- Shakespeare y sus Máscaras, o Romeo y Julieta
Shakespeare y sus Máscaras (Shakespeare and His Masks) is director and choreographer Alicia Alonso's most recent encounter with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but the play is not new to her or to Cuba. Alonso has danced the part of Juliet in both American and Cuban interpretations of the ballet, and the play is well known to Cubans not only because it has been performed in Cuba as both a play and a ballet, but also because it is regularly taught in tenth-grade Cuban classrooms. Although independence from outside influence is a point of national pride in Cuba, another point of national pride is the high level of cultural literacy, and Shakespeare, Alicia Alonso, and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba are all important cultural icons.
In Latin America, Romeo and Juliet has often been interpreted as a story about the tragic futility of hate and war. These elements were clearly evident in Alonso's ballet, but she also interpreted the play as a story about art and artistic influence. Her primary innovation in this ballet was the creation of the character of Shakespeare, a seller of masks. In the opening scene, Shakespeare appeared next to a stand bearing several masks, in front of a set that resembled an Elizabethan stage, with a balcony overhead and a curtained alcove beneath it. Over the course of the ballet Shakespeare gave masks to the other characters: to the prostitute who was killed in an early scene, the mask of tragedy; to Mercucio, the death's head mask; to Romeo a golden mask that corresponded to the masks worn by both Julieta and Rosalina (Rosaline, who was briefly present in this version). And throughout the ballet Shakespeare haunted the stage, [End Page 113] much as Shakespeare the actor might have haunted the stage when he performed the part of Hamlet's ghost. But instead of being the fictional father of one character, Alonso's Shakespeare was the artistic father of all the characters. He alternated between the agony of a father watching his children progress towards their doom and the ecstasy of an artist watching his creations come to life. Although the cast varied from night to night, the part of Shakespeare was most often and most impressively danced by Octavio Martín; the part required a strong dancer since he had to be on stage in nearly every scene, guiding the other characters like a conductor leading an orchestra. This image of a guiding artistic presence was reinforced by the entrance each night, just before the lights dimmed and the curtains were raised, of Alicia Alonso, long time Prima Ballerina and now the General Director and Choreographer of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. As she took her seat in the center balcony, she received a standing ovation, and perched in that balcony seat, she, like her Shakespeare, appeared to watch over and guide her creations.
Like Shakespeare's play, Alonso's ballet fluctuated between tragic and festive scenes. In an early scene, the men of the Montesco (Montague) and Capuleto (Capulet) families met onstage and engaged in a duel, their metallic gloves standing in for swords. The fight was interrupted...