Starts with Sanitizing Batista!
This photo is courtesy of REUTERS/Alexander Meneghini. It showcases the ten-day Havana Ballet Festival. It is particularly memorable because the renowned Martha Graham Dance Company is making its Cuban premiere to absolutely thunderous applause. It is the first time since 1941 that the prestigious Graham troupe has performed in Cuba and it is just one of seven American companies participating.
The superb journalist at the London-based REUTERS bureau in Havana, Sarah Marsh, has written major articles on this week's Havana Dance Festival. She said, "It underscores U.S.-Cuban cultural exchanges in the wake of the Obama detente. The Cuban and American ballet worlds have a deeply entwined history and the father of Cuban dance, Ramiro Guerra, studied under Martha Graham in New York City in the 1940s."
Catherine Conley, shown here with Rene Marsh of CNN, is an 18-year-old American ballerina who has moved to Cuba to train at the Cuban National Ballet. Ms. Conley says, "I feel incredibly honored to be here with such wonderful people. The Cubans at the school have been so open and welcoming. I think this is a reflection of where the two countries want to go and I cherish my decision to come here." The website EuroNews.com has an excellent video report on this week's Ballet Festival and it includes interviews with both Catherine Conley and Alicia Alonso, the 96-year-old founder of Cuba's renowned ballet school.
Catherine Conley at the Cuban National Ballet school.
All of the major Cuban cultural programs -- from free health care to free education through college to ballet, etc. -- stress children. That includes these children at the current 10-day Havana Ballet Festival.
Even with eight major U. S. companies, including Martha Graham, on hand for the Havana Ballet Festival all this week, the superstar, of course, is the legendary Alicia Alonso. This REUTERS photo shows her being helped onstage at the Festival. She is now 96-years-old and has been legally blind for many years, but she is still the incomparable...Alicia Alonso. She is still the world's greatest ballet instructor, on the heels of a nonpareil career as the world's superstar ballerina. Since 1959, or since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Ms. Alonso has personally scoured the island in search of children that she would bring to Havana on full scholarship-and-board to be trained to be world-class ballet stars. Over the decades, the greatest ballet companies in the world -- San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Moscow, etc. -- have benefited from superstars selected and trained by Alicia Alonso. Many of those stars are now millionaires but they still love Alicia Alonso and she still loves them just as dearly as she did when they were her kids.
This photo shows Alicia Alonso when she was the world's greatest ballerina. She had left Cuba "for good" in the 1950s because of the vile Batista-Mafia dictatorship. But, a ballerina superstar, she joyously returned to her beloved homeland in 1959 after the Cuban Revolution defeated the hated Batistianos.
This iconic WordPress.com photo is historic because from 1959 till today Alicia Alonso has been an integral part of Revolutionary Cuba. As soon as the pig-tailed Alicia returned to Cuba after the Revolutionary victory, Fidel Castro went to see her, as this photo attests. According to the famed Cuban journalist Carlos Franqui, Fidel told her, "I know you are the world's dance star, but your first love is Cuba. I want you to start a ballet school in Havana for Cuban children. You would be in total charge and I will provide you $250,000 to get the school started and then make sure it stays funded, come hell or hurricanes. I want you home here in Cuba." The pig-tailed Alicia Alonso accepted that historic offer, and the rest is also history.
She built the National Ballet of Cuba into the world's best school.
Fidel, "come hell or hurricanes," kept his promises to Alicia.
Fidel attended many performances with Alicia.
Over the years as they have aged...Alicia is now 96 and Fidel is 90...he has bestowed upon her all of the top medals, honors and awards that he could think of. At the ceremony above, an audio recording captured a soft, private exchange as he pinned a medal on her chest. She said, "You have always been so very kind to me." He replied, "No one, myself included, has ever given you the total kindnesses that you deserve."
Typical Cuban children in pre-revolutionary Cuba.
Cuban children yesterday at the Havana Dance Festival.
Beginning in 1959, Cubans who could read and write -- like the young woman here on the right -- were sent into homes across the island to teach millions of illiterate adults, like the young mother above.
Cuba's literacy rate today is world-class.
From 1959 till today, Cuba provides totally free and excellent health care for all Cubans, especially the women and children. Cuba's infant mortality rate is lower than most far richer nations, including the U. S.
Alicia Alonso told the London newspaper The Guardian: "The Western media will never give him credit for it, but Fidel made the Revolution a female-driven affair right from the start. That is monumental considering how the plight of women and children created the need for such a revolution. You asked me a tough question, 'Why have you stood by Fidel for all this time?' Well, it's not a tough question. I know of no significant Cuban women -- Celia, Vilma, Haydee, Tete, Melba...the ones who fought beside him...none ever left his side till the day they died in Revolutionary Cuba. I, who joined him in early 1959, will do the same. In Washington and Miami some say he lied to them and he is a not good man. Well, he never lied to me and to the women of Cuba. He may not be a good man to his enemies but he is a kind man to me and to the women of Cuba. That means he is also good to Cuban children, don't you see? And what did that replace? It replaced all the Mafia unkindness."
Alicia Alonso, a Cuban Revolutionary legend at age 96.
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