Alicia Alonso in “Don Quixote” in 1968, photo by Alessio di Paola

Ballet Nacional de Cuba returns to the Auditorium in May for three performances of its acclaimed Don Quixote, choreographed by longtime company director Alicia Alonso. The company’s version of the ballet puts a distinctly Cuban spin on the story ballet and has been called “a fiesta for firebrands” by the Washington Post. In this interview with the Auditorium Theatre, Alonso discusses the ideas behind her version of Don Quixote and her career as a dancer and choreographer.

How does your version of Don Quixote differ from Marius Petipa’s ballet? What can audiences expect to see in this Don Quixote that they may not be anticipating?

Our version of the Don Quixote ballet respects the original choreography and its essential elements. But, at the same time, it includes newer classical dance techniques that have been developed.  Audiences can expect a great show, one that is full of color, technical virtuosity, and expressive force, all at the service of the style and content of the work. Our version also offers a very respectful treatment of the character of Don Quixote, who, despite his humorous qualities, has a profound sense of ethics.

Has Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s version of Don Quixote changed at all since it first premiered in 1988?

We consider all of the great classics that we stage as something alive, in a constant process of improvement. There are always new details and new stylistic or dramatic art aspects that are stressed.

The character of Dulcinea plays a major role in your ballet, but she does not appear in most choreographic versions of the story.  Why did you decide to make her a more major character?

Dulcinea is a significant character in the story of Don Quixote. She is the feminine ideal that obsesses him. That is why we have given her a larger presence in our version, in which she always appears as a mythical figure in the dreams of Don Quixote.

What is the significance of the story of Don Quixote in Cuba?

The novel Don Quixote is one of the literary monuments of our culture, which is of Hispanic origin. We believe that the novel expresses ethical principles and an overflowing imagination.

Do you feel that American audiences have a different perception of your works than Cuban audiences?

I do not believe that their perception is different, fundamentally, since both audiences have a theatrical and dance culture.

You had an extensive career as a dancer yourself. How does this experience affect how you direct the company and how you choreograph?

I believe that my experience as a dancer has been of enormous importance, both in the direction of the company and in my choreographic work. This is shown in the artistic and technical direction, but also in the human aspect. I am, so to speak, someone who comes from “the craft.” I have come a long way: dancing, interpreting styles and characters, and receiving the teachings of great choreographers and masters, giving me an inheritance that I have tried to preserve and enrich through dance.

This article has been translated and condensed.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba performs Don Quixote at the Auditorium Theatre May 18-20.