(p.213) Appendix G Proposal on Ballet
(p.213) Appendix G Proposal on Ballet
Proposal presented by Fernando Alonso at the Continental Congress of Culture, Santiago de Chile, April 1953, read by the poet Nicolás Guillén
The ballet in Latin America and worldwide
From the beginning of this century, the ballet, like the opera and the theater, has suffered a huge crisis. The political and social reforms taking place in the world, eliminating kings, courts, and patrons, apparently struck a death-blow to the performing arts.
The new social system confers upon the state the guardianship and protection required by those arts, but such a brand-new system hasn’t succeeded in breaking down, in many cases, the indifference and tepid outlook of present-day governments, impeding the compliance with this official function in most countries. That explains why art and artists lead a precarious existence, teetering on the brink of decay from the inside out.
Moreover, film, television, and other such entertainment, whose production offers the economic perspective of easy money, have been favored with huge investment, depriving the arts of an audience composed in its majority of wage earners, who cannot buy a seat priced high enough to cover the expenses incurred by a theatrical production.
Many times, this gives rise to cases where—and this is not new—even a full house may result in the promoters sustaining losses.
The ballet, specifically, faces problems along the same lines, as the opera and theater, but with the added exacerbation that dancers can do nothing else but ballet to survive. Given that one’s body is one’s instrument, and since it requires years to sculpt it, maintaining it via intense and exhausting physical exercise, since one can lose in a very short time the technical mastery acquired only through long years of dedication, and since one’s professional career is shorter than that of the singer, actor, or any other (p.214) artistic genre career, the dancer is prevented from doing any other kind of professional work, for which he or she has not prepared.
For other artists it is possible, even though it is cruel, to divide their time between their artistic calling and a job that allows them to subsist, but the dancer can only do it at the expense of his art, his technique, his virtuosity. Even though we know of many cases of such a double life, in which a ballet dancer looks for some routine job that provides him with the economic resources that his profession denies him, but such self-sacrificing artists will never be good employees, nor halfway dancers, because one’s life is negatively marked by frustration, an intimate tragedy, very common and prevalent among those of our epoch.
This worldwide artistic problem is more serious among the populations and cities of “Our America,” where the education is less extensive and our governments’ concern is less intense.
Recent ballet boom
Since 1929, the year that Diaghilev, the last great individual ballet promoter, died, it appears that this art seems to have completely died out.
Colonel Basil, with his heroic troupe, sought to keep a votive candle burning, but that individual effort wouldn’t have been sufficient had Russia and England not, with a scrupulous vision directed at their obligations to the state, taken under their wing this venerable art form, becoming patrons of classical dance academies, which have taken on an official character.
This example, which has produced such optimal results for the culture and artistic credit for those countries, is beginning to spread, and today several governments are beginning to imitate them, resulting in an international ballet boom and stimulating even more competitive spirit. In the U.S., tours are sponsored and subsidies granted to various companies. The City of New York, along with private patrons, supports both a dance and an opera troupe. Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and some other countries in Latin America help to sustain some of these activities. And thanks to this initial and correct approach on the part of government figures, the ballet, born in the Italian and French courts, an elite art par excellence, begins to take root in townships, to extract indigenous essences of different nationalities, to tint itself with new colorations, to reinvigorate itself with new currents and help the average man and the humble man gain artistic and intellectual (p.215) knowledge. Ballet will never again be the art of kings and potentates, but an art of and for the people, just as times demand.
That is what we must work for.
The need for knowledge and domain over classical and modern dance for the preservation, mastery, and sharing of national cultures
Classical ballet, the ballet of the academy, with its traditional canons and intellectualization, rather than blocking popular expression in every town, as it has done somewhat, the genuine and spontaneous expression, distinctive to every nation, wrenched from its own roots, might now tend to favor its development, extracting from such folkloric expression its richest lode, its own essence, studying them, explaining them, mastering them, rendering them universal, removing them from the narrow boundaries of a single country, and giving the world the opportunity to get to know them in their purest form, preserving it for posterity.
