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Fernando Alonso

The Father of Cuban Ballet

Toba Singer

Publication Year: 2013

Written records of Alonso’s work are scarce, yet Toba Singer’s quest to spotlight his seminal role in the development of the modern ballet canon yields key material: pre-blockade tapes from Lincoln Center, Spanish-language sources from the Museum of Dance in Havana, and interviews with the ballet master himself alongside a broad range of friends, relatives, and collaborators from throughout his long career, including his ex-wife, Alicia, a famous ballerina in her own right.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Prologue with Letter from Alicia Alonso

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pp. ix-xx

It was intermission. Ninety-three-year-old Fernando Alonso sat alone in his customary mezzanine seat in Havana’s García Lorca Theater. During the Sixtieth Anniversary Festival of the Cuban National Ballet, he would see perhaps twenty performances by an array of his former students, who...

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pp. xxi-xxii

Prodigious amounts of time and effort were invested in this project by dancers, scholars, and friends, who helped with translation, transcription, editing suggestions, hospitality in their homes, and giving Fernando Alonso’s story a permanent place in their lives. I would like to thank the following individuals...

Part I. Antes (Before)

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pp. 1-25

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1. Always Ask Why

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pp. 3-9

Beyond Cuba, my family’s roots extend to Italy, Austria, and the Canary Islands. My paternal grandfather, Matías, was an exporter of tropical fruit. He died when I was one year old. My grandmother Clementina, who was his wife, died before I was born. My maternal grandmother, Mercedes...

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2. Pro-Arte Musical, Yavorsky, and New York

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pp. 10-16

During vacations from Spring Hill College, I returned to Havana. By then, the struggle against Machado had died down temporarily. It was during these visits that I could see the transformation that was taking place at Pro-Arte Musical, largely the result of my mother’s efforts....

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3. Alicia, Fernando, and Laura: Giant Steps across a Changing Landscape

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pp. 17-21

In 1937, New York was still coming out of the 1929 depression, and thousands remained unemployed. So, I was very lucky to immediately find a job as a bilingual stenographer at Powers X-Ray Products. I took ballet class at night. Then, Powers X-Ray Products sponsored a course in X-ray...

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4. Musicals, Mordkin, Balanchine, and the Birth of Ballet Theatre

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pp. 22-24

By dancing in musical comedy, we came to appreciate the unique dynamic of the show format, the agility one needs to move through a performance from beginning to end, the certainty that one’s rhythmic quality is consistent and fluid. The show loses its punch if that dynamism goes missing. In my opinion...

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5. Repertoire, Camaraderie, and an Étoile

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pp. 25-28

Lucia Chase and Richard Pleasant were the directors, and Alexander Smallens was Pleasant’s assistant. The ballet masters and mistresses were Alexandre Gavrilov, Cia Fornaroli Toscanini, and Julieta Méndez. There were seventy corps de ballet members, several of who were choreographers. There...

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6. Challenges and Pilgrimages

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pp. 29-32

In 1941, Ballet Theatre wanted to expand its tours to all of the forty-eight states. Each year, there were more and more extensive tours that targeted larger and larger audiences. The expansion campaign came at a time when new problems presented themselves in our personal and professional lives....

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7. Autumn in New York, and a Dawning in Havana

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pp. 33-38

We returned to New York after the first Pro-Arte Festival. Alicia had recovered from the immediate problems with her vision, and we left Havana in mid-September for New York. We joined the Metropolitan Opera cast of Capriccio espagnol, directed by Léonide Massine. It was my first time...

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8. Ballet Theatre, a University of Dance, and More . . .

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pp. 39-42

In the autumn of 1947 we returned to New York for what would be my last season with Ballet Theatre. The lineup included Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and the world premiere of George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, which took place on November 26 at City Center. Balanchine had wanted...

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9. Ballet Alicia Alonso

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pp. 43-46

At that point, my mother, Laura Rayneri, was the president of Pro-Arte. On May 25, 1948, she announced her retirement from the presidency. The society was taking increasingly belligerent steps to tighten control over its assets. So, Alicia, Alberto, and I searched out and found new sources for...

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10. El Maestro de Maestros, the Father of Cuban Ballet

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pp. 47-52

On November 13, under my direction, the company embarked on its first international tour. We had a contract to perform in Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The Venezuela shows were so successful that the tour there could have been extended had there not been a political coup d’état under way to unseat...

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11. Crafting a Curriculum, Sculpting a Style [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 53-60

Pro-Arte relented once we paid off our debts, and allowed us to use its costumes, sets, and equipment, but it was too little too late. After eight years of having received Ballet Theatre’s full cooperation in lending sets and costumes without charge, we couldn’t help but make comparisons between the...

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12. Legends and Lessons: Laura and Loipa

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pp. 61-67

Observing class, interviewing teachers, watching performances—from ballets to bullfights—discussing them with Fernando, and mining his recollections suggested taking another step: interviewing those who continue to teach and coach according to the precepts and practices he developed....

