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The ambassador of dance: Alicia Alonso.

Last June in Paris Alicia Alonso, the Cuban ballerina and choreographer, was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She received this honor for her "outstanding contribution to the development, preservation, and popularization of classical dance." UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, who formally announced Alonso's nomination in June, said, "Alicia has combined her Cuban roots with different cultures and traditions to bring us remarkable artistic creations, and has helped the growth of dance throughout the Americas and the rest of the world."

Alicia Alonso was born in La Havana, where she first began studying dance in 1931. She later moved to the United States and enrolled in the School of American Ballet, where she got the chance to study with such notables as Enrico Zanfretta and Alexandra Fedorova.

She made her US professional debut in 1938. The following year she joined the American Ballet Caravan, predecessor of the New York City Ballet, which she would join again in 1940. This became la grande jette, or great leap, in her career, where she had the opportunity to dance and interpret the roles in the great romantic and classic works alongside Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, and Agnes de Mille.

She also starred in the world premieres of works such as Undertow, Fall River Legend, and the Balanchine masterpiece, Theme and Variations. During these years she also performed as prima ballerina throughout the Americas and Europe. However, there was a terrible disruption when she suffered from a bout of near-blindness, almost ending her career, but she recovered mad resumed her career as a soloist.

Hailed as one of the world's great ballerinas, she remained at heart a Cuban dancer. She returned to her and in 1948 she founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company, later renamed and recognized as the Cuban National Ballet, which she still directs. Under her guidance the company became one of the world's great ballet troupes and is acknowledged to be the best dance company in all of Latin America.

Alonso won a second fame for her choreographies of such classics as Giselle, Grand Pas de Quatre, La Bella Durmiente del Bosque, and La Fille real gardee, choreographies that have been staged by the Ballets of the Operas of Paris, Vienna, and Prague, as well as the Ballet San Carlo in Naples and Milan's La Scala.

On October 23, Alicia Alonso was awarded the prestigious Nijinsky Medal by UNESCO's International Dance Council. According to Douglas Blair, president of the Council, Alonso was given the medal "for her high artistic values, which she has been able to transmit to successive generations."

Alonso, who admits to harboring two great passions, "dancing and life," has also received honorary doctorates University and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain).

As director and leading figure of the Cuban National Ballet, she has been a guide and an inspiration to a new generation of Cuban ballerinas who have won a distinguished place in the world of ballet.

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Title Annotation:Leader of the Past
Author:Everett, David
Publication:Latino Leaders
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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