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Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Giselle cubaine a passé trois jours en France

by Muriel Steinmetz.

The Cuban "Giselle" Spent Three Days in France

Translated Wednesday 28 April 2010, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The classical dancer Alicia Alonso, ninety years of age, just presented, with her company, the ballet that made her world-famous in 1943.

At 90 years of age, Alicia Alonso remains the uncontested queen of classical dance. After London, and before New York, she was in France last weekend, in Enghien-lès-Bains [1]. On Friday she arrived at the Art Center, erect and dignified, on the arm of her companion Pedro Simon, director of the Cuban Museum of Dance. The prima ballerina assoluta of Cuban dance, who is now almost totally without the sense of sight, wore a pink fuchsia scarf on her bound-up hair. One sensed in her something that was both real and inaccessible, something mysterious. "I love life, and I’m dancing within myself", she declared in her opening remarks to the press.

A work drawn from the text of Théophile Gautier

She came to present her version of Giselle, the celebrated opera-ballet drawn from the libretto of Théophile Gautier, based on a lyric poem by the German author Heinrich Heine. It was in interpreting this role, in 1943, that she became a celebrity overnight. In that year, on 2 November, the very young soloist, born in Havana and who had studied with the New York City Ballet, had without warning to replace the ballerina Alicia Markova, who was ill. It was delightfully strange to see this Cuban with eyes like burning coals, with lovely breasts and strong thighs, assume the role of a blond peasant girl from the banks of the Rhine. "I had to dance the madness of a simple person, not a modern madness, said Alicia Alonso. Giselle is a woman of the earth. "There was a challenge, and I love accepting a challenge." Fully aware of what was at stake, she rehearsed for 24 hours straight. "After the performance", she pointedly added, "I was seated in my loge, not yet understanding what had happened. A famous collector came to congratulate me. He picked up my ballet shoes and said to me: ’These are mine!’ They were covered with blood. My feet were on fire"

A radically new style, an insane grace

Alicia Alonso had thus renewed this classical masterwork, imposing upon it a radically new style, an insane grace, at once sensual, earthy, and physically direct. She has an instinct for the meaning of a concrete situation, far from any dreamy romanticism. In her, there’s a memory of Africa, passing through Germany along the way.

She subsequently danced all the great roles of the classic repertory, from Sleeping Beauty to Carmen, not forgetting Swan Lake. Despite all this, nothing was simple for her. Already at 19 years of age, she was beginning to lose her sight. She danced anyway. She invented tricks to keep track of where she was on stage. Her partners, wearing colored clues, had to be sure to find their exact position on stage.

In 1948, she founded the Ballet Alicia Alonso, which later took the name of the National Ballet of Cuba. She still directs this company today. And the support of the Cuban state has never been lacking.

[1At the Art Center, and at the Casino Theater. For information, dial 01 30 10 88 59.


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