Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina assolutaLast Wednesday's New York Times article about the upcoming ¡Sí Cuba! festival reminded me of a recent addition to the Dance Division of a film most of you have never heard of: it's a brand new documentary called Alicia Alonso: Orbit of a Legend, about the life and career of Cuba's most famous ballerina* and the founder of Ballet Nacional de Cuba (for * links in this post you'll need an NYPL library card number). The film had its world premiere this past December in Toronto, but is not yet being distributed in the U.S.
It's especially exciting to see clips in the film of Alonso dancing in George Balanchine's Theme and Variations, in a role Balanchine created for her. That footage set me to digging through our collection for other Alonso gems, which include an interview where she describes Balanchine's process of setting the role on her, video of her coaching current American Ballet Theatre stars Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella in the choreography, and various publicity photos of her and co-star Igor Youskevitch* in the ballet. We also have several biographies of Alonso in our collection, as well as Spanish-language and circulating books in NYPL collections as well.
Many people may not know that, prior to becoming Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alonso's company existed under another incarnation, Ballet Alicia Alonso, in pre-Castro Cuba. I unearthed a souvenir program from the company's early years in our collection, and was excited to see the names of illustrious Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre) stars, including Melissa Hayden,* among the company members.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba in its current form was founded in 1959, but did not make its first appearance in the U.S. until 1978, nearly 20 years later.* Students Alonso trained in her school won numerous international ballet awards, and the company toured Europe and even made an appearance at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Alonso still heads her troupe of dancers, who will actually be making a rare appearance in the United States in June at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of the ¡Sí Cuba! festival. The Dance Division hopes to join in on the Cuban fun as well—we are planning to film a performance of a different dance company, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, making its U.S. debut at the Joyce Theater in May. This filming is part of our Original Documentation program, where we document the dance community of New York City by producing videos of selected performances throughout the city.