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Havana.  October 17, 2014

A showcase of the world’s best dance

Mireya Castañeda

THE 24th Havana International Ballet Festival, scheduled October 28-November 7, will bring together companies and star dancers from some 20 countries, and pay tribute to William Shakespeare, on the 450th anniversary of his birth.

The most recent details about the gala event were announced during a press conference, which, for the first time, was not led by its president, prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso.

Mauricio Abreu, National Ballet of Cuba (BNC) press officer, explained that Alicia Alonso, at 93 years of age, could not participate due to a cold, and that her doctors had recommended rest, to prepare for the intense days ahead during the Festival.

Among the extensive details shared was the important announcement that the six U.S. companies invited will attend: Ballet Hispánico de Nueva York; Pontus Lidberg Dance; American Ballet Theatre (ABT; as well as the New York City, Washington and Cincinnati Ballets.

Heriberto Cabezas, head of the BNC public relations department, in response to a question, indicated that relations between the BNC - founded and directed by Alicia – and the world of dance in the United States, are strong and longstanding, emphasizing, “If there has not been more of a presence, it is because licenses were not granted.”

He recalled that Alicia Alonso was an American Ballet Theatre star, and that the majority of the 40 dancers who founded the BNC were from the United States. Only 16 were Cuban.

Also invited were dancers and companies from 19 other countries: the Swiss company Linga; Ballet Estable del Teatro Co­lón, Ar­gentina; Winter Guests, Norway; Flanders Royal Ballet, Belgium; Hong Kong Ballet; Nice Opera Ballet, Fran­ce; Ballet Nacional de Uru­guay, Sodre; Danish Royal Ballet; National Ballet of China; Joburg Ballet, South Africa; Ballet de Santiago de Chile; Naples San Carlo Theater Ballet, Ita­ly; Balleteatro de Puerto Rico; Compañía Nacional de Bailado, Por­tu­gal; Northern Ballet, Britain; Hamburg Ballet, Germany; and National Ballet of Norway.

Planners of the 24th Festival are proud to have as the event’s motto, Por Shakespeare, la danza, (For Shakespeare, dance), given that the playwright provided inspiration to all branches of artistic expression. Several ballets based on Shakespeare’s works will be staged.

Míguel Cabrera, BNC historian, commented during the press conference that Cuban companies have performed Shakespearean works since the 19th century, and that in the early 1900’s, Anna Pavlova premiered her version of Romeo and Juliet in Havana.

He reported that the BNC has in its repertory 15 works based on Shakespeare’s plays, choreographed by the company’s own artists, as well as Serge Lifar, John Cranko and Brian Mcdonald.


“True to its roots, the Festival is dedicated to the bard on the 450th anniversary of his birth, and will open with Shakespeare y sus máscaras, choreographed by Alicia Alonso, and feature re-stagings of scenes from Hamlet by Iván Tenorio, and Prologue to a tragedy, by Brian McDonald.”

Invited companies gladly accepted the proposed theme and will stage related works, including As You Like It and Othello, created by the great U.S. dancer and choreographer John Neumeier for the Hamburg Ballet, performed by Carolina Agüero, a company prima ballerina and Javier Torres, first dancer for the BNC and Northern Ballet.

Also to be staged are The Tempest (pas de deux) by Mauricio Wainrot, performed by Maria Ricetto and Ciro Tamayo, from the Ballet Sodre; The Moor's Pavane, choreographed by José Limón, for the Nice Opera Ballet; Romeo and Juliet, by Nicolas Beriosoff, for the Joburg Ballet, and The Taming of the Shrew (pas de deux) by John Cranko, performed by Natalia Berrios and Juan Manuel Ghiso, of the Ballet de Santiago de Chile.

World renowned stars will perform throughout the 11-day Festival, including Argentine Paloma Herrera, chosen as one of the best 10 ballerinas of the century by Dance Magazine, and for whom choreographers like Jiří Kylián and Nacho Duato have created ballets.

Paloma has participated in Havana Festivals since 1996, and in 2012 returned with José Manuel Carreño’s group along with ballet stars from the United States. Paloma and Carreño will dance the unforgettable Sinatra Suite.

This year Paloma Herrera, who announced that she would be retiring from the ATB this next season, will perform Rubies (Joyas pas de deux) and the Tschaikovsky pas de deux - both by George Balanchine - accompanied by Gonzalo Garcia from the New York City Ballet; and Verano porteño (pas de deux from Cuatro Estaciones de Buenos Aires), choreographed by Mauricio Wainrot, with Juan Pablo Ledo, the Teatro Colón Ballet’s first dancer.

Xiomara Reyes (Cuba-U.S.), ABT prima ballerina, also planning to retire next year, will dance Great Galloping Gottschalk (pas de deux) by Lynn Taylor-Corbett, and Coppelia, with Spanish dancer Carlos López.

Among the stellar performers are the New York City Ballet’s principal dancer, Joaquin de Luz, considered one of the world’s most brilliant, and Brooklyn Mack, a leading figure in the Washington Ballet, described in Dance Magazine as among the 25 most admired dancers in the world.

During the Festival, Mack will share the stage with BNC prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés, considered one of Cuba’s best. They will perform scenes from La magia de la danza and Diana y Acteón.

Viengsay will additionally dance in one of the performances of Swan Lake with Ukrainian Ivan Putrov, who has been awarded numerous international prizes, including the Ballet Serge Lifar competition’s gold medal.

Also scheduled is an overdue tribute to Fernando Alonso (Havana 1914-2013), maestro de maestros, one of the founders of the Cuban school of ballet and the BNC, along with Alicia and Alberto Alonso. 

The events entitled Fernando Alonso In Memoriam, will take place appropriately in the National School of Ballet on Havana’s emblematic Prado, and will feature master classes and panel discussions with important figures in world dance, such as Julio Bocca, José Manuel Carreño, Orlando Salgado and Cyril Atanassoff.

Fernando Alonso, one of the icons of Cuban ballet, directed the BNC through 1975, and the Ballet de Camagüey until 1992, when he went on to become director of the Compañía Nacional de Danza de México. Honored with the Cuban National Prize for Dance in 2000, he was awarded the Benois Dance Prize in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.

Arnold Haskel – for years the dean of ballet critics – once described Cuba’s representatives in the Varna contest as “the Cuban miracle,” since then the Cuban school of ballet has been recognized as formidable on an international level.

The BNC, in addition to its contribution to dance culture internationally, has presented 23 editions of the Havana Festival, over a 54-year period, with the participation of 73 companies from 61 countries, and more than a thousand invitees. The Festival has become a highly respected event, during which 241 world premieres have been presented.

This is but a sketch of what is to come - just around the corner - during the 24th Havana Ballet Festival, which is sure to be as varied, classic, modern and contemporary as ever.

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