Friday, November 27, 2009

The spirit of the music in the dance

It was September 1978, a humid and dense afternoon in Havana. Through the entire day the weather was miserably, a rainy day. But the Garcia Lorca Theatre was full of people and excitement. At 5:00 pm, the lights were turn off slowly and the silence fell over the audience.alicia alonso-zaida del rio

Suddenly, from the orchestra pit the first notes of the well-known music began to float. Center stage the famous figure in red advanced defiantly flamed with passion and flare, flanked and surrounded by dancers in tall seats staging a bullring. The atmosphere was electrifying: Alicia Alonso was dancing Carmen. She was Carmen.

I was in University of Havana when I first saw Alicia dancing the second act of Giselle. It was beautiful. I don’t have any other word to describe how she was. Years later I read how Anton Haskell described her: eerie, haunted and sublime. But I will describe her as the critic Doris Hering did: “a dancing body performing as a glorious and natural extension of music”. She was the spirit of the music in the dance.

These memories come to my mind after read that the Cuban National Ballet is coming to Hamilton, Ontario, to perform The Nutcracker. And the Cuban Ballet is Alicia.

If Fidel Castro is iconic in politics and the emblematic figure of the Cuban Revolution; Alicia is the embodied incarnation of the dance. Both are controversial and flame the opinions of Cubans here and there. Both are portrayed as tyrannical and fussy. But both are irreplaceable in Cuba’s landscape. You can’t speak about Cuba if you don’t mention Castro.

But you can’t speak about ballet if you don’t speak about Alicia. She belongs to the elite and she shines there as unique.

We can condemn her filiations and support to the Castro’s regime. We can even feel her political opinions are despicable, and despise her involvement in a Revolution that ended in a tyranny. I guess the spirit of Giselle that I saw in the University came across the ballet and was installed in her mind in a long scene of madness all along these years.

But when the lights are off, the curtains are open and she appears on stage, the magic takes control of your soul, and you see the fragile farmer girl snatching the sword and running around the stage, and you know you had found Giselle.

That afternoon of September, I saw Carmen with Alicia Alonso and I was trapped in her charms. You could feel the vibrations floating across the audience. And the red figure was full of passion, indomitable and seductive. That ballet was especially ordered by Maya Plisetskaya and created for her, but Alicia Alonso owned from the very moment she came out on the bullring on the stage, with the furious rage you always imagine in the character from Merimee’s roman.

For decades, many Cuban dancers had deserted the Cuban Ballet everywhere. Last year, six of them left the company in Hamilton the last time they were there, and crossed the border with US. Many of them had talked about her despotic manners and discriminations inside the Cuban troupe. Some had criticized the Cuban Ballet School, and particularly its general director, Alicia Alonso, for being ruled with an iron fist.

Her long time partenaire, Jorge Esquivel, is living in Argentine after left the Company for many of these reasons. Brilliant ballerinas like Rosario Suarez and others left the country, and now there are living and working successfully elsewhere. All of them blamed Alicia’s character, her strong will, her hardships. But when they come to Alicia as an artist, they also agree she was and will be one of the greatest ballet dancers of all times.

There is that scene in the first two minutes of Carmen when Alicia, after cross the stage side to side, turns to the audience and moves forward with her arms moving back and up to her shoulders and the music grows in a dramatic crescendo, her face looks far forward to the audience, defiant, her red attire and body move with a mixture of seduction and fierce and her feet “en pointe” is moving swift, with sharp strides. That Carmen stays in my memories as the closest human incarnation of the character in Ballet History. And you feel the music is on her, it is part of her, it is her.

I am not a ballet fan; I am not even a mediocre connoisseur. I was only the young man who knew Alicia was one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, and I wanted to be there, to see in flesh the legend, to be part of that magic moment.

Sometimes, I would rather say many times, life is contradictory, and some questions haunted you years after years. We don’t have to catalogue artistry achievement as we do with politicians and estate’s officials. I must say, we have to overpass the small creature inside the artist to reach the genius.

We have to overpass Alicia partisanship with Castro to reach her artistry lineage, which is what made her a masterpiece in Ballet and what it is her will to the eternity.

The generations to come will remember her as one of the greatest dancers of all times. All the other tiny things will fade away with the past. Today and tomorrow, she is what she is: the spirit of the music in the dance.


Anonymous said...

Un saludo- Es Alicia Alonso realmente para el arte la más importante artista cubana del siglo XX junto a Wifredo Lam y Lezama Lima. Saludos. Alberto Lauro