Happy 70th Birthday National Ballet of Cuba!
This year the Festival celebrates the 70th birthday of the National Ballet of Cuba (October 28, 1948). At that time it was called Ballet Alicia Alonso.
DELEGATES TO THE 2016 FESTIVAL MET ALICIA ALONSO
Alicia Alonso and the National Ballet of Cuba
FROM - Independent Lense - WEDU
In Cuba, a country with a healthy vein of machismo, the art of ballet carries more weight than an outside observer might expect. Cuban ballet dancers are arguably the country’s most esteemed export, they often earn more money than doctors, and they perform locally to the type of cheering crowd that in the United States would be reserved for pop stars.
Credit for ballet’s prominence in Cuban culture rests squarely on Alicia Alonso, an international prima ballerina who founded an eponymous ballet school nearly 60 years ago with her husband, Fernando, the school’s dance instructor. After the revolution, and with funding from Fidel Castro’s government, the school was given the revolutionary charge to bring ballet and its spiritual goodness to the masses. Yet, while Havana fell into disrepair and the utopian promises of the revolution dissipated, Alonso excelled. Cuban ballet has been at the pinnacle of international dance for decades, and Cuba continues to produce some of ballet’s best dancers.
Art for the Masses
Although the school was thriving artistically, it was struggling financially. When Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, he had a commitment to level the social structure and make the arts available to everyone. “The old government was out and the new hope was coming for the arts and the ballet in Cuba,” recalled Margarita de Saa.
Castro gave $200,000 to Alonso, a supporter of the revolution, and her school was reborn as the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. With the state funding, suddenly ballet became important to the country and its identity. “We now had social security. We now had professional recognition,” Dr. Ramona Saa remembered.
Government funding for the Ballet Nacional continues to this day. The money allows the Ballet to scour the country and hand pick students, and it funds a countrywide teaching organization called the National School of Ballet, where Ramona is a director. There is no shortage of eager young hopefuls on this impoverished island, because placement in the ballet program can lead to respectable salaries, government subsidies, the opportunity to travel internationally and recognition as a Cuban cultural asset.
The Cuban experience is a sharp contrast to the many struggling dance companies in the United States where dancers make very little money: schools like Margarita’s, in Pennsylvania, have to host flea markets to raise funds. “[That’s] capitalism,” Margarita acknowledged.
The Ballet Today
Through the Ballet Nacional and its network of schools, Alicia and Fernando Alonso have created a uniquely Cuban style of dance. Earning worldwide acclaim, the Ballet has performed in 58 countries and received hundreds of international awards. Additionally, Cuban-trained dancers are now marquee names in top ballet companies throughout the world (by way of defecting).
At age 97 and nearly blind, Alicia Alonso is still at the helm of the Ballet Nacional. And despite her age and frail body, she doesn’t show signs of leaving. She has played such a pivotal role in ballet, in Cuba and on the world stage, that many can’t imagine life without her. For Cuba, her name is synonymous with ballet, just as Castro is with the country itself. As people debate what will become of Cuba after Castro, others wonder what will become of ballet after Alonso.
Meet Marcos Carvajal, Group Leader
It is a great honor to be your Group Leader for the 26th Ballet Festival of Havana Alicia Alonso. I will do my best to make sure you enjoy this amazing journey to Cuba.
Since 1987 Pedro and I embarked in the creation of several art and educational projects and in 2000 organized CubArtEdu to promote an understanding of the arts in Cuban culture and the people of Cuba.
Marcos Carvajal, M.Ed. is an artist-educator, a visionary and group leader for CubArtEdu. Born in the neighborhood of Santos Suarez, Havana, Cuba, Marcos started to study art with his father when he was nine. His formal studies continued at the University of Havana Medical School. In search of his creative self in the arts, Marcos continued studies at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts / Tufts in Boston, and Cambridge College. He taught art courses at Montserrat School of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, Jájome School of Art in Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts / Tufts in Boston.
As a visiting faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts / Tufts in Boston, Marcos facilitated courses such as "Painting in the Rain Forest of Puerto Rico" and "Making Art in Cuba: An Interdisciplinary Exchange".
MARCOS, (UPPER-RIGHT-HAND CORNER) WITH CERAMIC-MAKING IN CUBA GROUP