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OBITUARIES : Alberto Alonso, 1917 - 2007

Dancer co-founded the National Ballet of Cuba

January 11, 2008|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Dancer and choreographer Alberto Alonso, one of the three founders of the influential modern school of Cuban ballet, died of heart failure Dec. 31 at his home in Gainesville, Fla., his family announced. He was 90.

Together with his brother, dancer Fernando Alonso, and Fernando's wife, Alicia Alonso, Alberto Alonso founded what became the National Ballet of Cuba in 1948. The three forged a unique Cuban style of ballet that combined classical Russian and brilliant Western techniques with a national flair and sensuality.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, January 12, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Alonso obituary: The obituary of dancer and choreographer Alberto Alonso in Friday's California section said dancer Maya Plisetskaya performed Alonso's "Carmen Suite" more than 35 times. She performed it more than 350 times.

The school has long been a feeder for dancers defecting to U.S., European and South American companies, including Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, London's Royal Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet and Buenos Aires' Ballet del Teatro Colon.

For the Cuban company, Alberto created such works as "Antes del Alba" (1948), "Rapsodia Negra" (1953), "Espacio y Movimiento" (1966), "Un retablo para Romeo y Julieta" (1970) and a 1982 version of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," "Cumbres borrascosas," in which the 60-year-old Alicia Alonso danced the role of Catherine Earnshaw.

But Alberto Alonso's most famous work, "Carmen Suite," was created in 1967 specifically for Bolshoi Ballet star Maya Plisetskaya to music by her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin. Reportedly, it was the first piece choreographed by a foreigner in the Soviet Union, and it was created over the objection of Bolshoi Ballet director Yuri Grigorovich, who disliked Plisetskaya.

The work was considered so sensual and suggestive, however, that Soviet authorities immediately canceled a second performance. Only after Plisetskaya agreed to wear a chiffon skirt over her brief black leotard and tone down some of the more extreme arabesques was the work permitted a repeat performance. She would eventually dance the piece more than 35 times around the world.

The following August, Alicia Alonso premiered a Cuban version tailored for her by Alberto Alonso, with Plisetskaya's brother, Azary Plisetsky, as her partner. Both versions remain in the repertory.

Alberto Julio Rayneri Alonso was born May 22, 1917, in Havana. He studied with Nicholas Yavorsky in Havana and with Olga Preobrajenska and Stanislas Idzikowski in Paris.

He was 17 when he was hired by the Ballets Russes de Colonel de Basil when it visited Cuba in 1936. During the next five years, he danced with the company alongside such stars as Alexandra Danilova and Leonide Massine in revivals of Massine's "La Boutique Fantasque," "Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur" and "Le Tricorne," among other Massine works, and in the company production of "Aurora's Wedding."

During his years with the company, he married Canadian dancer Patricia Denise Myers, known as Alexandra Denisova. He resettled in Cuba in 1941, co-directing Havana's ballet school with Denisova. The couple later divorced.

From 1943 to 1945, he returned to dancing, joining his older brother, Fernando, and Fernando's wife, Alicia (born Martinez Hoya), at New York's Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre). There he danced many leading character roles in works by Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine and Leonide Massine, and appeared in Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free."

In 1948, the three Alonsos returned to Cuba and began their great venture in founding the National Ballet of Cuba.

Reportedly, however, Cuba's isolation and Alicia Alonso's monopolization of roles led to increasing frustration for Alberto Alonso and his second wife, dancer Elena del Cueto. In 1962, Del Cueto sought asylum in the United States, taking their two daughters with her, and the couple divorced.

In 1991, Alberto Alonso's son, Alberto junior, defected, followed by Alberto senior and his third wife, dancer Sonia Calero, in 1993. The family settled in Gainesville.

In addition to his son and wife, survivors include daughters Victoria Alonso Saccenti and Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra; his brother, Fernando; and three grandsons.

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chris.pasles@latimes.com

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