A BALLET, A NATION: The National Ballet was Created by the Cuban People

A conversation with doctor Miguel Cabrera, historian of the National Ballet of Cuba, about his close relationship with a group where he has worked more than half of his life…

If there’s anyone in doubt, or needs any data on the ballet in Cuba, there is a person who can be of great help: historian Miguel Cabrera. Famous for being an open and accessible man, prove of this is the affability he showed when he receives us and answers our questions.

What has meant for you to be the historian of the National Ballet of Cuba for so long?

First, I have to tell you that it has been a great honor, because I studied history, and I had my first contact with the National Ballet of Cuba precisely in the year of its twentieth anniversary, in year 1968. Since then I started a systematic work with the company. On year 1969 we created the radio show Ballet and in 1970, the magazine Cuba in Ballet. It was a superb job, because everything was starting fresh. It was like changing into a living thing, in something useful everything that had been kept in the files of Alicia Alonso, a patrimony zealously kept by a woman with huge influence in this history, named Angela Grau.

"I worked doing the records, ordering. First I began logically with Alicia's work. But it was a multiple task. I didn't just do that in the company. I had to do a very diverse work, but basically were the things related to the history.

I faced a beautiful work, as are all the foundation works, I had to organize and establish the repertoire of the company, Alicia's career everything, and the career of the main figures of the company: like Fernando, Alberto, also the four jewels of Cuban ballet. But they also gave me the task of working in the magazine, in the radio show, of delivering lectures, of giving courses at the National School of Art, in the University… All in all to do what I consider is the most beautiful part in my life: this work of making ballet more popular that has led me from Maisí to Mantua.

 

"But when you ask me the question, I remember a recent interview to doctor Olga Portuondo, when she said that her appointing as historian had not been official, there is no ordinance that declared her historian of Santiago de Cuba, but it was rather by her own right. Something similar happened to me. There was a person working in Propaganda, that person was in charge of writing the shows; one day she stepped into my office and told me: “I have a surprise for you, and put me on a show, and in the show I was presented as: Miguel Cabrera, historian. Hence, my name appeared for the first time, as historian. I asked: What about this? And she replied: Alicia said to put it this way.

“The appointing as historian could not be more honorable if the founder of the company, the key figure has decided so. I have always been presented like that: our historian. My most important status. I have received several distinctions in Cuba and abroad, but for me that detail of seeing my name in the show in the early 70’s (and still on air) it’s something that honors me".

The history of the National Ballet of Cuba is written black on white especially thanks to your work. What has it implied for you that responsibility?

When you are set to the task of pioneering, it’s something very big. I have always believed something I repeat to myself many times, I said it when my book National Ballet of Cuba was premiered. Half century of glory, in 1998: I belong to a very prestigious company, next to people who have been supreme, and I have always thought that the shows are made, the glory nights pass by, the applauses fade into silence, flowers wither, but that fact must stay. That has been my modest work. With great passion, with almost a sickening passion for justness, to write down history as it was, without alterations.

"When I published a more recent book, named Ballet in Cuba. Historical notes, a person who right now occupies an important position in this country, phoned me, and said: that book is one of the prettiest gifts I have ever had, only you could have written it, because it has everything with everyone.  

That has always been my concern: everything with everyone.

"That makes a foundation, which is a starting point.

"I inherited something from a beloved old friend whose name is almost forgotten he is José Antonio González. He left me the foundations. I took advantage of them. But when I look at the Ballet of Cuba, I see its dancers, I see Alicia's career, that of Alberto, Fernando, and the four jewels, the three graces, the choreographers, when I see I was able to capture all that in books, I think that is a source.

"Immodesty is really bad, like fake modesty. I know I have left very valuable books, but not because I wrote them, but for the greatness it carries what I have gathered. My task has been to be next to that. What does it make me a unique historian? Well, many historians are very good, they are devoted to study the sugar industry, but have never walked into a sugar cane factory. And I have written those books from inside, I am a member of this company. I have seen those choreographers grow, those dancers. I saw that generation that began in 1968, in the summer. I gave my first lecture on September 25th, 1968 here. So since that generation, I have seen them all enter. I saw the jewels become acclaimed figures. I have seen entire generations of dancers grow. I have been the chronicler."

Which has been the contribution of the three founders of this company to the Cuban culture?

I am a very lucky person. I graduated from history, but when I came here my true university began, from Alicia's hand, Fernando and Alberto. Do you imagine the honor that such personalities believe in you? That they turn everything you have inside? Imagine that those people give you the technical, aesthetic and ethical reasons that have ballet in Cuba…

"Alicia, Fernando and Alberto are the foundations of ballet in Cuba. I struggle a lot, as outcome of my investigations, to bring together their roles in the history. It is not true (only someone who doesn’t know history would say) that Alicia is just the great dancer that Fernando is only the great teacher, that Alberto is only the great choreographer… that is a limitation on the greatness of them three.

“Can somebody say that Alberto Alonso, the director of the Ballet School of Pro Art, since 1941 until 1961 who has been teacher in the musical theater who trained Josefina Méndez and Loipa Araújo, was not also a great teacher? Fernando was also a dancer, and a person who passed on his experiences. He knew a lot about kinesiology and muscles, but he knew it mainly because he had felt it in his flesh and blood.

"And Alicia? What can we say about Alicia? Of course, the classroom was filled mainly by Fernando, but one is not only a teacher when giving a chronology or a class, but when one sets the example. And Alicia did that and even more, she did it when she made corrections to the other dancers, when she offered lessons on style…

"I believe that the most beautiful thing about this I heard it from Fernando Alonso. One of those days, when listening to those polemics of people who love gossip (I have always been in the party of those who unite), Fernando said: do you know who made the National Ballet of Cuba and the Cuban School of Ballet? They were created by the Cuban people".

A New Giselle Season at Havana’s Grand Theater Alicia Alonso

The ballet Giselle will again thrill audiences at and bring beauty to Havana’s Grand Theater with a Cuban National Ballet Company season Feb 23/25 - March 1/4.  

Choreographed by Cuba’s dance legend, Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, the shows of the ballet classic will be danced by premier dancers Anette Delgado, Viengsay Valdés and Grettel Morejón and Sadaise Arencibia. The role of Albrecht is set to be assumed by Rafael Quenedit, Patricio Revé and Raúl Abreu; while Hilarión will be danced by Ernesto Díaz, Luis Valle and Ariel Martínez. Claudia García and Chavela Riera will make their debut as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, a role who will also be danced by principals Ginett Moncho and Ely Regina Hernández.

Inspired by a German folk tale, Giselle is one of the most important pieces in the repertoire of the Cuban National Ballet Company. Cuban ballet and dance were recognized in the world scene for the first time with Giselle and Alicia Alonso as its exceptional performer.

Edited by Damian Donestevez
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Inside the Theater

This will be a new proposal of the Great Theater of Havana Alicia Alonso, since June 30 as part of the guided journeys they organize every Friday.  

This new activity of that outstanding cultural institution is part of the celebrations for its 180 years of foundation, about to turn in 2018.  

Therefore, starting this week visitors will have the opportunity, every Friday, in the first journey of the day, to know spaces and workspaces to which they usually don’t have access with the guided visits.  

In these halls that will be included in this new journey, it’s developed the entire process of preparation for the shows to be on stage. Among the spaces to be visited appear: the stage, the behind curtains, the basements, the theater’s roof and the dressing rooms. Undoubtedly, a very special attraction will be the visit to the dressing room which regularly used the mythical Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso, head of the Cuban National Ballet, during her memorable performances in that theater.  

With this new option, it’s encouraged a better approach of the public to that representative theater through its history, its performances and the traditions gathered behind its walls for over 180 years.  

Across from the Cuban Central Park, in the Prado of Havana, the Great Theater of Havana Alicia Alonso rises as one of the architectural jewels of this capital city holding great relevance for the city life. Inaugurated in 1838, as Tacon Theater, that institution is today a valuable treasure of culture and Cuban identity, as well as a landmark when spoken of history

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Meeting of Ballet Schools from Various Countries Starts in Havana

Students and teachers of ballet schools from various countries will share experiences from today in Cuba on the artistic education and the suitable development of techniques.

The International Meeting of Schools for Ballet Teaching is an event unique in the world and on this 23th time it will be held in Havana until April 19th.

The meeting will be opened at the National Theater with the Cuban School Fernando Alonso performing a piece of the classic El Corsario.

Director of the meeting Ramona de Saa will give lectures on methodology of teaching of the Cuban ballet school, along with physical trainer Jose Candia and historian of the National ballet of Cuba (BNC) Miguel Cabrera.

