Fernando Alonso: Dancer, teacher and co-founder of the Cuban National Ballet

 

Arich dance legacy was assured in Cuba many years ago by the three mythical figures who founded the Cuban National Ballet: Fernando Alonso, his younger brother Alberto, and Fernando's wife, Alicia Alonso.

Fernando Alonso was born in Havana on 17 December 1914 and died there, at the Cardiovascular Hospital, on 27 July. Fernando and Alberto were among the few and first men to train as classical ballet dancers under the guidance of their mother, Laura Raineri. The news of his death was broken to us during the final performance of A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev by the distinguished Cuban ballerina and teacher Loipa Araujo – associate artistic director, with Tamara Rojo, of the English National Ballet.

Fernando Alonso Raineri, the elder of two sons of Matías Alonso and Laura Raineri, was brought up in a house filled, like his country, with music and dance. His mother was a pianist and later president of Havana's Pro Arte Musical, which brought the young boy into contact with some of Cuba's – and the world's – greatest musicians. He also loved science and nature.

It was Alberto who first started ballet classes, to help make him a better footballer. Soon Fernando joined him, and stayed – especially since there were 126 girls to six boys, and one of those young girls was Alicia Martínez del Hoyo. The two soon fell in love. In 1937, Fernando, seven years older than Alicia, went to the US looking for work, and Alicia, only 16 at the time, joined him. They got married and a year later their only daughter, Laura, was born.

In New York the couple danced continuously, first in musicals, then with some of the biggest names in the international dance world of that era, all the while taking classes with famous teachers. Fernando would study the different teaching practices of the different teachers, and took the best parts of each system to develop them, from a scientific foundation, into the basis of his own Cuban-flavoured pedagogical studies.

The couple danced all over the world together and were members of Ballet Theatre (as the present American Ballet Theatre used to be known then) for eight years. They never intended to stay in New York and returned home permanently in 1948 when Ballet Theatre found itself facing a financial crisis.

The desire to form their own company was financially challenging. When the money ran out, they advertised in a newspaper for a sponsor and La Polar brewery agreed to pay for one performance, providing there was some advertising on stage! "We told them we'd put bears on the stage, beer bottles, whatever they wanted," reported a member of the University Student Federation of Havana, which had pledged to support the company.

The Ballet Alicia Alonso persevered and, filled with dancers from Ballet Theatre, won acclaim on its tours of Central and South America. It was at this point that Fernando, while still performing, decided to change direction and dedicate himself to the needs of the company by becoming its director. However, dark days lay ahead for them all. During the Batista government, which Fernando, Alberto and Alicia opposed, the company was disbanded for three and a half years and not reinstated until the revolution of 1959.

In 1950, Fernando had claimed another milestone – that of founding the Alicia Alonso Academy of Ballet with the understanding that here, native Cubans could be trained in the art of classical ballet, and be a permanent source for the company. So it was on this project that all attention was focused during the years when the company did not function. With Fernando as teacher-director, all three Alonsos worked tirelessly in establishing an academy, which would – and still does – rival any of the top quality international ballet schools of today.

With the support of the Cuban Revolution, and under the aegis of Fidel Castro, Alicia, Fernando and Alberto Alonso created the foundations of the Cuban classical ballet company we now know as the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

Fernando, the father of Cuban ballet, trained, among many others, the "Four Jewels" of Cuban ballet: Josefina Méndez, Mirta Pla, Aurora Bosch and Loipa Araujo – the latter considered one of the best ballet teachers in the world today. Famous dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov sought to benefit from Fernando's classes whenever they could.

In 1975, after he and Alicia divorced, Fernando married the Cuban ballerina Aida Villoch and became the director of the Ballet School and Ballet Company of Camagüey, where he taught until very recently. He was awarded Cuba's National Dance Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2000 and in 2008 he won the Prix Benois de la Danse, given to him at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

In her excellent biography, Fernando Alonso: The Father of Cuban Ballet, Toba Singer gives a full account of the life of an extraordinary, well-loved Cuban ballet figure.

He is survived by his daughter, Laura, his grandson, Iván, three great granddaughters, and Yolanda, his third and last wife.

Fernando Alonso, dancer and dance teacher: born Havana, Cuba 17 December 1914; married three times (one daughter); died Havana 27 July 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines