Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who overcame her disability and achieved global acclaim with a broad range of acting skills and charisma, died at the age of 99 on Thursday (local time) in Havana.
Alonso leaned to dance ballet as a child and got married to ballerino Fernando Alonso (1914-2013) at the age of 17. The two moved to New York and joined the American Ballet Theater in 1940. Being diagnosed with a detached retina, she almost lost her eyesight at the age of 22 after three eye operations.
The illness, however, could not break her spirit. Alonso was guided on stage by her fellow dancers’ whispering and learned to find the exit relying on stage lights. She finally made her debut as Giselle at 23. “I don’t want to be pitied for my disability when my performance on stage was bad and I don’t want to be complimented for overcoming my disability because I did well on stage,” the legendary ballet dancer said at an interview at the age of 51.
The ballet company Alonso founded in Havana in 1948 was the precursor of the National Ballet of Cuba she established in 1959 with financial support from the Fidel Castro government. She later became a national icon in Cuba but was also accused of being used in promoting Castro’s communist regime. She retired from stage in 1995.
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