But if classical or modern dance offers the opportunity to gain mastery of folk dance, thereby raising the level of authentic universal art, folkloric dance, in turn, brings to dance of the academy its vigor, its color, its rhythms, its gestures, its conceptions, archaic or modern, but always different and novel.
Complete familiarity with history and dance techniques as universal art is necessary and healthy for the study and development of the folk arts. From the joining together of what is spontaneous and traditional from each nationality with what is intellectual and found in the academy of dance overall, there always emerges the branding that tempers a style into something all its own. Ballet is tinged in each region by the rhythm and color of each locale. It is today easy to distinguish Spanish ballet from Russian ballet, and we Latin Americans should aim to create a ballet with all the virility of the pampa gaucha, a Mexican ballet with the ferocity of its own indomitable people; an Indian ballet full of color and the sadness of lineage of heroes subjugated by a civilization that enslaved it; a Cuban ballet with the cry of the black slave, the heat of our tropical sun, and all the softness and sweetness of our landscape.
If the language and customs become universal, if the way of life is made communal and the governments join together, if we aim to be citizens of the world, then Latin American artists must do our best to make sure that at least Our America, the one that Martí located between the Río Bravo (p.216) and Patagonia, is known, better admired and recognized, joined together and better loved.
Formal proposal to this Congress
Considering all of the above, before this Congress, let me propose the following:
The creation of a professional Latin American ballet company that tours the world, bringing to every country on the globe our most genuine native dance forms, not as an exotic and novel show but as a pure art with our own protocol and style, so that we may assume our rightful place as the civilized nations we are, in the continuum of universal values.
This company will make its home in the designated Latin American country that will operate as a great ballet school, where classical and modern dance will be taught at the academy level, as well as the wealth of folkloric dance, traditional American dances, Creole, indigenous, African, etc. Although special emphasis will be placed on the folkloric aspect, the student must master classical ballet technique.
The faculty will be composed of teachers from all Latin American countries, chosen via competition. If necessary, classical ballet would be taught by a European teacher who is a qualified and recognized authority on the subject, brought in to transmit his knowledge and experience.
In addition to pure dance instruction, the school will teach those other disciplines which in the end are indispensable to the creation of great choreographic works, such as music, aesthetics, dance history, art history, etc.
Each government will subsidize its students, the form and amounts of these scholarships to be determined at a later date.
The school shall have its own small local company, which will serve as a laboratory for dancers and choreographers, and which, after a designated training period, would become a professional company, ordained by the merit of its work, and all things being equal.
The different Latin American countries, through their ministers of education, will contribute in a form and quantity to be determined to sustaining this dance institution with fixed and permanent annual subsidies, additionally sponsoring the professional company’s tours.
An annual festival will take place in a different Latin American country each year, to which guest companies from Europe and other countries will be invited jointly with the Latin American ballet company.
On these occasions, the government of the host country will make avail (p.217) able to the participants all manner of facilities in terms of hotels, visas, promotion, and such.
Finally, I would like to address the Congress about the achievements of Ballet Alicia Alonso, which it is my honor to direct. This company was founded in 1948 with the goal of creating links among dance artists in Latin America. That’s why Ballet Alicia Alonso is largely composed of dancers from nearly all Latin American countries.
We count among our stars Carlota Pereyra, prima ballerina from Argentina, Víctor Álvarez from Uruguay, Vicente Nebrada from Venezuela, José Parés from Puerto Rico, Julián Pérez from Costa Rica, etc. We have also created a company school in which there are a large number of students from a broad representation of our sister countries.
The education provided in that school has been planned in collaboration with teachers from the Sadler’s Wells, George Goncharov and Mary Skeaping, both of whom carry great international prestige, León Fokine from the Russian Imperial Ballet, and other outstanding personalities who play a role in our classes as guests or as permanent faculty.
The work achieved by this company in its three Latin American tours has contributed on a huge scale to the increase in popularity of this art form over the past three years in the countries it has visited.