An Interview with Lizt Alfonso
Lizt Alfonso has built an empire in Cuba. Her dance company, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, travels the world intriguing audiences and building bridges, and her academy empowers thousands of students yearly, mostly girls and women. What began as a dream is now a sprawling complex in Old Havana filled with students, teachers, visitors, and anxious parents waiting outside. Along the way, Lizt has garnered hundreds of international awards, including the International Spotlight Award from the US President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Most recently, she was named one of BBC’s 100 Most Influential Women of 2018. We sat down with her to talk about the path she took to get here, how she stays inspired, and what her mind is on next.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba recently celebrated its 27th anniversary. Can you tell us a little bit about how you get from a young woman with a dream to having a world-renowned dance company and being one of the most important cultural institutions in Cuba?
I am and will always be a woman of dreams, but not only is it worth dreaming, it is necessary to land them in reality, to take them from saying, to doing. It’s a difficult task, which requires a lot of dedication, effort, sacrifice and dedication. But, you start by doing what you like, and then you have no choice but to carry out the project. I dreamt of having a company and watching it triumph on the stages of the world, so, step by step, we did it. I had to have a clear idea about what I wanted to say that was different from what others have already said. I had to structure a group with very clear goals; to look for your own dancers, those who are trained for the battle you want to fight; to create a school for them; to have a space, a building, a place where you can permanently and systematically develop the work you set out to do. Step by step, with patience and perseverance, you get very far. I was thinking about the common good, about everything that can be done for others, from a school to the staging of the company.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba has branded and differentiated itself through fusion, utilizing different forms of dance and music, and perfecting the blend for something completely beautiful and unique. Who are your inspirations in music and dance, in Cuba and abroad, that helped you create with such dynamism?
I have had many inspirations. Great choreographers, creators from Cuba and the world, also great composers and interpreters and dancers, film directors, visual artists, enlightened beings who also give light to all others. They will always be a source of infinite inspiration. The list is endless.
For people that have never visited the site for Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba in Cuba, it’s hard to really grasp the impact you’ve had in your community and in Cuban society. Thousands of youngsters study dance at your school each year, not only learning to dance but developing important life skills. Tell us about the school and your approach to forming not only dancers, but people?
The school has become very large and has several levels. At the base are the Circles of Interest, where all children 11 and younger are accepted and only take classes once a week. Then there are the Vocational Workshops, which work with children and young people between 6 and 16 years of age and take classes twice a week. Then there is a selection towards the Children's Ballet and then one towards the Youth Ballet to become part of the professional career (Teaching Artistic Unit), all of them take classes from Monday to Friday of various subjects and essential for their possible training as professionals of fusion dance, which is our style. Finally, the company. Then, the students who do not pass to the career of professional profile, and want to stay next to us, remain in the Vocational Workshops, where they exercise the dance as a hobby. This training is very important, it gives the students many values, and they are the weapons that will dress them as professionals of the future, wherever they are and whatever career they study: They love dance and music, as well as all the arts that come together; they enjoy art in general, they are theatre lovers, they radiate good feelings that they share not only with their families but also with their neighbors and at the end that reverts to the good of society and all for the good of themselves and others.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba has performed across the United States, including at very tough times in the bilateral relationship, and opens its doors to visiting Americans, oftentimes hosting Members of Congress, Governors and State Department officials, playing a crucial role in cultural relations between the two countries. What’s your vision of US-Cuba relations and where Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba fits in?
My vision? May we not waste any more time and end up hand in hand. The truth is that the hands between the people of both countries have always been together. For example, we see how accepting the viewers are of our performances, workshops, and all the activities that we develop in the USA when we are on tour.
We must all be aware that there are people benefiting from us being separated and we should not allow that, because they are harming many, many more of those who benefit. If I were to tell the story of my life, which is like that of many Cubans and emigrants from around the world, you would understand what I am saying. It is not logical that a mother and a daughter separate and spend many years apart (this happened to my grandmother with my aunt); it is not logical that a niece knows her aunt only after thirty years (that niece is me), although by letters or phone calls once a month they were the best friends in the world, it is not fair. I wish it were in my hands to solve it. There is so much stubbornness in this and we are tired. It's time to turn the page and not look for excuses from either side.
Artists will always be the best ambassadors of our countries, of culture and of love and peace, because art does not need words to have power and because art builds bridges and opens doors.
In 2016, the White House awarded you with the International Spotlight Award. What was that experience like and what does in mean for the future?
It was an incredible experience, not only because of the award itself and the fact that Michelle Obama presented it at the White House, but because the process through which we were selected was beautiful. To be close to so many good artists who were part of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, to share with them, to take from their experiences and they from ours, to feel that emotion, to know that in many parts of the world there are people who go hand in hand with you, that was an incredible experience. It was the feeling that we are not alone, that there are many people taking care of children and young people and that, the day we are no longer there, they will always move forward with their own voice.
It seems like Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba has been everywhere recently. The choreography of the song “bailando” rocked the world – video currently has millions of views on YouTube, you were the first Cuban dance company to perform at the Latin Grammys (2015?), you were honored by the White House, the company has toured in over 20 countries, including the US, Canada, Indian, Turkey and Israel, and Lizt, you have just been named as one of the top 100 most important and influential women in the world by BBC. What have the last few years been like and what can we expect going forward?
The last years have been the same as the first ones, total dedication and no rest, that's what it's all about, it's the only way to be alive and to keep growing, because once you start you always feel that you can do much more and each goal reached leads you to create new ones.
Click to scroll photos below