Conversation with Lizt Alfonso: Dancer, Company Founder, Director, Choreographer Extraordinaire
By Patricia Bell-Newson
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cuban dancer and choreographer Lizt Alfonso is among the world’s 100 most influential women of 2018. Alfonso, director of an internationally celebrated dance company, was included in the list due to her essential role as ambassador of the Cuban culture which she has represented in different shows performed in hundreds of cities around the world. Renowned for its novel fusion style, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba comes to Flato Markham Theatre on Friday, March 1, 2019. Alfonso took a quick break from rehearsals for the upcoming show, to share a few thoughts about life beyond the limelight.
You’ve been quoted as saying you had a dream to form your own dance company and to take it to the world stage from the time you were young. Where did this dream originate?
It was there almost from the beginning. I was at the university and I said to them, always, that I wanted to have my own company. And they said, “you are crazy, it is not possible.” But I know very well what I want. I focus on that. It is true that it is crazy, it is a lot of work, but it is what I decided to do.
Your first travel away from Cuba, where did you go and how did this experience impact your sense of dance?
My very first fly was in 1983. I won a scholarship to Spain. I danced in a school, the Royal Academy of Dance. It was a very good experience. In Cuba we had classical dance, modern and contemporary dance, traditional and folklore dance, and now we have the influence from other parts of the world. Because of that trip I decided to change what I had been doing all my life and not to do just one style of dance but to mix them all together.
This is your third visit to Markham. Your company appears to have a strong, devoted Canadian following. Why is that?
I think it is good, yes? People know the company, they’ve been following the company since 2008 and they can see the development of the company and the changes. We were small, now we have a huge school. At the beginning we were just a female company. Now we have men too. And it is very interesting. It is a different point of view. Audiences know the fusion, all the mix of different styles. We’ve been changing, and we have a lot of things to share. We feel when we go to Canada that it is a second home. We are very comfortable in Canada, and we are happy to be there, even in winter.
Having toured the world, how would you describe Canadian audiences?
It is a very good thing. We go to Montreal or to Toronto or to Whitehorse and the reaction on these outings is the same. Everyone claps and says bravo – well – in Whitehorse they make a sound like a wolf. Everywhere it is all so loud and I think that people enjoy the energy of the company and the way that we dance. We have a lot of passion and happiness. We are very unique. We have very difficult choreography. It is a kind of energy that we share with the people. They go back home and they want to move, they want to dance. They want to be happy. We see it in other, different countries like China or Bahrain or Qatar; people enjoy the show. And they want the company back again and again.
You were named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador due to your work with children, providing an education rich in human values. You were also recipient of the White House National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for similar reasons. Why is dance for children and adolescents so important to you?
The study of dance can change your life forever. It tells you a lot of things about not only how to move your body, but how to move your brain. You need to work in a team and at the same time you are an individual. It takes adolescents off the streets, they’re learning something interesting for themselves, something they can share with their families, their friends, their neighbors. It is good for the whole society.
I’m proud of all my students. Some are now doctors or engineers, they have professional careers. Others are in the company starring as prima ballerinas or soloists, or in other dance companies around the world.
Your dance company explores fusion unlike anything seen before. Where do you find your inspiration as a choreographer?
Inspiration is everywhere. I say always that I receive more information and inspiration to do more shows than time allows. Life is not enough for all the scenes I want to do. In the morning you can see ladies go down into the old town, it could be the movement of the water on the beach, a poem you read, or music you hear. It is everywhere waiting for you. You only need the sensibility to receive the message. You also have the influence of good choreographers, actors, painters, everything. Culture is around you and embraces you.
What are you most proud of – what do you consider your greatest achievement?
What I think about my achievements? Wow. I think that I do a lot of scenes in my life, a lot of scenes, and I think that everything is for good. I am very proud of my life up to now – and I try to keep strong enough to continue. Sometimes I feel I am not very conscious about what I do in my life outside of the company….
When you’re not teaching, rehearsing or touring, how do you like to spend your time?
(Laughs) I am working in the company all the time. But I read a book, I see a good movie, I go to lunch with friends. But really, really, really, it is all about the company. We are all the time working because we like what we do. I want to do it. All the time. It is our life.