American Ballet Theatre performs in Cuba

image captionThe US and Cuba are searching for common ground through culture

The American Ballet Theatre has staged its first performance in Cuba for 50 years, in a mark of cultural diplomacy between the two countries.

The dancers staged a tribute to 89-year-old Cuban ballet star Alicia Alonso, the company's lead dancer in the 1940s and 50s.

They stopped visiting Cuba when relations soured between the two countries after the 1959 revolution.

The communist country has welcomed a number of US cultural visits recently.

President Obama granted the ballet company permission to make the trip to Cuba.

Two of the ballet theatre's lead dancers, Jose Manuel Carreno and Xiomara Reyes, are originally from Cuba and performed in Wednesday night's gala at Havana's Karl Marx Theatre.

Alonso was in the audience and took to the stage to receive a standing ovation at the end of the show, which included a 1947 piece choreographed especially for her.

She returned to Cuba after Fidel Castro took power and formed the Cuban National Ballet, which has sent star dancers to many leading troupes around the world.

Carreno and Reyes were among her proteges.

A second show is due to take place on Thursday night and will feature performances from dancers of the Cuban National Ballet.

Both dates are part of Havana's International Ballet Festival.

While relations between the US and Cuba are showing signs of thawing, the US administration has yet to signal an end to their lengthy trade embargo of the island.

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