Laura Alonso, Maîtres of All
By: Martha Sánchez
“Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a ballet maître?”- asks Laura Alonso with the malice of a wise man and having silence for answer she responds: “You can always negotiate with the terrorist”.
Alicia and Fernando Alonso’s daughter, founders of the Cuban National School of Ballet, entered at the age 12 the corps de ballet of the National Ballet of Cuba because dancers were needed, and this is how her career started, alone. Her parents were squarely against. Time went by and one day, Laurita appeared in the same rehearsal ballroom of her mom, but not as a simple dance companion, but as a maître. Today she is one of the most respected maître in the world thus is supported by the awards that recognize her profession as the one created specially for her in the International Ballet Competition of Jackson (United States) in 1990.
In Havana, Laura founded Pro-Danza, the youngest Ballet Company in Cuba so far, supported by their own effort. Laura’s trust in youth took her to create in early 90’s the Joven Guardia (The Young Guard) to open a space for even younger dancers who entered the National Ballet had the chance to perform leading roles and develop their skills. This was how she rescued Manuel Carreño, Xiomara Reyes, Carlos Acosta, Lorna Feijóo, Alihaydée Carreño and many other dancers between age 18 and 19 from the corps de ballet and put them to dance as Kitris, Basilios, Odette-Odile, Sigfrids and other leading roles in the classics. Therefore when the National Ballet of Cuba needed new figures for these tasks within the Company, she had a series of well-trained dancers to overcome the most difficult challenges on stage. Then Laura was fully dedicated to Pro-Danza.
At present, she prepares a show in honour to the 90 years of Fernando Alonso where she plans to gather artists who have been working abroad for some time now.
J: Did the fact of being the daughter of the creators of the first professional dance company of the country and the Cuban school of ballet, made your professional life easier?
Laura Alonso: Imagine, people in the ballroom only saw that if anything went right, it was normal for things to go that way. If things went wrong, How could that be possible?! I remember once I was practising 15 days to make one step, and it worked out, then one of my colleagues said: “Take a look at that, with the conditions she has”. It had taken me almost a month of hard work to come forth with that step, and what they saw was easy! They never saw that I was like everyone else and that it was difficult for me as it was for them.
J: What is the most important thing for a ballet maître?
LA: He should not forget the sense of humour. A dancer cannot be depressed, he is fighting against himself because what he uses is his body, and needs trust in himself. The maître can criticize him, has to criticize him, but always cheering him up, never discouraging him.
J: Why do you say that the good dancer should always feel uncomfortable when he dances?
LA: Because dancing hurts. It’s just like telling an athlete in the parallel bars or rhythm gymnastics to feel comfortable, who can be comfortable standing up side down and at times standing on one hand? The same happens to the dancer, he’s going to be uncomfortable all the time; but it’s an utmost pleasure to triumph over himself, it’s an incredible sensation.
J: Have you taught in the ballet school Julio Bocca, in Argentina, in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Australian Ballet, in a nutshell, in several companies in different countries. Tell us any experience.
LA: The first time I went to the Royal Danish Theatre – which façade was kept, but behind it halls were built, and adjacent buildings were incorporated and that is a labyrinth- I got there and they gave me several tours until they made me stop in a studio where I was supposed to deliver my first class and they said to me: Bournonville gave classes here, besides she made her first choreographies”. I almost die. Uhh! though my worst moment was in Japan. I was my mother’s teacher for seven years and we had gone to Japan in Show. I was teaching her and Jorge Esquivel and one day my mother got in the class, stopped me and said : “Don’t , don’t start because one or two more people are coming to join your class. I didn’t like the way she said it and I replied: “who?”, all of the sudden Carla Fracci, Jorge Don, Paolo Bertolucci and others came in. All those who were dancing there came to receive the class, I quickly said: “I’m leaving”. Then my mother grabbed me by the waist and Esquivel put a hand in my shoulder and “no, no stay”. Wow good heavens! I was scared, but I delivered the class. I put all courage together, even gave corrections, but I was terrified. And please, don’t ask what I taught, because I don’t remember.
J: Why were you given the Award for Best Maître when you took José Manuel Carreño and Ana Lobé International Ballet Competition of Jackson, United States, in 1990?
