Queen Alicia of Havana
Cuba is theoretically a republic but where ballet is concerned it is indisputably a monarchy, ruled by the iron will of 86-year-old prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso. Although her chauffeured dark blue Lancia flies no official flag its licence plate, “Cuba HVX 789,” is as notable as that of any high-ranking government official.
The International Ballet Festival of Havana, established in 1960 and held biennially since 1974, is like an extended general audience during which luminaries of the dance world flock to the Cuban capital to pay homage to Queen Alicia and the marvel of her Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The festival’s 20th edition was no exception.
Everywhere Alonso goes crowds gather. Her arrival in the theatre for each performance is greeted with rapturous applause. Visiting dancers jockey to have their photograph taken with the ballet world’s ranking living legend. Beyond this dizzy apotheosis, the festival is an extraordinary, intensive exercise in cultural exchange. Dancers and choreographers scrutinize each other’s work. Critics confer – and sometimes demur. The enthusiastic Cuban audiences – “enthusiastic” is an understatement – mostly deprived of regular exposure to ...