Javier Torres's appearance at the London Ballet Circle last Monday reminded me of the extraordinary contribution of Cuban dancers to British ballet. Torrres is for the moment one of two male premier dancers at Northern Ballet the other of whom has just announced that he is about to take leave of absence (see Batley and Leebolt 10 May 2016). Carlos Acosta may have retired as principal dancer with the Royal Ballet (see Au Revoir but not Adieu 19 Nov 2015) but he is still very busy. Yonah Acosta and Alejandro Virelles are principals of English National Ballet.
I could go on and I could also find Cubans as principal dancers in many other countries around the world. That is impressive for a country with a population of just over 11 million whose gross national income is US$7,301 per head which ranks 67 in the UN's human development index (see UN Development Programme Human Development Indicators).
Clearly one reason for such success is that it has directed considerable resources to the development of the the art which is only possible in a command economy (see Michael Voss Passion fuelling Cuban Ballet Boom 7 Nov 2008 BBC). According to Wikipedia the Cuban National Ballet School is the biggest in the world with over 3,000 students and there are several other schools and classes throughout the island. Another reason, however, is the genius, drive and vision of Alicia Alonso, the founder of the National Ballet of Cuba. Alonso, who had a glittering career in the USA, established the National Ballet in the name of the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company some 11 years before the present government came to power.
This blog has acknowledged Alonso's genius in two articles. The first is the review by Joanna Goodman of the National Ballet's Swan Lake in Havana on 27 June 2014 (see "We are the dancers, we create the dreams": Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s El Lago de los Cisnes in Havana 8 July 2016). Alonso took the curtain call and Joanna managed to snap that great dancer together with Viengsay Valdés who danced Odette-Odile that night. The second was my tribute to Alonso on her 95th birthday last December (see Alicia Alonso 22 Dec 2015).
For many years Cuba was isolated from its neighbours by diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed by the USA and other members of the Organization of American States. During that period Cuba depended heavily on aid from the former Soviet Union and its allies which would have increased Soviet influence in all areas of Cuban life including the performing arts. Happily there has been rapprochement between Cuba and the USA which means that Cuba will be open to other influences. Will ballet continue to flourish in ballet n changing times? I hope so and think there is every chance that it will if only because ballet is flourishing in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America.