Havana (AFP)

Cuban dancer and choreographer Alicia Alonso, who died on Thursday at the age of 98, was a ballet legend who overcame early blindness to impose her unique style on the dance world.

In Cuba, which she had never wanted to give up despite the money and fame proposals abroad, Alicia Alonso had created a school apart in the world of ballet: the Cuban school, which mixes rhythms and origins to create a recognizable style among all.

She is the only Latin American in history to have been "prima ballerina assoluta", a symbolic title given to the most exceptional ballerinas of their generation.

Many remember the long-necked, disciplined but strong-tempered dancer, who seduced the audience with her flamboyant strides and was able to make the thirty-two whips of Swan Lake at age 40. And passionate choreographer who continued to teach his art at the dawn of his centennial.

And despite a heavy handicap: almost blind at the age of 20 after a double retinal detachment, Alicia Alonso, who only distinguished the shadows, has danced almost all her life by orienting herself through light cues arranged on the stage, according to her second husband, the director of the National Museum of Dance Pedro Simon.

- "I dance in my head" -

She did not put away her slippers until 1995, when she was 74 years old. She had become a demanding choreographer, always slender and elegant with her pink lipstick and long nail polish, which made each movement relentlessly repeated until it reached perfection even if it could not see anything. "I dance in my head," she often said.

Spaniard's granddaughter, Alicia Ernestina of the Caridad del Cobre Martinez del Hoyo was born in Havana on December 21, 1920. She later took the name of her first husband, the choreographer Fernando Alonso.

As a child, she said, she was already gambolling in her house on tiptoe to the annoyance of her father, a military veterinarian who ordered him to "walk normally".

Settled in the United States with her family, she began her career in 1938 on Broadway, where she performed in several musicals. In 1943, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera House of New York in the lead role of "Giselle", with which will associate forever the history of dance.

For half a century, she will perform this famous romantic ballet that will make her a star of classical dance. "If Alicia Alonso is born, it is so that Giselle never dies," usually say his countrymen. But Alicia Alonso was also Carmen, the Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia ...

In 1948, after passages by the Bolshoi, the Kirov and the Ballet of the Paris Opera, she definitely returned to her native island. She founded her own company, which became the National Ballet of Cuba after the triumph in 1959 of the revolution of Fidel Castro of which she is a fervent partisan.

- False Fencing Course -

In a country of salsa fans where classical dance is virtually unknown before her, Alicia Alonso makes the Cuban National Ballet one of the best in the world thanks to its mixture of great technicality and sensuality. "A sweet sensuality that we Cubans have in their blood," she explained, "I do not know where it comes from, maybe the climate, but there is something different."

Aurora Bosch, another figure of Cuban dance, also remembers that Alicia Alonso had managed the feat of attracting men to ballet, despite the mockery on the island where the dancers were considered homosexuals.

For that, she had cunning: "She told them that they were going to give them fencing classes," she told AFP in 2016. "When they started to rehearse for ballet they asked" Where is the sword? + "before finally being persuaded to dance.

In 2015, the Grand Theater of Havana is renamed the Alicia Alonso Theater as a sign of recognition for its contribution to Cuban culture and its "fidelity to the Revolution".

"In Cuba, we planted a tree, it gave very beautiful fruits and it will continue to give because it is a very good land and this tree has very good roots," she said. "And it's my legacy, not just for Cuba, but I hope for the world."

© 2019 AFP