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Alberto Alonso (Choreography)

Alberto Julio Rayneri Alonso (22 May 1917 – 31 December 2007) was a Cuban dancer and choreographer, the brother of Fernando Alonso and brother-in-law of Alicia Alonso (née Martinez). Alonso was influential in the development of what is known as the Cuban style of ballet, a combination of Russian and Western techniques with a Latin style.

Alonso was born in Havana, and attended Springhill College in Mobile, Alabama. At his return to Cuba he began ballet training in 1932 at the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical arts school in Havana with Nikolai Yavorsky. He studied in Paris with several teachers including Preobrazhenska and Idzikowski and danced with the Ballets Russes de Colonel W. de Basil from 1936 to 1940, performing principal roles in several ballets created by Michel Fokine. He subsequently danced with the Ballet Theatre from 1943 to 1945, in works created by Fokine, George Balanchine and Leonid Massine. Back in Cuba in 1948, he co-founded with Alicia and Fernando Alonso the Ballet Alicia Alonso, which would eventually become the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, being its artistic director and choreographer.

From 1942 he also worked as ballet master and choreographer, creating several works including Antes del Alba (1948, music by Hilario Gonzalez, libretto by Francisco Martínez Allende), Rapsodia Negra (1953, music by Ernesto Lecuona), El Solar(1965, music by Tony Taño, filmed as Un día en el solar by Eduardo Manet), Espacio y movimiento (1966, music by Stravinsky, prize for best choreography at Varna in 1968), Un retablo para Romeo y Julieta (1969, to the music of Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz), etc. His most well-known ballet is Carmen Suite (1967), to music by Rodion Shchedrin; it was created for Maya Plisetskaya in the Bolshoi Ballet, and simultaneously for Alicia Alonso in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and later it has been re-created by several other companies.

He was married from 1939 to 1944 to the Ballets Russes Canadian dancer Alexandra Denisova. Later he married Elena del Cueto, a Cuban dancer, until 1962, when she left for the United States with their two daughters. In 1964 he married the Cuban Rumba dancer and actress Sonia Calero. They were married until his death and had a son, Alberto Jr.

He left Cuba in 1993 with his third wife, and settled in Gainesville, Florida, where he became master artist in residence at the Santa Fe Community College and resident choreographer for the Dance Theater of Santa Fe. He continued choreographing for several companies including New York's Ballet Hispanico in 1994, and re-creating Carmen for Svetlana Zakharova in the Bolshoi Ballet in 2005.


Together with his brother, dancer Fernando Alonso, and Fernando's wife, Alicia Alonso, Alberto Alonso founded what became the National Ballet of Cuba in 1948. The three forged a unique Cuban style of ballet that combined classical Russian and brilliant Western techniques with a national flair and sensuality.

The school has long been a feeder for dancers defecting to U.S., European and South American companies, including Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, London's Royal Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet and Buenos Aires' Ballet del Teatro Colon.

For the Cuban company, Alberto created such works as "Antes del Alba" (1948), "Rapsodia Negra" (1953), "Espacio y Movimiento" (1966), "Un retablo para Romeo y Julieta" (1970) and a 1982 version of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," "Cumbres borrascosas," in which the 60-year-old Alicia Alonso danced the role of Catherine Earnshaw.

But Alberto Alonso's most famous work, "Carmen Suite," was created in 1967 specifically for Bolshoi Ballet star Maya Plisetskaya to music by her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin. Reportedly, it was the first piece choreographed by a foreigner in the Soviet Union, and it was created over the objection of Bolshoi Ballet director Yuri Grigorovich, who disliked Plisetskaya.

The work was considered so sensual and suggestive, however, that Soviet authorities immediately canceled a second performance. Only after Plisetskaya agreed to wear a chiffon skirt over her brief black leotard and tone down some of the more extreme arabesques was the work permitted a repeat performance. She would eventually dance the piece more than 35 times around the world.

The following August, Alicia Alonso premiered a Cuban version tailored for her by Alberto Alonso, with Plisetskaya's brother, Azary Plisetsky, as her partner. Both versions remain in the repertory.

Alberto Julio Rayneri Alonso was born May 22, 1917, in Havana. He studied with Nicholas Yavorsky in Havana and with Olga Preobrajenska and Stanislas Idzikowski in Paris.

He was 17 when he was hired by the Ballets Russes de Colonel de Basil when it visited Cuba in 1936. During the next five years, he danced with the company alongside such stars as Alexandra Danilova and Leonide Massine in revivals of Massine's "La Boutique Fantasque," "Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur" and "Le Tricorne," among other Massine works, and in the company production of "Aurora's Wedding."

During his years with the company, he married Canadian dancer Patricia Denise Myers, known as Alexandra Denisova. He resettled in Cuba in 1941, co-directing Havana's ballet school with Denisova. The couple later divorced.

From 1943 to 1945, he returned to dancing, joining his older brother, Fernando, and Fernando's wife, Alicia (born Martinez Hoya), at New York's Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre). There he danced many leading character roles in works by Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine and Leonide Massine, and appeared in Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free."

In 1948, the three Alonsos returned to Cuba and began their great venture in founding the National Ballet of Cuba.

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