According to a song in the musical A Chorus Line, all is beautiful at the ballet. But is it? At the National Ballet of Cuba, which has been hailed as one of the leading ballet companies in the world and the best in Latin America, dancers receive modest salaries of $10 to $30 a month plus small bonuses when the company travels abroad.
Founded by prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso, her former husband Fernando and his brother Alberto in 1948, the company has its headquarters at the Grand Teatro Nacional in Havana. According to a report by the British newspaper The Guardian, dancers complained about the theatre’s abysmal conditions: peeling plaster on the walls, heat, and bugs.
Their unhappiness has led to a number of defections over the years. Last year, seven dancers defected while on a tour in Mexico, and recently eight dancers asked for political asylum while in Puerto Rico for a series of performances.
Most dancers who defect the National Ballet of Cuba claim they do so not for “political” but “artistic” reasons. They want the “opportunity to dance more modern ballets”; because of their excellent training, many of these dancers find new homes in companies throughout the United States where they excel in their art.
For Alicia Alonso, who at 93 and almost blind is still in charge of the company, these defections are “painful,” particularly because these dancers have received many years of “free training.”
Alonso has been an indomitable force behind the success of the company and the shape of ballet in Cuba. As a result, while many wonder what will happen to Cuba after Fidel, others ponder the future of ballet in the island after Alonso.
How do you feel about the conditions dancers encounter at the Cuban National Ballet?