“To preserve my memory as well as possible, in order to keep with me all of the things that I’ve learned.”
By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES – Fernando Alonso, 97, was one of the first men to become a classical ballet dancer in Cuba, together with his brother Alberto Alonso, and under the guidance of their mother, Laura Raineri, then president of the Havana Pro arts and music society.
That’s how the career of a “maestro of maestros” began, representing the first page in a long history that has culminated in international recognition, the gratitude of the greatest figures of dance, and above all in the admirable Cuban School of Ballet.
Maestro Fernando Alonso is always happy to converse about the passion that his professional world represents for him.
Fernando Alonso: It’s always a pleasure to converse on this topic, since there’s so much interest in everything related to ballet in Cuba. I feel very happy when I see how the theater fills, how the people applaud, how much ballet is loved here, and how so many people want to study it.
HT: One of your students, Martha Iris Fernández is also with us. She was a ballerina in the Camaguey Ballet, a company formed by Fernando Alonso himself, and she is now a respected teacher as well as assistant director of this specialty at the National School.
Martha Iris Fernández: I think that at times, amid the daily whirlpool, we forget a bit to honor and recall those great figures that forged the methodology for our school and made this artistic teaching possible. When we speak of Alicia, it’s also crucial to mention the pedagogical work of Fernando Alonso. At any rate, Fernando is engraved in the minds and hearts of all of our performers, myself included.
HT: The beginnings of the 21st century brought many satisfactions to the founders of the Cuban Ballet, and the Maestro reveals to us exactly what it meant to see one of his great dreams brought to reality.
Fernando Alonso: Seeing this new school completed was a highly emotional moment for me. For many years the National School of Ballet went from one location to another without a place of its own, but at last a magnificent site was constructed. This is the realization of a dream that many people have had; that Cuba should have a great dance company and a good school. Without a good school there’s no dance company, since otherwise where would the dancers come from? That is, if the school is good, the company is equally so.
HT: This man, who overflows with simple frankness but at the same time whose personality has made him an example for the culture of an entire country, is also captivating with his words. His pride in the new generations is clear in each gesture and explanation, each time he assumes his masterful role as an educator
Fernando Alonso: Well, I can’t help but feel very happy with all these things, because we were the initiators. Let’s say that we added our little grain of sand to the magnificent thing that is the art of dance when it didn’t yet exist in this country. It wasn’t easy; a lot of work had to be done. Every time that we recall all the vicissitudes – and not even all of them – the young people are struck with astonishment that it was possible to accomplish this in those times. Now that we have a very special disposition for this work, those of my generation can see how it proliferates. Magnificent figures have come out of this, like Carlos Acosta, José Manuel Carreño and many more.
HT: Fernando Alonso, sitting in the hall overseeing a rehearsal, or as we say, “cleaning up the technical execution of a Pas de Deux”, manages through his amazing science, to develop the dancers’ comprehension of the mystery of each movement, and how each muscle of their bodies communicates with the dance. This perfection is a secret of the master.
Fernando Alonso: I consider myself a perfectionist. I adore the ballet. Imagine, so many years of watching the greatest dancers in their work, so many stupendous choreographers. I’ve had the immense good luck to have worked with the best that there is in ballet, with the great Russian teachers of the old Leningrad School, from Moscow. That enormous experience is something I’ve cherished, and I try by every means possible to maintain us on that level, or to reach even higher if possible.
HT: Ballet, like every kind of art, continues to develop as time goes on. Reflecting on this affirmation, is this a concern for Fernando Alonso?
Fernando Alonso: Yes, I’ve already had some concern with this: in the first place we have fallen into an exaggerated preoccupation with the technical, due to the public’s enthusiasm for the spectacle, for the circus.
It’s extremely important that the technical aspect be extraordinary, but we can’t overload the choreographies with so many difficult steps that the public often doesn’t even note and doesn’t calculate “Oh, that is very complex.”
In such a case it can appear to be simple, and no one realizes that everything that those young people are doing is very difficult. For that reason we can’t fall into excess, neglecting that which is actuation and interpretation, reaching the public from the point of view of our expressiveness.
The other thing that worries me is the music. Since we are accustomed to going to the right because we already know that the choreography goes towards that side, we begin to anticipate a little the starting point for the steps. As a result we can get ahead of the music. This is a detail that we have to be very vigilant about, because we’re dealing with an art that is purely musical. We have to conjoin the maximum visual and auditory expressions.
HT: Martha Iris Fernández is an active example of the continuity of Fernando Alonso’s legacy. For this dancer, now a molder of new talents, one of the best testimonials that a Cuban dancer could have is that of belonging to the generation of dance professionals developed through the Camaguey Ballet with the great pedagogue himself as chief guide.
Martha Iris Fernández: Impossible to forget my arrival at the Camaguey Ballet, when we were coming from Havana and so happy to be going there. When we arrived at the Bus Station for that province it was Fernando Alonso who received us; he was the one who waited in person for those two female students from Havana who were coming to give our social service that year. In the same way, it was he who showed us the company’s installations, who began to prepare the repertory for us, and who took on all of the the rehearsals of the dance group, because he emphasized that the value of a company and of a school was the work of a collective, not the chief figures. For me another pivotal moment was the preparation of the ballet Giselle.
HT: The future of Cuban Ballet is now an assured fact, thanks to the foundations that were laid by the founders, including Fernando Alonso as scholar and as the creator of a style and technique that has defined classical dance on this Caribbean Island for the whole world. Now, satisfied with having made history, the teacher has other goals.
Fernando Alonso: Trying not to get too old, that’s my problem, and trying to preserve my memory as well as possible to remember all those things that I’ve learned, not just in order to file them away in my brain but to transmit them to the new generations that follow us.
HT: The master Fernando Alonso represents the scientific base of the Cuban School of Ballet. Those great figures who have arisen throughout its history have elevated the prestige of this art, embodying the expression of all of that knowledge.
Fernando Alonso: I can add that I wasn’t alone. We were essentially three people: my brother Alberto Alonso, Alicia, and I, who in perfect coordination managed to achieve the Cuban School of Ballet.
HT: On stage, where those fantastical beings and enchanting characters of Classical Ballet will dance forever, amid applause and standing ovations, at the end of each presentation there will always be a light for you, the teacher. Giselle will make her entrance, a beautiful princess turned into a swan, or in the same way a polished and joyful Kitris, or perhaps Dianas or Slaves pursued by Corsairs, so that Fernando Alonso can show them the fantasy of dance.
Fernando Alonso: What is my greatest complaint? That I can’t live to two hundred, or be born again to come back and do exactly the same thing that I’ve done up until now.