Lizt Alfonso brings the rhythms of Cuban dance to Centrepointe Theatre

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba presents a performance of Made in Cuba at Centrepointe.

The Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba company is a major force in Cuban dance. The company is coming to Centrepointe Theatre this weekend as part of a Canadian tour but before the show, the founder and director answered some questions from ARTSFILE about her own career and the style of Cuban dance the company will present.

Q. Ms. Alfonso welcome to Ottawa is this your first visit here?

A. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been in Canada, on tour with the company and visiting, because it’s a country I love.

Our debut in Canada was in 2007, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, in Toronto, under the tutelage of David Mirvish, with the musical Vida, which also won the Dora Mavor More Award for Best Choreography in a Dance or Musical. This was an entrance through the big door for the company and for me as an artist. From that moment on, Station Blue became our agent in Canada and we started touring. And the truth is that it’s a delight to travel the beautiful Canadian landscape in winter. It’s so different from Cuba, and I also understand why Canadians love my country.

Of course we are ready for the Canadian, American and Chinese winter, just as you are prepared for our permanent summer. Diversity is beautiful, otherwise everything would be very boring, don’t you think? And I mentioned all three countries because we have done more than one winter tour in each.

Lizt Alfonso. Photo: Alejandro Ernesto

Q. The BBC added you to an impressive list of women. What does it mean for you? 

A. Receiving recognition and awards for what you do is always gratifying, but when you’re on your feet, working without stopping, you don’t think about the recognition, instead about the capacity for human improvement. It does not cost to do good, to do what you like, to share it with others and to give reflection and happiness. 

When I was named to the BBC’s 100 women of 2018, I understood that what I have been doing all my life can change the lives of many. It is your contribution to the impulse to achieve a better world and we women play a determining role in it. When I think of all the children and young people we work with, and their families, and their neighbours, they all benefit from the work we do including the international tours that the company does, including the workshops that we offer to everyone, wherever we present ourselves.

There is also the fact that you are opening doors for your culture. For example: we were the first Cuban dance company to perform at the Latin Grammy Awards. We danced in New Zealand and the prime minister attended even though our two countries did not have diplomatic relations at the time. We danced in Israel, in the Tel Aviv Opera and other cities and our countries have no diplomatic relations. That gives the measure of how decisive the work of a woman can be in changing the destinies of the world.

Q. Can you talk about Cuban music and dance?

A. Cuban music has given the world an incredible richness of sound, because we are a great mix of cultures, but above all African and Spanish. What we defend is fusion dance which is a mixture of ballet, flamenco, modern and contemporary dance, Afro-Cuban dances and Cuban popular dances (chacha, rumba, conga, etc.) among others. In the end it is so energetic and so diverse that everyone in the world can identify with it because somehow they feel that their culture is present when we dance. It is very important that the music is played live on stage and is created in an original way for each of our shows.

 Q. Can you describe your company? 

A. Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, is a cultural institution that has: A professional company; a school for children and young people between six and 16 studying fusion dance, as an after-school program; a children’s ballet company; a youth ballet; a musical group; a team of masters, teachers, assayers and trainers and a technical team.

We offer: worldwide performances; guided tours to our dance studios; lectures; master classes; we welcome dancers, musicians, designers, composers, artists in general from all over the world; we make cultural exchanges with various institutions from various countries; we produce shows; we direct shows and much more. More recently we have opened Lizt Alfonso Entertainment.

Q. What will patrons see in the show in Ottawa?

A. There are more than 25 people on stage, dancers and musicians. And they will see the variety of our proposal, which enchants and conquers the spectator for its power, elegance and beauty.  This proposal travels from fused bulerías, which starts from flamenco, through a neighborhood in Havana, to the most contemporary of a Cuban conga. It is a lot and diverse to see and above all to enjoy in the Canadian winter.

Q. A large part of your company’s work involves education and young people. It is work that made you a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. What do you do in the schools?

A. Yes, we have more than 1,000 students. It’s a pyramid in which everyone advances and learns not only about fusion dance, but also to have life goals, to know how to fight to achieve their dreams, whether they become professional dancers or not, to work in a team, among many other things, all good for their life and for the society in which they live.

Q. When did you decide to form a company and why? 

A. When I was 23, when I finished college, 27 years ago. It was always clear to me, I felt that I had something different to say and to do through dance, through the scene. That’s why I decided.

Q. Tell me about you home base in Havana.  

A. We have a wonderful building, in the heart of Old Havana. This has opened after years and years of walking like nomads from one place to another. It is a marvellous, magical space given to us by the Office of the City Historian with the direct intervention of Fidel Castro. It was the reward for years of  work and perseverance. We have been there for 15 years. For many years we were an independent company, over time the National Council of the Performing Arts began to support us. However, we are like other companies in any part of the world because the state support is not enough to support all the work that the company does.

We can travel anywhere, as long as the country that receives us gives us a visa, as it happens in any place. Our tour map shows you that we have been in five continents.

Q. You have appeared in the U.S. at the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency. What was that like? 

A. Once again, doing well has incalculable results. The Presidential Committee for the Arts and Humanities of the United States decided to invite us because of all the work done at our school over the years and above all for the results that we have obtained. It was wonderful that they not only recognized the work of the company, but also of the school. Being recognized at the White House by Michelle Obama was a great honour.

Q. Are you on the road with your people?  

A. I like to be with my company throughout the tour, to enjoy not only the success of our performances, but also the beauty of the country and the warmth of its people.

Q. What’s next after this tour is over?

A. Another tour of the United States, then the Caribbean and finally South America. We also have regular performances at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso and other theatres in Cuba.

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba
Where: Centrepointe Theatre
When: Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.