The death at 98 of Alicia Alonso, the most iconic dancer in Latin America, orphaned the Cuban dance movement, because she was its foster mother and the ambassador of Cuban ballet. Viengsay Valdés is now the new director of the Cuban National Ballet.
In addition, the physical disappearance of Alicia Alonso stripped the Cuban National Ballet of its central figure and paradigm. The company, founded on October 28, 1948 as the first professional ballet group in the history of Cuba, was created under the name of Ballet Alicia Alonso and, in 1960, became the Cuban National Ballet, with the prima ballerina assoluta at his head.
Since its debut, the National Ballet showed its great concern to enrich the dance culture of Cubans and turned ballet into a genuinely Cuban and popular expression.
With the coming to power of Fidel Castro, in 1959, a new stage was opened in the company, where Cuban ballet was able to reach its great historical aspirations. Law 812 of the Revolutionary Government definitively guaranteed the existence of the company and provided all the material and spiritual support to carry out its work, as the greatest exponent of a new school.
The company developed a large choreographic line that included the most important works of the 18th century action ballet and the great romantic-classical tradition of the 19th century, and stimulated a contemporary creation movement, which included the most varied themes.
More than 200 tours, which included performances in 62 countries on the five continents, and the creation of a vast and versatile repertoire of 758 titles, most of them were world premieres, guarantee its creative balance.
In 2018, the Cuban state, through Resolution number 31 of the Ministry of Culture, decided to declare Ballet, Cultural Heritage of the Nation, before the greatness of the company’s creative work.
An irreproachable technique
However, the global prestige accumulated over the years was threatened with the passing of the years, when for obvious health reasons Alonso was at the head of the company only symbolically, not physically.
Over time many names of possible substitutes were valued, but already in 2018, before the obvious physical deterioration of Alonso, the premiere dancer Viengsay Valdés was in charge of the artistic direction, which meant – in addition – a noticeable generational change.
Valdés, 42, famous for her irreproachable technique and for being one of the most constant and stable dancers on the Cuban ballet scene, is considered one of the best exponents of the Cuban School of Ballet.
She was mostly acclaimed by world critics who recognized her virtuosity and physical capacity, in her collaborations with some of the best companies in the world, such as the Mariinski Ballet and the Bolshoi of Russia; the Royal Ballet of Denmark, the Washington Ballet, the Concert Ballet of Puerto Rico; the Joburg Ballet, from South Africa, among others.
Continuator of the teachings of Alicia and Fernando Alonso and the four jewels of Cuban ballet (Josefina Méndez, Loipa Araújo, Aurora Bosch and Mirta Plá) was given to the premiere dancer for the best performance of her duties as artistic assistant director, a Technical Advisory Committee, made up of great teachers in service.
After Alicia’s death in October 2019, everything seemed to indicate that the position of general director of the National Ballet would automatically be attributed to Viengsay Valdés, but that did not happen.
It was only at the beginning of January 2020 that the Ministry of Culture of Cuba officially confirmed that the young dancer was, in fact, the new director of the National Ballet of the island.
The official nomination occurred on the stage of the Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso, in the presence of the artistic cast of the Cuban National Ballet and invited media.
The newly appointed director has hard work ahead of her, especially regarding the updating and expansion of the company’s ankylosed romantic repertoire.
What she will have to achieve in her management will also be maintaining the high technical quality standard of the company and positioning it among the latest and advanced trends in contemporary world ballet.
In the meantime, Valdés follows the example of her teacher and continues to be an active dancer.
During the traditional gala with which every January 1 the Cuban National Ballet celebrates the year at the Great Theater of Havana, it was possible to enjoy the performance of the current director in one of the leading roles of “Nutcracker”.
“Nutcracker”, the most popular classic in the world during the New Year holidays, was offered in the version made by the prima ballerina assoluta in 1998, and in which Viengsay shared roles with young and renowned figures such as Grettel Morejón, Anette Delgado, Sadaise Arencibia, Dani Hernández, Rafael Quenedit, Adrián Sánchez, Chanel Cabrera and Claudia Garcia.
The gala on January 1 was the first opening show of the year without the presence of Alicia.