One of the highlights of our first visit to Cuba was a Sunday matinee performance of this Ballet company, revered in Cuba, renowned in ballet circles worldwide. The performance took place not in the fairy tale castle but at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba because the Gran Teatro, like El Capitolio next door, is currently closed while renovation takes place.
The Teatro Nacional de Cuba is adjacent to the Plaza de la Revolucion, a modernist concrete square of epic proportions that appears as brutal as ballet is delicate. But the dancers had brought their fairy dust with them and the performance was exquisite. The theatre itself, though modern and far less 'pretty', was blissfully cool.
Alicia Alonso is Cuba's queen of ballet, the reason the company exists. Even now she knows how to command an audience. She was Cuba's finest prima ballerina, founded the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1948 and still plays a key part in its artistic direction. All of which is remarkable in itself, but when you add that she became partially blind in her teens, danced solo into her seventies and is now 93, well, the idea of ballet as magical seems much less fanciful.
|Curtain call for Amaya Rodriguez and Luis Valle who danced Diana y Acteon|
After the performance we chatted to a Canadian couple who had come to Cuba on the spur of the moment, desperate to escape the winter that had buried them in snow for so long. Then, as we strolled away in search of a taxi, we passed men, their whole lives contained in plastic carrier bags, who clearly lived, day and night, in the park. Life in Cuba, as everywhere else, is full of contradictions.
Practical: The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is currently based at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, Sala Avellaneda, near Plaza de la Revolucion. Performances are given at the weekends on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Our tickets cost 25 CUC each, purchased from the box office immediately prior to the performance. Getting there. The red Havana tourist bus, 5 CUC for an all day ticket, stops on the Plaza but check the time of the last bus. We took a taxi both ways but it wasn't easy finding one post-performance. It might be worth booking your return journey.