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HAVANA (Reuters) - Britain's Royal Ballet, making its first appearance in Cuba, was set to begin five days of performances on Tuesday that star dancer Carlos Acosta, described as the "event of a lifetime" for his native Cuba.
Acosta was to dance in three of the performances, including an appearance on Wednesday in a tribute to Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso.
Tickets, priced at 20 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of 91 U.S. cents, sold out quickly and have become one of Havana's most sought-after items.
Some of the performances will be shown on giant television screens outside for free viewing by the public.
Acosta, in an interview before a rehearsal at Havana's Gran Teatro, said the Royal Ballet's visit was as much an act of diplomacy as it was art.
"This is an event that's a bridge between two cultures," he said. "We can benefit from one another and (it comes) at a time when a lot of changes are happening politically."
He said he hopes that seeing the splendor of the Royal Ballet and its lush productions will cause Cubans to say "ah, right, this is where we have to aim."
"The other thing is for the Cuban audiences to free the mind a little bit," he said.
Acosta grew up in a poor Havana neighborhood, but rose through the ballet ranks on the strength of his talent and the tutelage of teachers who included Alonso.
Alonso, 88, was a prima ballerina in the United States and Europe and returned to Cuba after the 1959 revolution to found the Cuban National Ballet, which she still leads despite near blindness.
The company will pay tribute to her on Wednesday with an excerpt of "Giselle," the dance for which she is best known.
Other ballets on the five-day program include "Chroma," "A Month in the Country," and "Manon."
The ballet visit, said Acosta, is the "event of a lifetime" for all Cubans.
"It's a moment that all Cubans should treasure...it's the most important event in 50 years," he said.
Editing by Todd Eastham