The Madness of Cuba’s Lizt Alfonso

November 5, 2015 |

Litz Alfonso. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

 

By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — “This project started in 1991. I believed women had a lot of stories to tell and, since we don’t always get a chance to do so, I decided to open up my own venue. I also wanted to experiment with something new, which we’ve come to call “fusion,” to combine all dance moves into a single, seamless choreography, where you can’t tell where ballet ends and contemporary dance begins, or where you’re suddenly confronted with Afro-Cuban folklore, for instance. It’s a big mix, like we Cubans are,” explained Lizt Alfonso.

“We succeeded because I and the people who followed me are insane. We had a dream, hope, faith and determination. We launched our project at the very moment Cuba faced its worst economic crisis ever. People thought we were beyond hope, thinking that, since we didn’t even have food or transportation, we wouldn’t have the strength to dance.”

Lizt Alfonso’s company is currently on its eighth tour of the United States. The company is to perform at Princeton, Boston, New York and Washington. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

“We were like gypsies, moving from one place to another to rehearse. We would get kicked out of everywhere. There was even a lawyer on our backs trying to keep us from performing. This was the case until a theater director lifted the roadblocks they’d put on our way and, as of that moment, we were allowed to participate in all important events around the country. We became very popular, even though we were a small company without any institutional support. The first costumes we had were sown by mothers of the dancers. We’d fix old fans at home, we didn’t have anything, but we went ahead and started anyways.”

“It was a very, very difficult time. Our parents didn’t approve. They would tell us to quit, that it was a pipe-dream, that we would never get anywhere. At one point, other companies with governmental support appeared and they called our dancers, so they would leave us and join them. They were defining moments and that made us strong. When the road becomes longer you become more resistant.”

“We were finally taken in by a Spanish association, the Concepcion Arenal, which offered us all of the support it could in exchange for maintaining a Spanish dance school. In 1998, we had our first tour in Spain and, in 2001, the first in the United States. It was a huge success and, when we returned, the Performing Arts Council called us, offering us membership.”

“Today, we have more than 1,000 students enrolled in our vocational workshops for ages 6 to 16, where people pay a ludicrously small sum, less than US $2.00 a month for two, 1-hour classes a week. It’s a pyramidal structure. The best at the workshops go on to enroll in the children’s ballet program, the best of those join the youth ballet and the best of those become professional dancers and obtain an official degree. The circle closes when these dancers become workshop teachers.

“We needn’t fear for Cuban culture. It won’t be absorbed by anyone. Our entire life we’ve absorbed what others offer us. Since birth, we’ve been a mixture of African, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and any other tradition that comes our way. In one of the performances we staged in the United States, we combined rumba and guaguanco, as well as Latin Jazz rhythms. Where does all that come from, I ask?

“It’s hard for anyone to “eat us up” from the cultural point of view because we’re also a force to be reckoned with, despite the shortages and pressing needs. Perhaps that’s precisely what’s made us so strong. We always want to soar higher than we can and that makes us stronger when we face the world.

The Lizt Alfonso dance company brings in new dancers from its own workshops attended by Cuban boys and girls. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Share this:

What's your opinion?

  • Michel Greig

    I am a photographer from the United States, have been to Cuba many times. I have photographs of Lizt Alfonso taken last April at Teatro Melia,I would like to give them to the dancers this December if possible. Would like to contact Raquel Perez Diaz,to talk to her as a photographer.I will be in Havana for the Jazz Festival.
    Please contact me at email: vt9@frontier.net Thank you for any help.