Originally published on Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s website.

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

Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina assoluta and general director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, is one of the most outstanding personalities in ballet history and is the top figure of classical ballet in the realm of Ibero-American culture.

She was born in Havana, where she started her ballet studies in 1931, at the Pro-Arte Musical Society Ballet School. Later she moved to the United States in which she continued her professional training with Enrico Zanfretta, Alexandra Fedorova and other eminent professors of the American School of Ballet. Alonso’s professional activity began in 1938, in Broadway, with her debut in the musical comedies Great Lady and Stars in Your Eyes.

A year later, she joined the American Ballet Caravan, the predecessor of the current New York City Ballet. She joined the Ballet Theater of New York in 1940, the year of its foundation. From this moment on she began a brilliant stage in her career, as the utmost performer of the great works of the romantic and classical repertoires.

During this period, she worked together with Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille, among other major personalities of the 20th century choreography.  Alonso performed the leading roles at the world premiere of such important works as UndertowFall River Legend and Theme and Variations.

As a figure of the American Ballet Theater, she performed in numerous European and Latin American countries as a prima ballerina. In 1948, she founded in Havana the Ballet Alicia Alonso, now the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. From that moment on, her activities were shared between the American Ballet Theater, the Ballets Ruses of Montecarlo and her own company, which she supported with very little or no official backing until 1959, when the Cuban Revolutionary Government offered her its support.

Alonso’s choreographic versions of the great classics are famous worldwide and have been performed by such major companies as the Opéra de Paris (Giselle, Grand Pas de Quatre, and The Sleeping Beauty); the Vienna Opéra and the Naples San Carlo Ballet Theater (Giselle), the Prague Opéra (La Fille Mal Gardée); and the Teatro alla Scala de Milan (The Sleeping Beauty). An eminent cultural figure, Alicia Alonso has been awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa degree by the University of Havana, Cuba’s Higher Institute of Art, Spain’s Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, and the Mexican University of Guadalajara.

In 1982, the Mexican State awarded her the “Aguila Azteca” Order.  In 1993, she was granted the commendation for the Isabel la Católica Order, which is awarded by the King of Spain. That year was created the Alicia Alonso Dance Department at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense. Later, she created the Dance Foundation that carries her name and the Higher Institute of Dance Alicia Alonso appointed to the King Juan Carlos University.

In 1996, Madrid’s Ateneo Científico, Artístico y Literario, offered her a public tribute. That same year, she was nominated Member of Honor of Spain’s Association of Stage Directors (ADE). In 1998, she was awarded the Gold Medal of Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes; the French Republic bestowed upon her the Arts and Lettres Order, with the Commander’s Degree, and was also decorated by the Cuban Council of State with the title of National Work Hero of the Republic of Cuba.

In 2000 she was awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse, for her lifetime artistic work, and received the José Martí Order, the most important decoration awarded by the Council of State of the Cuban Republic.  In January 2002 she was nominated a Republic of Cuba Ambassador, by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was invested in Paris as a UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador.

In 2003, the French President bestowed upon her the Officer degree of the Honor Legion and in 2005 received in Cannes, France, the Lifetime Achievement Award in the name of Irene Lidova for her artistic career. She was given from the hands of the Spanish King and Queen the Gold Medal to the Merit in the Fine Arts granted by the government of that country.

In 2012 she received the Prize Alba of the Arts by the Alianza Bolivariana of the Americas. As general director and main figure of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alicia Alonso has been an inspiration and a guide in the shaping of a new generation of Cuban dancers, and with her own style, she has conquered an outstanding place in the international world of ballet.

At the age of 97, Alonso continues to lead Ballet Nacional de Cuba.