LA: When we first got there, between 400 and 500 contestants were there to practise in only six ballrooms. Then each one had an hour for rehearsing four things and delivering a class. I couldn’t do it everybody got there and protested; but I have experience and I know how difficult is everything, so I couldn’t protest. All of the sudden I looked and most of the halls in American houses have wooden floors, which were big enough. Many contestants had gone on their own, some of them started to look at me, to come around me, and I only invite them to join the class, and they were in. I finally ended teaching everybody and taking some rehearsals to those who were alone.
J: And did you give them corrections?
LA: To everybody. In the ballet, competence must be on stage. Starting from there I am invited every year as a teacher.
J: Why did you found Pro-Danza?
LA: Because Cuba produces many good dancers, but they come in all sizes, types and races. The National Ballet as representative institution in Cuba, must have its standards: everybody must be equal, have the same size, the same features. I take the rest, which is still good, because Cuba needs more ballet companies, Fidel Castro said it once.
J: Does Pro-Danza follow a particular style?
LA: Pro-Danza follows an adventurer and experimental style. We like breaking models, we want to make things differently. The National Ballet has its own way of working which is excellent. Pro-Danza makes different things like Dracula, as it’s going to be Yarini (a ballet about the most famous `pimp´ ever known in Havana), as it’s going to be Excalibur (about the legend of King Arthur). We are the only ones in the country with a montage of the full ballet of La Bayadera and another of The Corsair, a ballet little known by Cuban audience, and the Corsair only for the pas de deux and La Bayadera for the famous scene of the kingdom of shadows. That is what we are looking for, unusual things. Without forgetting the traditional classics.
J: Why students at Pro-Danza don’t participate in the International Concert for Ballet Students organized every two years in the Cuban National School of Ballet?
LA: Because the first positions are always scholarships for that school, hence taking from me the best students I have.
J: Do you have any paradigm of a female or male dancer?
LA: No, I don’t.
J: Any favourite choreographer?
LA: Jiry Killian, because he has a sense of humor, and the necessary control of the stage, the lines, the figures. I just like him.
J: What do you remember from La Joven Guardia?
LA: For all the public was exciting, but I got the videos. If you see them now you’d be amazed at how much dance in Cuba has improved, and the incredible mistakes of that time, but as they didn’t expect young people to dance that kind of thing around those times, the mistakes were almost imperceptible . Cuba must be very proud of its dancers, almost every foreign company in the world has Cuban dancers with leading roles, and that is an achievement of our school.
J: You were teacher and coach of José Manuel Carreño for a while, you even took him to Jackson’s contest, How did that influence his professional development?
LA: Ask him, just like in the case of Xiomara, and other members of La Joven Guardia.
J: That’s very difficult you know most of them are not in the country.
LA: Maybe they come by – her eyes were instantly sparkling with childish malice and hidden plans.
J: Rumour has it that you want to make a Show with the artist of La Joven Guardia?
LA: Exactly. I want to make a show will all the people who is dancing abroad and in the Island in leading roles, in honour to the 90 years of life of Fernando Alonso. Because if Alicia Alonso was the example of the Cuban dancer and Alberto Alonso was the first who said that we should have a different school, Fernando Alonso made a research, studied what it was known as the English school, studied the Bournonville school, the Danish, Russian, and French and applied the new advances in sports. He wrote it and analyzed the movements, either the choreographic of my uncle Alberto, as the dance movements of my mother. Then, I am trying to dedicate this Show to him, in the month of July.
J: Difficulties you have been through in life…
LA: Millions, but if you mention something where no effort is needed, then it’s not worth.
“The maître has no rest, she is about to travel abroad to deliver classes in another academy, but before that, she is taking a rehearsal to dancers of her Company who in April will dance Dracula again a choreography of the Puerto Rican Nana Badrera, which had a tremendous success in the country since its debut. Afterwards she returns to her office and turns on a recorder to listen original Chinese music.
"I am planning to put on stage Mulan for the little ones of Pro-Danza”- she comments. It was like this, with infinite faith in human beings of any age, race, size or country, continues working with pleasure together with all those who love art.
J: Maître, one last question: What teachings did you learn from your parents?
LA: I learnt everything from my mother and father- says and waves good bye with a smile.