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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
'Magia de la Danza'
August 16 , 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London
A spoon full of sugar helps the pirouettes turn round …
Ballet Nacional de Cuba's new programme "Magia de la Danza" is a cherry-pick of the juiciest corps, duet and solo repertoire from ballet favourites. Performing to a jam-packed house on opening night, so much sugar-coated eye-candy could have turned sickly sweet, but the Cubans turned the programme into both a technical and stylistic showcase of their numerous talented dancers, Alonso-esque training and high-impact staging.
With minimal sets (necessitated by the quick changes between ballet excerpts), no context in terms of the preceding synopsis whatsoever, and only the briefest strains of hum-along chords from the orchestra by way of introduction, each highlight stood alone as a delightful, self-contained mini-work.
Entering with bourrees so subtle that it was as though the doubled over, ghostly bodies of the corps were being pulled on from the wings on roller-skates, the night began with an excerpt from the third act of “Giselle.” The first half of the programme then plunged straight from the intense concluding episode of a Romantic tragedy to the flashiest of golden-robed regal court dances (from “The Sleeping Beauty”) and then on to the fluffiest of powder-pink ballet moments (“Nutcracker's” “Waltz of the Flowers”).
Factoring in a slight moment of suspended disbelief and mental adjustment for the brain to compute these sudden changes of scenario, mood and even historical era, these fragments worked quite well as a succession -- bearing in mind that the traditional three act ballets are themselves made up of series of scenes that take giant leaps through time and location. The "Magia de la Danza" programme even tacked together different parts from the same ballet into a single episode, creating a possibly unwitting postmodern feel. But why should the dancers be the only ones to be kept on their toes in a ballet performance?
The Cuban dancers were as slick and as speedy as the preview press had predicted. However, these admirable qualities were underpinned by steely nerves and possibly legs re-inforced with girders (the prima ballerinas especially) and coiled springs (the male soloists’ jetés were so high that they would not have looked out of place on an animated computer game). The partnering was risky (sometimes breathtakingly so) and timed to within a nano-second.
Yet for all Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s bravado, emotional adaptability and polished delivery of effortless technical wizardry, it was the finale piece, "Sinfonia de Gottschalk," that brought their red and yellow-clad bodies to life for me. A lilt in the music alluded to the company's Cuban heritage. Many vernacular movements were integrated into the classical dance vocabulary such as a revolving waist-height fists gesture for the men, a fleeting Latin partner dance hold between a couple and a repeated syncopated travelling step pattern motif performed by all. This spirited display of a truly rhythmical and united collection of dancers provided a glimpse of the identity of the company in relation to its motherland, and I felt that this piece in particular was stamped with the trademark of its undisputed matriarch Alicia Alonso.
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