Preview: Ballet Nacional De Cuba, Sadler's Wells, London

A rare sight of a dance pioneer
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The Independent Culture

Alonso started losing her sight at 19; doctors wanted her to rest because the fast spins she performed while dancing were apparently damaging her retinas, but she refused.

"I only stopped dancing in 1995," she says. "Now I explain to people what to do by talking to them. I have the knowledge. This never leaves you."

When Alonso set up the first Cuban ballet company in 1948, she was dancing with New York's Ballet Theatre. She maintained the Cuban company with little or no official funding until 1959. At first, she had great trouble in recruiting male dancers.

"It was always my dream to have a ballet company in Cuba. It is necessary for the country and for the people to be permitted to dance in their own country," she says. "But fathers wanted their sons to be lawyers, doctors - never dancers. We had to explain that ballet was a career."

Swan Lake was the first work Alonso adapted for Cuba, dancing the lead role in Havana in 1948. The company will perform extracts of Alonso's choreography for Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Don Quixote in London.

"I pride myself upon respecting the classics," she says. The company will also perform Alonso's version of Giselle, in which, in 1943, she replaced the Ballet Theatre's English star Alicia Markova, who had taken ill.

"I don't know if that was my big chance, but it was the part that I wanted to dance most myself because it was beautiful. You need to be able to act, not just dance, to play Giselle."

16 to 21 August (0870 737 7737; www.sadlerswells.com)

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