HAVANA, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Sunday night acknowledged the island's national ballet and its founders, Alicia, Fernando and Alberto Alonso, for their "fruitful" and "immense" work in shaping the nation's culture.
Diaz-Canel, along with other government leaders, inaugurated the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival "Alicia Alonso," where he praised the "altruism" of the founders of Cuba's National Ballet (BNC).
He thanked the founders for being not only "great artists," but also "great Cubans," saying: "Thanks to the National Ballet for your immense work, your unsurpassed prestige and your loyal love for what we are: Cuba."
With a tribute to the legendary prima ballerina, the Cuban leader's speech and the inaugural gala signified the start of the most important cultural events in the Caribbean nation, which opened on Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 6.
Alicia Alonso, who is going to be 98 years old, was absent due to health problems.
The Cuban head of state reiterated the government's support for the distinguished classical dance institution, which contributes to the national culture.
Founded in 1948, the company has become one of the most famous of its kind with renowned artists who have been acclaimed by critics, professionals and audiences from all over the world.
"The 70 years of feats and glories of our ballet have inspired and will continue to inspire generations of Cubans who grew up attending ballet performances for free or with symbolic prices, which in other parts of the world only the elites can access," he added.
The BNC was declared "Cultural Patrimony of the Nation" in July, a fact that Diaz-Canel said generates pride and "covers with glory" not only the dance group, but also the country.
"The National Ballet and its biennial festival are an elevated expression of the culture we are," Diaz-Canel said. "For that reason, there is no art on our island that has been able to ignore the greatness of our ballet."
The event, launched in 1960 by Alicia Alonso and institutionalized since 1974 on a biannual basis, is one of the oldest and most famous in the world of dance.
The largest number of foreign dancers at the festival, namely 21, come from U.S. companies, such as the American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet and dance groups from Washington and Pennsylvania.
They will perform in five theaters of the Cuban capital along with 23 well-known ballet ensembles from Britain, Russia, Australia, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Canada and Peru.
More than 25 performances, including special galas for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the BNC, will be the main attractions of the event.
Throughout these 58 years of history, dancers from 61 countries of the five continents have performed in Havana while 80 foreign companies have been represented at the festival.