August 4, 2011 / 4:08 PM / 8 years ago

Bolshoi celebrates Cuba's peerless ballerina Alonso

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Bolshoi Theater celebrated the 90th birthday of Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso with a gala performance this week of Russian classics performed by her pupils and countrymen.

Alicia Alonso (L), Cuba's prima ballerina assoluta and director of the Cuban National Ballet talks backstage to her ballerinas before the Cuban National Ballet Gala concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, August 2, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

The Havana-native, who turned 90 years-old last December, received a standing ovation at the packed theater on Tuesday night where she was honored alongside Russian dancers — such as Vladimir Vasiliev and Azari Plisetsky — who have worked with her over a career that has spanned more than six decades.

“I really feel like Alicia in Wonderland,” Alonso gushed on stage after the performance.

In her youth, Alonso studied ballet with choreographers Michel Fokine, George Balanchine and Leonide Massine, and later brought their ballets to the Cuban National Ballet company, which she founded in 1948.

On her 17th visit to Russia since 1958, Alonso praised the country’s dancers for innovating partnered ballets, with lifts and acrobatics for male dancers, which she said did not exist in the United States or Cuba when she graced the stage in the 1940s.

Scenes from Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Coppelia are among the classics adapted by Alonso and danced for her during the gala show by eight Cuban dancers from her troupe.

“What’s different about the performance is that it’s done by Cubans. The school of dance is always the same, but the troupes are different,” Alonso said proudly.

Joining the Cuban dancers on stage, the Bolshoi’s principal dancers Svetlana Zakharova and Andrey Uvarov gave a passionate rendition of Carmen Suite, choreographed by Alicia Alonso’s husband Alberto, who accompanied her to the gala evening.

Alonso, who suffers from life-long visual problems watched the performance bleary eyed, glowed with proud joy when former Bolshoi star Vasiliev praised her company as a “troupe with immense potential.”

It was with Vasiliev at her side in her role as Giselle that Alonso caused a stir in the ballet world in the 1980s, dancing a title role written for a much younger woman and combining her old world elegant style with Vasiliev’s brash, youthful power.

“It is we, who need to learn male ballet dancing from the Cubans now. All thanks to Alicia, who founded classical ballet in Cuba, where it was previously non-existent before,” Vasiliev said on stage, presenting Alonso with a huge bouquet of flowers.

The Cuban ballet’s gala performance marked the close of the Russian Bolshoi season until October.

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel)

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