Being one of the lead dancers of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba (LADC) makes her heart explode with joy. “I owe them a lot…not only have I trained as a dancer here, I feel that I am a better person”, the young woman told PanamericanWorld.
She has followed the same path since she was 6 years old, but still loves the idea of taking the stage and dancing to the rhythm of one of the most prestigious companies in Cuba’s dance scene and the world.
When talking to Lizt Alfonso, we discovered how Sandra’s gratitude echoes in other students and graduates of the academy. Pure coincidence? Not really. Rather, it has been the result of the steady work of the manager of this project who promotes a unique style and cultivates values and principles among her dancers in an effort to make them good men and women.
“It’s a task that should start at home since training is the family’s responsibility. However, it has become a hallmark of our school and the community is quite amazed that, in a society marked by the loss of values, there are young people and children such as these”, said the acclaimed choreographer.
Though not all of them are performing today, most of her former students fill the heart of this woman with pride, who at age 23 decided to create a space to teach others what she had learned.
In Cuba and in international contexts, we can find teachers, doctors or musicians grateful for the discipline instilled in an institution where saying good morning, asking for permission and genuinely worrying about others matters as much as performing a dance step with elegance and accuracy.
Professionally training dancers with the fusion dance style that defines her went from being a dream to becoming a reality for Lizt Alfonso when she founded the LADC school in 1992, a year after the birth of the troupe. The institution, presented with the International Spotlight Award at the White House in 2016, carries out community work by teaching vocational workshops to children from all over Havana and from faraway provinces, such as Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas.
Acknowledged for its social impact, this initiative also serves as seedbed for the Children and the Youth Ballet, in charge of developing talents professionally from an early age. The 2007 Royal Alexandra Theater premiere of the show known as Life in Toronto, Canada, saw the international debut of this Ballet made up of children and young people, who during their early years at the school showed that they possessed sufficient qualities and skills to train as future dancers.
The “little ones” hold as special place in the heart of the founder, who likes keeping them close to her. That is why she recalls 2008 as a success year, when a Group of Artists-Teachers attached to the National School of Dance (ENA) began to operate in the headquarters of the academy. If a dancer is included in this group, he/she is assured a professional level of training.
For them, the syllabus was designed in such a way that, in other sessions, they would be taught the subjects corresponding to the upper-medium level and the specialty ones (Dance-fusion, Flamenco, Ballet, Choreographic Composition, Modern Dance, Folk Dances, Kinesiology and Music Appreciation, among others).
For three years, this group benefits from highly prestigious teachers and participates in galas and shows with their own repertoire or with the rest of the school. The graduates of this level take up the baton, thus ensuring the relay within the company.
Students who are teachers
When Sandra Reyes thinks about this path, which she also navigated, several feelings come to mind: “On the one hand, it fills me with nostalgia, because I still remember how it all began: pure entertainment for children who came for one workshop only, and on the other hand, I am proud of having been perseverant”.
Today, Sandra, like other company dancers, also works as a teacher in the school. The young lady recalls that time when she was excited to see her teachers on stage and is happy to know that, perhaps, she is an inspiration for the girls now.
“This is a place that shapes you in many ways. Ms. Lizt has watched over our behavior, cultural training, things that stay with you forever, even after you finish your career as a dancer, “said Reyes.
For the leader of the LADC school, where more than 1,200 children come every year, knowing how many have been positively influenced is a source of joy for her. “I’m happy to know that we were able to teach them something valuable,” Lizt confessed; it makes me feel like a Life Coach”.
They have it wrong, it is Divine
Lizt Alfonso’s troupe is unique for more than one reason. Her company, the first in Cuba to perform at the Latin Grammy Awards, has conquered the most important theater halls in the world. For some media, it is a “sensual mixture of fire and spice”, while others consider it “Impressive” or “Simply Spectacular”.
In our case, we prefer to define it as a unique experience and, knowing that its style transcends Flamenco roots to merge them also with Afro-Cuban rhythms, we dare compare it with that artist who mesmerized José Martí and was immortalized in his poem La bailarina Española/the Spanish dancer. The Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba company is “divine.”
One of the most unique elements is the possibility of having their own music ensemble. According to orchestra director Carlos Ernesto Varona, this decision sets them apart, since each of the shows has the peculiarity of having its own original composition.
“In addition, as musicians are part of the scene, we do not use lecterns or sheet music, only memory. I think that few groups uphold this coherence with such devotion. Here music and dance are one: we match the rhythm to every movement made by the dancers and that demands rehearsal time and tremendous precision. The advantage is that in the same venue we have a recording studio that allows us to perfect our work and render it to the public with the best possible quality, “added the professional guitarist.
Claudia Valdivia, the company’s stage manager, recalls that in its beginnings, LADC was only made up of women; however, over time they saw the need to include men to the dance troupe. “But we have never compromised on excellence,” said Valdivia, former first dancer of the troupe.
LADC is known for having choreographies with one soloist or lead and only the best dancer gets that role. In that sense, they can never stop competing. Yet this is where we strike the difference, says Valdivia. “We support competition because it drives us to outdo ourselves, but that does not mean that we stop helping each other.”
We always have our eye on the project, on uplifting the team and the family despite individual interests, “which is most important for us,” said some of those who dance for LADC. And this is what makes them truly unique and genuinely Cuban.
Original Shows of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba:
I am adding the translation alongside the Spanish title on the left, just for the sake of consistency with the above:
- Amid palms and songs
- Lecuona Suite
- Viva la Fiesta / Long live the party!
- Al Andalus: about gypsies and elf
- Habaneras, the Flight of the Dove
- Destello de Luz / Flash of Light
- Sincerely F G L (dedicated to Federico García Lorca) (1998)
- Strength and Compass (1999)
- Elements (2004)
- Wings (2006)
- Life (2007)
- Girlfriends (2011)
- Cuba Vibra! / Cuba Shakes/Vibrates! (2012)
- Heartbeat (2017)
Written by Odett Domingues Calvo / Photo credits: Abel Rojas