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13. A Revolutionary Proposal

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pp. 68-72

By 1950, all kinds of issues were competing for attention. The Ministry of Education had authorized the Fine Arts Board to pay an annual subsidy of thirty-three thousand pesos to the ballet. It was not enough to cover our operating expenses, and especially insulting in face of the company’s cachet,...

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14. Batista's Blackmail Bid

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pp. 73-77

On January 24, 1954, I became the general director of Ballet Alicia Alonso. The company appeared for the first time at the Auditorium Theater with a full-length Swan Lake in four acts. Cuba became the fourth nation in the world, after the Soviet Union, England, and Denmark, to claim a company...

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15. The Soviet Union Invites the Alonsos

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pp. 78-80

Only the academy survived, and I remained its director. We accepted young ladies with little to offer by way of talent, so that the institution could sustain itself financially. In studios L and 11 in the Vedado neighborhood, we offered small performances behind closed doors. There was a sliding entrance fee—...

Part II. Después (After)

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pp. 81-105

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16. Cuban Revolution Triumphs—and Invests in Ballet!

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pp. 83-90

After the victory, Martínez Páez specialized in orthopedic surgery. Later, in his eighties, he began the study of English and Marxist philosophy and pursued interests in nature, painting, music, and the ballet. By recognizing his contribution, the dancers wanted to show their confidence in the changes...

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17. Constructing Ballet Schools, Extending the Revolution

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pp. 91-93

After reorganizing ourselves to take full advantage of our improved situation, we focused on encouraging creation of new Cuban works, in form as much as in content. We incorporated pieces with Latin American themes at the same time as we broadened the repertoire of classical works and contemporary...

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18. International Recognition Abroad, at Home, on Film, and in Print

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pp. 94-99

Alicia and I met Picasso in Cannes. He spoke of Cuba in an admiring and affectionate way. He even sang Cuban songs to us. Later, during a luncheon, Picasso mentioned to us his own connections with Diaghilev. Then, he presented us with his famous dove of peace. He had drawn it for us and written...

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19. Camagüey: The Center of Gravity Shifts [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 100-113

I discovered that while I continued to admire Alicia’s artistry above that of all others—as I do to this day—I found that I was no longer able to remain partner to a marriage that had become unsustainable in an amicable way. On the one hand, I was young, and in daily contact with accomplished...

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20. Révérence

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pp. 114-118

I continue to follow my faithful sidekick: precision. I have practiced it from primary school; taming the body has always appealed to me. Sports activities helped me understand the principles of shaping the muscles and helped me in my dance career. For most of my life I have practiced swimming,...

III. Recuerdos (Recollections)

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pp. 119-143

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pp. 121-124

As I began my research on the life and career of Fernando Alonso, I quickly discovered that there were few primary sources in print offering confirmation of the details of his life. Yet, simply mentioning his name to Cuban and non-Cuban dancers alike, or that I was writing a book about him, brought...

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Aurora Bosch

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pp. 125-129

From the very beginning, Fernando was a coach. When we were in the academy I received a scholarship. I didn’t have direct contact with him then, because at that time he was the general manager of the company. My first teacher was Magda González Mora. She was a member of the company....

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Carlos Acosta

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pp. 129-131

I think the first thing is that Fernando is conceived of as the father of ballet, the architect of a whole movement that started in 1948 when he and Alicia returned to Cuba and the movement became the school that trained my teachers. Thanks to those teachers—that is where I came from. It’s like...

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Azari Plisetsky

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pp. 131-132

I finished the Bolshoi school in 1956. My teachers there were Alexander Varlamov, Nikolai Tarasov, and Asaf Messerer. I danced with the Bolshoi until 1963. In March of that same year I began my work with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba as a principal dancer and teacher. I danced practically every role in...

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Ramona de Sáa

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pp. 133-136

My identical twin, Margarita, and I began at the Ballet Academy Alicia Alonso in 1950. We were part of the founding class that launched the academy for children who had been studying in public schools. I was in the sixth grade when we auditioned. The panel members were Fernando, Alicia,...

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Lázaro Carreño and Yoel Carreño

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pp. 137-140

Yoel: Honestly, I worked very little with the maestro, but have been able to become close with him, and he has provided me with a source of wisdom and knowledge, an understanding of dance, unlike any other person. He is a living legend, an encyclopedia. The way he reasons gives you a different...

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Tania Vergara

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pp. 140-142

Right from the beginning, Fernando Alonso’s image has been a substantial part of my career within ballet, his name having been invoked by professors, teachers, dancers, historians, aficionados, all the way to the people who follow the comings and goings of dance in Cuba. He becomes someone distant,...

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Menia Martínez [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 142-152

I found myself onstage before an audience very early. Fernando created an interesting methodology in the school because he brought in an actress to give us acting classes. He was seeing to it that we had a complete education. As I liked acting very much, it was amazing to take those classes. Fernando...

