Dancer, choreographer and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba Alicia Alonso in conversation with Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra

Alicia Alonso and Luis Rodriguez de la Sierra

Photo: James Royall

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Venue: Henry Thomas Room, Tower Building, London Metropolitan University, 166-220 Holloway Road, N7 8DB

Date: Friday 9 April 2010

Alicia Alonso, ballerina, choreographer, teacher and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, talked to psychoanalyst Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra about her extraordinary career and her approach to the interpretation of classical dance.

Alicia Alonso was born in Havana, Cuba. Ballerina, choreographer, teacher and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Prima ballerina assoluta, she is a leading figure in the history of dance and a most distinguished figure of classical ballet in the United States and Latin-America. She was the main creator of the Cuban Ballet School. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO, a member of the International Council of Dance, and the president of the Head Council of the Alicia Alonso University Institute in the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

Alonso made her professional debut in Broadway in 1938. She joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1940, when it was founded, and soon became associated to choreographers such as Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille. Her career as an interpreter of the romantic, classical and modern repertoire in the American Ballet Theatre could only be described as one of the most brilliant the company has ever seen. In 1948 she created the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in Havana while continuing to perform with American Ballet Theatre and the Ballets Russes of Montecarlo. Her choreographies of the grand classical ballets are nowadays interpreted by important ballet companies all over the world: the Opéra de Paris, the Vienna Opera, the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, La Scala of Milan and the Royal Danish Ballet, to name but a few. She has received numerous prizes, awards and honours, La Légion d´Honneur of the French government among them.

Dr Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra is an adult and child and adolescent psychoanalyst and also a trained group psychotherapist. He worked for many years in the NHS and at the Anna Freud Centre and works now at the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis and in private practice. He has published papers on child analysis and drug addiction and is the editor of Child Analysis Today. He has previously discussed classical ballet at events with Irek Mukhamedov, Lady Deborah MacMillan and Tamara Rojo.

"The ballerina is extraordinary and the character is not less so. Tonight 'Giselle', 'Carmen' tomorrow, the day after tomorrow with boots and army uniform she will be dancing the Cuban Revolution in the provinces of Cuba or in Havana. Passionate, ironic, headstrong, indefatigable, entirely possessed by dance and, however, inebriated with her Cuba, "su tierra" ("her land"), romantic and lucid, intuitive and at the same time highly intelligent... almost blind, but possessing the gift of clairvoyance... Yes, one day I shall choreograph a ballet about that extraordinary being called Alicia Alonso." Maurice Béjart, Paris, 1970




'If people think you can dance and not have a brain, they're wrong'

Wednesday 12th May, 2010 | Posted by Helena Rampley

United by their appreciation of ballet and their roots in Latin dance cultures, Alicia Alonso and Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra met in conversation to discuss the driving forces behind the 90 year old ballerina and choreographer’s career. Including clips from Alonso’s performance of the lead roles in ‘Giselle’ and ‘Carmen’, the evening explored the complex relationship between physical expression and psychological intention.

Alonso’s success and longevity as a professional dancer have been heavily influenced by her instinctive knowledge of her art. With reference to Freud, Rodríguez de la Sierra questioned her about the correlation between dance and human development. Whilst dance is often heavily stylised, it is at the same time intuitive. Alonso discussed the life-affirming quality of dance: a speechless act that draws one back to the primitive threads of the development of humanity. Recalling her early memories, Alonso pinpointed the beginning of her love affair with dance. It is not something she sees as being consciously chosen, but rather automatic; she did not grow up around ballet, but around music, and the compulsion to move to what she heard.

A deeply held love of dance provides Alonso with her motivation to continue both creating and living life to the full. Partially sighted since a young age, she employed her innate sense of what it is to dance in order to maintain conviction in her performance. As Rodríguez de la Sierra identified, this prompted a new way of thinking about dancing; even though she did not see, she looked. Having trained many dancers herself, Alonso displays sensitivity towards the problems other dancers face, and strives to help them in their efforts to overcome them.

Despite English not being her first language, Alonso communicated with great vigour, humour and grace. As she says, dance is ‘a language that everybody can understand’.