This 23rd event will be dedicated to historical leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro, who died last November, and who, according to De Saa, played a key role in the development of ballet in Cuba and gave the Cuban National School Fernando Alonso its current headquarters.

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Alicia Alonso Willing to Strengthen Ballet in Latin America

Havana, Apr 6 (Prensa Latina) Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso said thar today it is a priority to increase the presence of the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) in Latin American countries and show the skills of the region in ballet.

Alonso just returned from a tour across Costa Rica and El Salvador, where the BNC performed under her direction and was given the Doctor Honoris Causa degrees at the universities named after the two countries.

Presidents Luis Guillermo Solis, from Costa Rica, and Salvador Sanchez Ceren, from El Salvador, attended the BNC performances starred by Viengsay Valdes, Grettel Morejon, Sadaise Arencibia, Anette Delgado, Dani Hernandez, Rafael Quenedit, Patricio Reve and Raul Abreu, amid others.

During a press conference at the BNC headquarters in Havana, Alonso appreciated all the expressions of gratitude given to her and the BNC, which in her view moved the audience in the two countries with works like the second act of Giselle and a piece of the classic Don Quixote.

The BNC will perform at Mella Theater in Havana city next Saturday and Sunday, during La Huella de España Festival, an event chaired by Alonso.

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El Salvador Grants Award to Cuban Prima Ballerina Alicia Alonso

Alicia travelled to the Central American country from Costa Rica, where she received a National University Honorary Doctorate.

Salvadorean President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has presented Cuban prima ballerina assoluta, Alicia Alonso, with the “José Simeón Cañas” Slave Liberator Order.

This is the Central American country’s first recognition to Alonso, who is “one of the most important personalities in the history of dance and the top classical ballet figure in the Iberian American world.” Alonso returns to the nation’s capital, San Salvador, 68 years after her first visit in 1949, shortly after founding the Alicia Alonso Ballet, which later became Cuba’s National Ballet Company.

The prestigious Cuban dance ensemble arrived in El Salvador earlier this week, following successful presentations in Costa Rica, where Alonso was honored by that country’s Legislative Assembly and received a National University Honorary Doctorate.

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Alicia Alonso to Receive Honorary Degree in Costa Rica

San Jose, Mar 22 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso received here today the Doctor Honoris Causa degree from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), for her important work and legacy to the world classical dance.

The University Council of the UCR, the highest entity of that high educational center, agreed on Thursday, March 16th, to grant the honorary degree to the famous 96-year-old dancer, who danced until the age of 70. She founded and directed the Cuban National Ballet, one of the most prestigious companies in the world.

At the proposal of the Faculty of Fine Arts, the University Council stated that Alicia Alonso's contribution to Cuban and world dance has allowed us to rethink this art from its cultural importance and its influence in the construction of the Latin American identity. This has generated an extraordinary impact and unique contributions that have been widely recognized worldwide.

The famous Cuban dancer also 'boosted and inspired the Cuban Ballet School, which is characterized by a new style and a new methodology within the classical dance. Thanks to her extraordinary pedagogical work, several generations of excellent dancers have arisen'.

Alicia arrived in San Jose on Monday, March 20th, and will be here until Sunday, March 26th, along with fifty members of the Cuban company. They will perform at the 'Melico Salazar' Popular Theater in San Jose on March 25th and 26th (double show).

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Cuban Baillarina Marta Garcia Dies in Spain

Famous Cuban Baillarina Marta García, 68, died today in a hospital from lung cancer, according to sources close to the artist.

García was born on Feb.7, 1949 in Guanabacoa, Havana and her long career made her one of the main pillars of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (BNC) company.

With less than 5 years old the Best Artist Award given by a popular TV program at that time, when she sang, acted and danced.

In 1956 she starts in the Academia de Ballet Alicia Alonso located at then called Teatro Radiocentro (today renamed Yara).

Ten years later she perfoms her first presentation in Las Amigas de Gisselle;and Danza Española and Mazurca from the El lago de los cisnes.

With thel BNC she travels the world and performed all the main roles of the great classic ballet repertoire like La fille mar gardée, Giselle and El lago de los cisnes, Don Quijote y La bayadera.

Less than two years ago she published her memoirs in Spain.

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