Alicia Alonso is a Cuban prima ballerina and choreographer, best known for her portrayals of Gisele and Carmen. She was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1921 and began dancing at an early age, first in Havana at the Ballet School of the Pro-Art Musical Society in 1931. After marrying Fernando Alonso, they moved to New York City where Alicia studied with Anatole Vilzak and Ludmilla Shollar at the School of American Ballet. During this time, she also studied with Vera Volkova in London.
In 1938, Alonso made her Broadway debut in the musicals Great Lady in 1938 and Stars in Your Eyes in 1939. Early in her career, probably about the time, Alonso began experiencing problems with her vision and became partially blind. She continued to dance, by adapting to her impairment:
Her partners always had to be in the exact place she expected them to be, and she used lights in different parts of the stage to guide her. Her handicap was totally unnoticed by the audiences.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Alonso danced in New York, London, Paris, Havana, Russia and Monte Carlo. She is most famous for her iconic portrayal of Giselle in 1943.
Alonso founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet in 1948 in Havana which later became the Cuban National Ballet. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Alonso returned to Cuba permanently and became director of the Cuban National Ballet, a position she holds to this day.
Watch Alicia Alonso performing Giselle with Vladimir Vasiliev and Ballet Nacional de Cuba (1981?)
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Photo credit: Library of Congress