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American Ballet heads to Havana

In its first visit to Cuba since 1960, the American Ballet Theater of New York has announced it will dance at the International Ballet Festival of Havana in November.

In its first visit to Cuba since 1960, the American Ballet Theater of New York has announced it will dance at the International Ballet Festival of Havana in November.

The company wants to attend to honour Alicia Alonso, the Cuban-born dancer and founder of the National Ballet of Cuba who was once a principal dancer with the New York company.

The festival, scheduled for Oct. 28 to Nov. 6, is dedicated to Alonso, now 90. She issued a personal invitation to the American Ballet to attend.

"ABT has for many years seen itself as a cultural ambassador, bringing American ballet to the world," executive director Rachel Moore said. "Alicia is part of our past, and remains part of our family. There is a special tie with the National Ballet of Cuba."

The U.S. has relaxed rules that allow cultural organizations to travel to Cuba, but the ballet company must get a licence from the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which monitors and enforces U.S. trade sanctions.

Alonso visited New York this spring to celebrate her 90th birthday with ABT, where she danced from 1943 to 1948.

Although she was partly blind in one eye and had no peripheral vision, she became renowned for her version of Giselle. She had a celebrated dance partnership with Igor Youskevitch at ABT that she continued later in performances with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

In 1948, she founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company in Havana and it eventually became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba where she continues to serve as artistic director.

She left Cuba and resumed her international career briefly in the 1950s when Cuba was under the leadership of Fulgencio Batista, but Fidel Castro invited her to return in 1959 and she formed a ballet school as well as running her company.

American Ballet Theatre will perform two galas and two repertory performances in Havana, including Theme and Variations, a ballet created by George Balanchine for ABT in 1947 with Alonso and Youskevitch originating the leading roles.

The four-day tour will be financed from the company's touring budget.

Artistic director Kevin McKenzie travelled to Cuba in 1986. Since the mid-1970s, individual dancers from ABT, New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have made visits to the country and visited Alonso's company.

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