The "Other" Ballet Company

November 5, 2008



On Saturday, I was invited to attend a rehearsal of Cuba’s “other” ballet company, El Centro Prodanza, founded by Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia and Fernando Alonso. Dancers for this company train at Ms. Alonso’s school, Prodanza. Fernando himself (he started the Cuban National Ballet School and is now 94) presided as the dancers prepared for a production of Swan Lake. He even got up to demonstrate at one point and I have it on video. (Coming soon to

But I’m jumping ahead. First was company class. What a surprise to find Frank Andersen of the Royal Danish Ballet teaching! The Cuban dancers struggled with the fast footwork characteristic of Bournonville. It was a treat to hear Andersen talk to them about the subtle differences in épaulement: never face front, always look in the direction of the working foot–out over the hand. “When we jump, we always have to open our arms. We used to call this ‘the Danish embrace,’” he said. “Keep it in front of you. Never jump through.”

Fernando sat beside me and commented frequently. “It’s beautiful to see all this, the way it used to be.” He told me he first saw Bournonville technique when he traveled to Europe with ABT (circa 1941). “The ABT dancers’ technique was wonderful, but then we saw the Bournonville school. It was amazing to see all the old things.” He pointed out one difference: “Bournonville didn’t like to have the men behind, lifting the women too much. He had them competing onstage.”

Another eye opener for Fernando during that trip abroad was that a man (possibly Flemming Flint) danced onstage naked. The next day a British writer wrote that he had control of all his muscles but one. “It was true,” said Alonso. “I couldn’t stop laughing.”