The call made by prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso every two years announcing the International Ballet Festival of Havana, attracts great interest among the dance world. The prestige of her immense career and the Cuban school of ballet have seen the island become a reference point for dancers, choreographers, critics and the public.
This year, from October 28-November 6, various functions will once again be led by some of the National Ballet of Cuba’s top dancers, performing alongside numerous guests in the concert programs or classic works chosen for the occasion: Swan Lake and Don Quixote.
Sixteen countries will be represented among dancers and companies invited to participate, including: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, South Korea, France, Britain, Spain, the United States, Mexico, Mongolia, Puerto Rico, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Russia and Uruguay.
Three of the capital’s theaters, the Mella, Alicia Alonso Grand Theatre and its García Lorca Hall, and the National in its Covarrubias and Avellaneda halls, will host the 24 functions where ballet lovers will have an exceptional opportunity to enjoy this glorious art.
Seven U.S. companies will be participating in this year’s festival, some with their entire troupe, others represented by a few of their stars.
Returning to Havana will be the Martha Graham Dance Company, which debuted in the Cuban capital in December of 1941, in the Auditorium Theater (today the Amadeo Roldán). Considered to be one of the most prestigious modern dance companies in the world, the organization was founded in 1929 by renowned U.S. ballerina and choreographer Martha Graham. During the festival the company will present a program featuring pieces such asDark Meadow, Errand into the Maze, Woodland, Lamentation Variations, and Diversion of Angels.
Meanwhile, Dance Americana, created by the prestigious U.S. dancer and choreographer Justin Peck, and composed of figures from the New York City Balletand Miami City Ballet, will present works by the director himself, among them, In creases,Furiant, Lord duet,and Rodeo: four dance episodes.
Furiant, for example will be performed by Ashley Bouder and Joaquín de Luz, lead dancer at the New York City Ballet, who previously performed in Havana during the 2014 edition of the Festival.
Also returning is Brooklyn Mack, lead dancer at the Washington Ballet; dubbed one of the top 25 dancers in the world by U.S. publication Dance Magazine in 2012. In 2014, he performed Don Quixote alongside the BNC’s lead dancer Viengsay Valdés, coming together again this year for the pas de deux from Le Corsaire.
Stellar Russian dancer, Maria Kochetkova, returns to Havana, this time representing the American Ballet Theater and San Francisco Ballet. Kochetkova participated in the Ballet Royalty Gala held this past August in the Cuban capital. During the festival she is set to dance Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, together with Joaquín de Luz.
The Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, under the direction of Russian maestro Vladimir Issaev, will be performing for the first time on the island. Traveling with the company will be lead dancer Mary Carmen Catoya of Venezuela. Considered to be one of the most important figures on the Latin American dance scene, Catoya will perform Eros Game, a new version of Suite generic, by its creator, Cuban choreographer Alberto Méndez.
During a press conference regarding the festival program held at the Hotel Cohiba, Pedro Simón, director of the Museum of Dance, announced that Issaev has created a solo for Catoya, as a tribute to Alicia Alonso, which will be premiered during the event.
Also returning this year is the highly respected New York based Ballet Hispánico, directed by Eduardo Vilaro, bringing with it, among other works, Línea recta, by Anabelle López-Ochoa, while the Ballet West Company is set to debut with pieces such as Presto.
Also arriving from the North will be Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, founded in Montreal in 1957, with a program featuring the Cuban premiere of Black Milk.
From the southern tip of the Americas the Buenos Aires Ballet, featuring outstanding figures from the ColónTheater’s in-house Ballet, and the National Ballet of Uruguay (SODRE), with its director, the stellar dancer Julio Bocca, will perform under the direction of the company’s prestigious dancer Federico Fernández.
Traveling to Cuba from the Caribbean will be the National Theater Ballet of Puerto Rico’s Laura Valentín, bringing with her Piazzola en concierto, set to debut on the island alongside Cuba’s Patricio Revé.
Companies participating for the first time include South Korea’s Universal Ballet Company, based in Seúl and composed of dancers from over a dozen countries. As reported, its artistic leitmotiv is a mix of Korean traditions with the best styles of western ballet. For the 25th edition of the festival they have selected a program featuring the pas de deux Claro de Luna,“a legend from the far east” from the ballet Shin Chung and the pas de deux from Don Quixote.
Asia is set to surprise once again with Dugaraa Altankhuyag, lead dancer from the National Ballet of Mongolia and based in the U.S., who will perform from Le Corsaire(pas de deux), alongside the BNC’s Ginett Moncho.
Much anticipated is the arrival of Aurelie Dupont, one of the finest exponents of the French school of ballet. In 1998, following the success of her role as Kitri in Rudolf Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote for the Paris Opera Ballet, Dupont was promoted to Star Dancer, the highest position in the company, and a title which she maintains to date. This same year she was also named director of the dance group.
Her presence in the festival, as director and star dancer, accompanied by Hervé Moreau, also one of the Paris Opera Ballet’s top figures, is indicative of their respect for the sublime Alonso and recognition of the importance of the event.
Everything suggests that the participation of Michaela de Prince, born in Sierra Leone but residing in the United States, will be a landmark event.
She is currently lead soloist at the Dutch National Ballet, where in 2015 she offered a highly successful performance as the protagonist of The Nut Cracker. De Prince will dance The Flames of Paris with BNC soloist Francois Llorente.
The public will also be reunited with stars from the BNC, currently members of European companies, such as Joel Carreño, with the Norwegian National Ballet, who will perform Don Quixote alongside Russia’s María Kochetkova; as well as Javier Torres, at the UK’s Northern Ballet. Torres will dance the solo The Dying Swan and the Cuban premiere of Wuthering Heights,together with Uruguay’s Lucia Solari.
This year’s program could not fail to include Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, represented on this occasion by lead dancer Semyon Chudin, who performed in Havana this past August during the Ballet Royalty Gala. During the festival he will accompany the BNC’s Sadaise Arencibia in a performance of Sleeping Beauty.
Meanwhile, the Irene Rodríguez Spanish Dance Company has once again been invited to this international event. In 2012, Irene arrived with impeccable credentials: the staging of her work El crimen fue en Granada, first prize winner of the 8th Alicia Alonso Ibero-American Choreography Contest; and in 2014 Aldabal, a seguiriya – one of the oldest flamenco styles. This year she has prepared a program featuring pieces such as El último gaitero de La Habana, Soleraand Secreto (Zapateado).
Organizers announced four premieres created especially for the Festival: Cygne, by Daniel Proietto; Oscurio (which this publication reported on last May), by Annabelle López-Ochoa, Ely Regina’s Invierno, and a fragment of El salto de Nijinski, by María Rovira.
The festival will also be full of works by choreographer Alicia Alonso, including En las sombras de un vals, and her versions of great classics such as Giselle, one of the purest gems of romantic ballet; Coppélia; “suite” from Sleeping Beauty; La fille mal gardée; Swan Lake; Les Sylphides; Don Quixote;and Dido Abandoned.
The function dedicated to Giselle is scheduled for November 2, in the García Lorca Hall, in honor of Alonso’s 1943 debut in this role which forms part of her legendary career, the 175th anniversary of the work’s premiere in Paris, and 205 years since the birth of its French librettist, Théophile Gautier.
During the press conference, the eminent Alicia Alonso, in subtle reference to the number of festivals, stated that she felt “odd, because time passes, but I feel like I’m just starting to live.”
Every festival organized by the prima ballerina assoluta is a celebration for the dance world and for thousands of ballet lovers in Cuba; always offering something new.