American Ballet Theatre to perform in Havana in November, its first visit to Cuba in 50 years

By Andrea Rodriguez, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

American Ballet Theatre visiting Cuba in November

HAVANA — The American Ballet Theatre, the troupe that gave Cuba’s prima ballerina her start seven decades ago, will stage two November performances at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater — its first shows on the island in a half century.

One of the top two ballet companies in the U.S., the American Ballet Theatre will perform scenes from ballets including “Fancy Free” and “Siete Sonatas” on Nov. 3 and 4, its executive director said Tuesday.

Those shows are more evidence that while chilly U.S.-Cuba political relations have changed little under President Barack Obama, cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries are becoming more common that during George W. Bush’s administration.

They could become even more so: U.S. and congressional officials told The Associated Press in Washington on Tuesday that the Obama administration is considering further easing travel restrictions to Cuba.

The move would leave intact the nearly 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island, but expand opportunities for American students, educators and researchers to visit Cuba. The discussions follow the release in July of the first batch of some 52 political prisoners the communist government has pledged to free.

The last time the American Ballet Theatre visited Cuba was in April 1960 to mark the inaugural installment of the Havana International Ballet Festival. The company is coming for this year’s 22nd edition of that same festival.

“We are artists, not politicians. We really do believe this trip in November will be a bridge between the two artistic communities creating a dialogue between artists and, actually, communities,” the company’s executive director, Rachel Moore, said at a news conference.

She added that “fifty years is too long.”

The company already enjoys strong ties to Cuba, thanks to the island’s top ballet dancer, Alicia Alonso. Born in Havana on Dec. 20, 1920, she began dancing professionally in the United States, becoming part of the American Ballet Theatre in 1940.

Alonso briefly returned to Cuba, then rejoined the company in 1943. She was promoted to the role of principal dancer three years after that, becoming especially acclaimed for her interpretation of Giselle.

Alonso founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Cuba in 1948, and it took off after Fidel Castro came to power on New Year’s Day 1959 and began to lend both personal and financial support. Her company became the National Ballet of Cuba, and Alonso later founded a national ballet school.

She appears frequently at dance events in Havana despite her failing eyesight. In June, she traveled to New York and attended an American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Don Quixote in her honor.

“She is extraordinarily important for us,” Moore said.

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