Carmen de Lavallade Wins a Kennedy Center Honor
Carmen de Lavallade will soon be be stepping onstage at the Kennedy Center with quite an eclectic group of artists: musicians Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan and LL Cool J, and TV writer/producer Norman Lear.
That's because all five have just been selected to receive a 2017 Kennedy Center Honor. A celebration (which will be broadcast on CBS December 26) will celebrate each of their artistic achievements.
At the Central Park Harkness Festival in 1966. Photo by George E. Joseph, courtesy DM archives
In a press release announcing the honors, Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein wrote, "Carmen de Lavallade is a national treasure whose elegance and talent as a dancer led to a career touching many art forms."
That's an understatement.
De Lavallade's list of accomplishments is as dizzying as it is inspiring: She danced with Lester Horton, performed on Broadway with Alvin Ailey in Truman Capote's House of Flowers, guested with American Ballet Theatre, became a principal with the Metropolitan Opera, appeared on TV and in movies like 1959's Against The Odds, joined the Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer in residence, and choreographed for Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Ailey company, among others.
With Harry Belafonte in Odds Against Tomorrow. Photo courtesy DM archives.
And she hasn't stopped! Today, she's touring a dance theater work about her life, called As I Remember It. It's clear that when we gave her a Dance Magazine Award back in 1967, she was just getting started.
Congratulations, Ms. de Lavallade! You continue to inspire us all.
A publicity shot for de Lavallade's American Dance Quartet
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.