November 4, 2010 / 6:11 AM / 8 years ago

U.S. ballet company performs in Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) - Members of the American Ballet Theater danced in Cuba for the first time in 50 years on Wednesday in a tribute to the troupe’s former prima ballerina, Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso.

Alicia Alonso, Cuba's prima ballerina assoluta and director of the Cuban National Ballet, is interviewed by reporters at an event in Havana October 31, 2010. The 22nd International Ballet Festival is taking place in Havana till November 7. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

The dancers performed in Havana’s Karl Marx Theater before an enthusiastic audience that included Alonso, who turns 90 on December 21.

The ballet troupe made several previous appearances in Cuba but the last was in 1960 as relations between the United States and Cuba worsened after the 1959 Cuban revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

This visit is the latest attempt at cultural diplomacy between the two ideological foes as they search for common ground after five decades of hostility.

Alonso, nearly blind but still active, took a bow with the troupe at the end of the show and received a prolonged standing ovation.

She danced with the American Ballet Theater in the 1940s and 1950s and performed some of its most famous works. Wednesday’s program included “Theme and Variations,” written for her in 1947 by another ballet legend, George Balanchine.

Alonso returned to Cuba after the revolution and, with Castro’s support, formed the Cuban National Ballet, where she has groomed dancers who now perform around the world.

Two of American Ballet Theatre’s top dancers, Jose Manuel Carreno and Xiomara Reyes, are from Cuba and were Alonso proteges.

Under U.S. President Barack Obama, official U.S.-Cuba relations have improved only slightly but there have been a growing number of cultural exchanges.

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra performed in Havana last month and pop group Kool and The Gang played an outdoor concert last year in the capital. Cuban musicians including Silvio Rodriguez, Chucho Valdes and Omara Portuondo have performed recently in the United States.

Alonso went to New York in June for a tribute performance by the American Ballet Theater in New York.

The U.S.-based company’s Cuban performances are part of Havana’s International Ballet Festival. Members of the New York Ballet also have danced this week at the festival.

The American Ballet Theater was scheduled for another show on Thursday, which will include pieces performed with dancers from the Cuban company.

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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