Alberto Alonso: National Ballet of Cuba co-founder

Best-known for his sensual Carmen ballet, commissioned in 1967 by the Bolshoi prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya, Alberto Alonso was also a co-founder of the company that became the National Ballet of Cuba.

He was born in Havana, but at an early age moved with his parents to Mobile, Alabama, where he attended Springhill College. On the family's return to Havana, Alberto began ballet training at the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical, which his older brother, Fernando, and Fernando Alonso's future wife, Alicia Martinez, also attended.

Alberto Alonso began his dance career aged 17 in 1936 with Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes, touring Europe, America and Australia and dancing roles in a number of ballets by Michel Fokine (including the Blackamoor in Petrouchska), Léonide Massine and George Balanchine. He took part in the company's Covent Garden season of 1938.

In May 1939 in Melbourne, Alberto Alonso married the Canadian ballerina Alexandra Denisova (Patricia Denise Myers) amid considerable publicity. But during the 1940 New York season, when an exhausted Denisova had a miscarriage after dancing six ballets in one day, they left de Basil and moved to Cuba, where Alonso directed the Pro Arte ballet school.

Back in the US once more, he appeared in the 1945 Fred Astaire film Yolanda and the Thief. In 1944 Alonso had also briefly joined Ballet Theater (later American Ballet Theater). He performed in Jerome Robbins's first ballet, Fancy Free, which made striking use of vernacular dance. Alberto Alonso later credited Robbins with inspiring his own combining of ballet with Cuban dance, which would eventually culminate in his famous Carmen Suite.

In 1948, he joined Fernando and Alicia Alonso in forming the Ballet Alicia Alonso, which would eventually become the National Ballet of Cuba. Its ballet school has produced such celebrated dancers as Carlos Acosta of the Royal Ballet and José Manuel Carreño, and contributed to the current explosion of Hispanic dancers across the world.

Among Alonso's early choreographies was Antes del Alba ("Before the Dawn"), of 1947, which the regime of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista is said to have pronounced "destabilising", and banned from public theatres. Alicia Alonso, however, continued to perform it, and consequently her company lost its small government subsidy.

The commission for a Carmen ballet for Maya Plisetskaya came in 1967. The ballerina happened to attend a musical in Moscow that Alberto Alonso had choreographed based on Cuban themes, and she rushed backstage to ask him to do Carmen for her. She said in her autobiography that "I felt as if a snake had bitten me." Alonso is quoted as saying that it was something "I've dreamed about. . . all my life."

Attracted to the theme of personal freedom in the Carmen story, she had already planned a ballet on the subject with her composer-husband, Rodion Shchedrin, who had arranged a modern "take" on music of Bizet for the purpose. The Soviet Minister of Culture, Yekaterina Furtseva, objected to the ballet, saying "What we saw was a streetwalker." But Plisetskaya overcame opposition with arguments about the Soviet Union's great friendship with Cuba and then by the force of her success in the ballet.

In New York, Time magazine said, "marvellous Maya . . . swaggers through the role with a shameless, feline verve that commands the eye and utterly dominates the stage". Alicia Alonso starred in the Cuban premiere a few months after, and made it a signature role for herself as well.

When Plisetskaya celebrated her 80th birthday gala at the Bolshoi in 2005, she danced Carmen and brought Alberto Alonso on stage for the tumultuous curtain calls. He staged the ballet for many companies, including American Ballet Theater in 1975.

In 1993, Alonso, and his third wife, the dancer Sonia Calero, defected from Cuba to the United States via Mexico. They settled in Gainesville, Florida. Alonso became master artist in residence at the Sante Fe Community College and resident choreographer for the Dance Theater of Santa Fe. In 2007, the college produced a documentary about him called Dance of My Heart.

Marilyn Hunt

Alberto Julio Rayneri Alonso, choreographer and ballet master: born Havana 22 May 1917; married 1939 Alexandra Denisova (marriage dissolved), Elena del Cueto (two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1964 Sonia Calero (one son); died Gainesville, Florida 31 December 2007.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions