Alicia Alonso: “Ballet doesn’t have to be elitist”


Kevin Griffin (The Vancouver Sun) recently interviewed Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina assoluta and director of the Cuban National Ballet, which performed Don Quixote at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, Canada, last week. Here are excerpts with a link to the full review below:

Classical ballet is often seen as an elitist art form. But ballet has flourished in Cuba, a country with a socialist regime dedicated to treating everyone equally. How has it been possible for the National Ballet of Cuba to thrive in a communist country over the past 50 years?

Ballet does not have to be an elitist art.  If large segments of the public have at their reach a good ballet show, they will greatly enjoy it. Cuba has worked for years to attract new audiences, through lectures, conferences and demonstration courses in workplaces, schools and even in army units. We also have television and radio shows that support and spread the art of ballet. In Cuba, ballet is a popular art, which has large audiences in all sectors of society. Furthermore, since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, the government has supported it completely.

In 1959, you supported Fidel Castro and the revolution. At the time that was a very courageous act. You could have stayed in the United States and continued your incredible international career. Instead, you returned to Cuba. Why did you do that?

Due to very deep personal convictions. I felt and I still feel obliged to contribute to the development of the culture of the country where I was born. It is a moral principle, to be aware, at all times, of what your moral duty is. [. . .]

What distinguishes the dancers of the Compañía Nacional de Cuba, from dancers from other companies?

All major companies have their own personality, which is formed by their school, their artistic line and the idiosyncrasy of their dancers and choreographers. Ours is a national company, formed by Cubans all from the same school. It’s up to the audience and critics to discover their characteristics.

I can tell you that they come from a strong classical heritage, and we care very much to keep the style of each piece. The dancers perform, with a high degree of drama. These are young people with strong technical backgrounds who cherish very much the joy of dance.

During the U.S. tour in 2003, a number of your dancers defected – as they did in Montreal last year. How does that make you feel?

Those things happen sometimes, and it is very sad. From an early age, these young people receive free training, are trained with love and care. It is expected of them to join a tradition, to hand in their efforts to the company of their country, which helped them to become artists.

Some, very few, go on to sell their work elsewhere. We worry very much about it because most of the time they are lost as artists. Very seldom do they keep artistic careers. But notice that these defections are covered with unprecedented propaganda. In all companies in the world, there are dancers who leave the group, sometimes inappropriately. But when it happens to the National Ballet of Cuba, they make it a media event, and sometimes even try to give it a political meaning. [. . .]

For full interview, see

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