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René de Cárdenas

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pp. 153-156

For me, the starting point is love and respect for the career of dance. I always wanted to be by Fernando’s side—that’s the first thing that comes to me. The outstanding thing about him, the star he was born under, was his mastery of teaching. It’s especially outstanding for a good dancer whose career was...

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John White

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pp. 156-162

I was studying ballet in Hollywood. Michel Panieff ’s studio happened to be a gathering place for well-known dancers because Hollywood was producing a lot of musicals. My first teacher had recommended that I study there. It was 1957. I was not quite a “finished” dancer. In the summer of 1957, Alicia...

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Lorena Feijóo and Lupe Calzad]lla

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pp. 162-167

Lupe: I began dancing at the Lyric Theater. My first teacher was Joaquín Banegas, whom I admired, and as his students we presented ourselves at an audition for the Cuban National Ballet Company. Alicia and Fernando wanted to merge the ballet with the opera. I was very nervous when I saw...

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Jorge Esquivel

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pp. 167-172

I started to study ballet in 1961, when I was eleven years old, at the provincial ballet school, where I remained for five years. My teachers were Michel Gurov, Anna Leontieva, and then Joaquín Banegas. I went on to the National School of the Arts for two years, where I had several other teachers, but...

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Lorna Feijóo and Nelson Madrigal

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pp. 173-178

Nelson: We didn’t work that closely with Fernando because at the time we were studying he was in Mexico [1989–94] and no longer able to play a role in the Cuban National Ballet. We were so lucky to have known him because he is the grandfather of ballet in Cuba....

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Donald Saddler

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pp. 178-180

I arrived in New York on Saturday morning of Easter week, 1939. I knew only one person in New York at the time, and that was Paul Godkin. He had given me a ticket to see Stars in Your Eyes, and pointed out the stage door to me, so that I could meet him after the matinee. So I went back after the...

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Grettel Morejón

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pp. 180-188

I began to study ballet at ten years old at the Alejo Carpentier Provincial School of Ballet. I had magnificent teachers there, such as Sara Acevedo, Moraima Martínez, Marta Bosch, and the counsel of the master teacher Fernando Alonso in the fourth and fifth years mostly, among others....

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Appendix A. Dance Magazine Interview

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pp. 189-191

Fernando Alonso, 93, is a founding member of Ballet Nacional de Cuba and, with his ex-wife Alicia Alonso, formerly co-artistic director. He created the curriculum offered in the national ballet school system throughout Cuba. He danced with American Ballet Theatre (then known as Ballet Theatre)...

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Appendix B. La danza eterna Interview

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pp. 192-203

Fernando Alonso: It is a tremendous pleasure to be here with you tonight, as we leave everyday dance for dance for all time. And then as I look at my surroundings I remember this place as it was when I was three years old, when I used to come to visit the construction work being done on in...

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Appendix C. Address to the Assemblée Internationale, Toronto

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pp. 204-209

In my few years of existence, I have seen heard about, learned and questioned a few universal premises both in theory and practice. Out of the many aspects of such premises I could share with you today, I have chosen the one that, perhaps, to this day, continues to make the most sense to me....

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Appendix D. Prizes Awarded to Cuban National Ballet Dancers, 1964–1974

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pp. 210-242

Loipa Araújo and Aurora Bosch received the Gold Medal in Bulgaria; Marta García and Rosario Suárez received First Prize in the youth category, Mirta Plá, Josefina Méndez, and Mirta García received the Silver, and María Elena Llorente received the Bronze. The 1966 Paris International Dance Festival...

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Appendix E. Selected BNC-Commissioned Repertoire Works, 1959–1974

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pp. 211-243

Among the most outstanding were Carmen, El guije (1967), and La rumba (1968), and Primera conjugación (1970) (changed to Conjugación) by Alberto Alonso; Tarde en la siesta (1973) and El rio y el bosque (1973) by Alberto Méndez; “Rítmicas” (1973) by Iván Tenorio; Sinfonía latinoamericana (1959)...

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Appendix F. Elementary, Middle Ballet, and National Arts Schools

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pp. 212-244

The elementary schools included, but were not limited to, the following: Vocational School of Art Raúl Sánchez in Pinar del Rio, Vocational School of Art Juan P. Duarte in Havana, Elementary School of Art Paulita Concepción in Havana, Elementary School of Art Alejo Carpentier in Havana,...

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Appendix G. Proposal on Ballet

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pp. 213-217

From the beginning of this century, the ballet, like the opera and the theater, has suffered a huge crisis. The political and social reforms taking place in the world, eliminating kings, courts, and patrons, apparently struck a deathblow to the performing arts....

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Appendix H. Revolutionary Government Statute to Guarantee National Ballet and Law 812

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pp. 218-221

Whereas: “Ballet” is, undoubtedly, one of the loftiest and most beautiful artistic expressions counted as a long-standing tradition in our country, owing to efforts carried out by private institutions, principally the “Ballet of Cuba,” that over long years of patient and tenacious work has sustained...


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pp. 223-225


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pp. 227-228


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pp. 229-262


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pp. 231-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045009
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044026

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013