Legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who achieved global acclaim in the 1940s and went on to run the internationally renowned National Ballet of Cuba for decades, died on Thursday at age 98, local media said.
“Alicia Alonso has gone and left an enormous void, but also an unbeatable legacy,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a post on Twitter. “She positioned Cuba at the altar of the best of dance worldwide. Thank you Alicia for your immortal work.”
Born on Dec. 21, 1921, Alonso first appeared on stage in Havana in 1931. She married fellow student Fernando at the age of 16 and they soon moved to New York, joining Ballet Caravan, the precursor of New York City Ballet.
By the late 1940s, she had performed starring roles, particularly Giselle, at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York and London’s Covent Garden. In 1946, Mademoiselle magazine listed her as one of the 10 most distinguished women in the world.
Her vision, which started to deteriorate at age 19, became so bad that she had trouble seeing her fellow dancers and relied on stage lights to guide her. A series of operations in the early 1970s improved her vision.
In 1948, the Alonsos founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Havana, but she continued to dance for a while with the American Ballet Theatre. Her ballet company folded in 1956 through a lack of funds. The National Ballet was formed after the revolution.
So revered is Alonso in Cuba – where a perfume carries her name and the huge Coppelia ice cream parlor is named after one of her signature roles – that she carried the rare title of prima ballerina assoluta, reserved for only the most exceptional of dancers.