- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Ballet legend Alicia Alonso was introduced like a goddess to the cocktail crowd at the Cuban Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy on Sunday evening during a celebration of the first visit here in 22 years of her Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

The grande dame with the beautifully manicured fingers and sightless eyes spoke graciously of the reception accorded them during her company's limited five-day engagement at the Kennedy Center that ended Sunday afternoon. Performances featured her staging of "Coppelia" along with "Giselle," both classical and romantic ballets that the troupe has made famous since its founding by Miss Alonso in Havana in 1948.

Called by Chief of Mission Rodriguez Bassara "a glory to Cuba" and the "best of Cuba's ambassadors," Miss Alonso said that she had been warned to be "careful" about coming to Washington in these perilous times but that she had replied "no, now is the time when the people of the United States need us most."

The dancers, who have performed in at least three other American cities in the past, were polite but emphatic in their opinion of American audiences.

"Not like Cuba," they noted, meaning home audiences cheer them on with immense gusto and appreciation. "It's crazy," they agreed.

"They danced so well they must have been excited to be here," commented Washington Ballet founder Mary Day, who recalled seeing Miss Alonso dance as a prima ballerina in the early 1970s. Miss Alonso, now 80, had been a guest artist with the Washington company as far back as 1958, doing "Swan Lake" for two weeks at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre.

Miss Alonso's favorite memory of Washington through the years, she said in a private moment, was when a conductor once stopped a ballet in the middle of a performance and she had to start over.

The exchange tradition lives on. A married pair in the Cuban company are going to spend six months with the Cincinnati Ballet next year. More time for enjoying the fabled American hamburgers that they had definitely sampled during their visit, they said.

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