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HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban National Ballet heads to the United States next week for a month-long tour that director and ballet legend Alicia Alonso hopes will bring happiness to U.S.-Cuba relations that have been unhappy for half a century.
The tour is the latest in a series of cultural exchanges that began after President Barack Obama took office as the longtime ideological foes seek common ground they have been unable to find politically since Cuba's 1959 revolution.
The Cuban troupe will perform on Tuesday in Washington then go to New York and Costa Mesa, California before wrapping up in Los Angeles on June 26.
The New York-based American Ballet Theater and members of the New York City Ballet performed before ecstatic audiences in Havana in November, creating good vibes that Alonso said on Friday she hopes to duplicate.
"All the people were very happy, so it was a very different change," she said of the performances by the U.S. companies.
"I hope this time we're going there and it's going to be exactly the same -- happiness (for) all of us," she told Reuters.
Alonso, who is 90 and nearly blind, danced in the American Ballet Theater in the 1940s and 1950s, but returned to Cuba after the revolution and took over the Cuban National Ballet.
She has groomed dancers who now perform in ballet companies around the world and taken the Cuban company to the United States several times, the last coming in 2003.
She said this latest trip was not about politics, but art, which transcends national boundaries and disputes.
"Actually, dancers belong to the world. The artist is the best thing for humanity; he has no frontier. He has only one (goal) -- happiness of the people," Alonso said.
Obama has said he wanted to "recast" U.S.-Cuba relations, but they have warmed only modestly under his administration.
But cultural exchanges have blossomed as Obama took steps to encourage "people-to-people" contact between the countries.
Last year, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis led a Cuba trip by the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra and pop group Kool and The Gang played a Havana concert, while Cuban musicians including Silvio Rodriguez, Chucho Valdes and Omara Portuondo performed in the United States.
Singer-songwriter Carlos Varela is set for a U.S. tour in June.
"It has been wonderful. I think it has been marvelous," Alonso said of the cultural events.
But, she said, "Government, that's another thing."
The Cuban company will perform "The Magic of Dance," which includes passages from ballet classics such as "Giselle," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake," and "Don Quixote."
Editing by Eric Walsh