicia Alonso

The great dancer Alicia Alonso, Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez del Hoyo, died in Havana on October 17, 2019. She had turned 98 years old.

Alicia Alonso old
Alicia Alonso is a popular symbol in Cuba. Credit: web bbc.com/mundo

Alicia Alonso was famous for her choreography

From 1950, when she was 30 years old, until 2006, Alicia Alonso dedicated her great talent to creating brilliant choreographies for ballet.

So for more than 50 years, in addition to being an exceptional dance performer, she enriched music with her wonderful choreographic creations.

Among her most notable creations, the following are especially remembered:

  • La fille mal gardée” for the National Ballet of Cuba (1952).
  • Choreographic version of the ballet “Giselle” (1972).
  • Grand pas de quatre” for the Paris Opera House (1973).
  • The sleeping beauty of the forest“, with music by Tchaikovski (1974).
  • The ballet “Tula” inspired by the life of the Cuban poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1998)
  • Shakespeare and her masks” and “Romeo and Juliet” (2003).
  • Pictures in an exhibition“, ballet inspired by the music of Mussorgski (2006).
  • Naked light of love“, work for the Italian dancer Carla Fracci (2006).

Alicia Alonso was recognized worldwide

Alicia Alonso’s trajectory in the world of ballet lasted more than 50 years. In those years, she received 122 national distinctions and 177 international distinctions.

Alicia Alonso received the title Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Havana (in 1973) and from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (in 1998).

In 1998, the Círculo de Bellas Artes, from Spain, awarded Alicia Alonso a Gold Medal.

She received other national dance awards in: Cuba (1998- 1999-2000-2006), France (1998-2003-2005), Spain (1998-2001-2003), Unesco (1999-2002), Cuba (1999), Germany (2000), Great Britain (2001), France (2002), Poland (2002), Mexico (2002), Italy (2003), Ecuador (2005)

In 2003, Alicia Alonso received in Paris the Order of the Legion of Honor, Official Degree, granted by the Government of France.

Alicia Alonso received in 2008 the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, awarded by the Council of Ministers of Spain.

In 2010, the 90th anniversary of the birth of Alicia Alonso was celebrated around the world. Both in Cuba and in numerous countries, emotional tributes were paid to her.

The Bolshoi Ballet Theater in Moscow organized the Gala “Viva Alicia” for Alicia Alonso. The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation awarded her a Diploma of Recognition for her contribution to world art and culture.

In Spain, the “Paseo Alicia Alonso” was inaugurated in the Rivas-Vaciamadrid Municipality, in the Community of Madrid.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

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