Alicia Alonso battled eyesight problems and the political entanglements of the Cold War to become an internationally renowned ballet star.Born Alicia Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martinez in Havana, Cuba, she studied dance as a young girl.
She made her first pub¬ lic appearance in Sleeping Beauty at the age of ten. In 1937, she moved to New York City with her new husband, Fernando Alonso, where they both pursued professional dance careers. In 1939, she joined the American Ballet Theater and was given several solo parts, in acknowledgment of her talent.
Alonsos rise to stardom was cut short in the late 1930s, when she suffered detached retinas in both eyes. She underwent three operations and was confined to bed for a year. In 1943, still suffering from eye problems, she danced in Giselle at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. The role of Giselle would make her famous. She performed the role for three years and was promoted to principal dancer.
In 1948, Alonso returned to Cuba, where she and her husband founded their own ballet company. The Ballet Alicia Alonso provided a showcase for talent from throughout Latin America. In 1930, she also founded Alicia Alonso Academy of Ballet, to teach young dancers in Cuba. In 1936, however, a conflict with the government over the lack of funding prompted her to shut down the company and the school.
In 1957, Alonso demonstrated her inter¬ national popularity when she became the First Western dancer to be invited to perform in the Soviet Union. The Cold War was at its peak, and few Westerners traveled behind the Iron Curtain, let alone danced to adoring audiences there. Alonso performed for sever¬ al months in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities in the Soviet Union, and she made an appearance on Soviet television.
After her trip to the Soviet Union, Alonso went back to the United States. In 1959, after the communists rose to power, she returned to Cuba. Fidel Castro gave her the financial sup¬ port to reopen her academy and her company, which was renamed the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Her efforts were successful, but the U.S. government banned her from performing in the United States because of her support for Castro’s communist regime.
The United States eventually allowed Alonso to return, which she did in 1971. She made a number of performances, winning over audiences and critics who were unaware that she had danced in a state of near blind¬ ness. In 1990, Alonso performed the pas de deux from Swan Lake with the American Ballet Theater, at the age of sixty-nine.