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Ballet Nacional de Cuba

'Magia de la Danza'

by Cassandra

August 16 , 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

With a company of dancers unfamiliar to many London audience members, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s first program at Sadler’s Wells was made up of gala night diverts, and it was easy to see why -- it made a useful showcase for the performers. It was a program in which each and every one of the items was choreographed by Alicia Alonso in what turned out to be an often unwise attempt to embellish the originals. Expectations were clearly high with a queue for returns stretching right outside the theatre, but what the company actually delivered was work of very uneven quality.

From the opening excerpt from “Giselle”, I thought I was at a Trocks performance as the Wilis made their entrance with near comic gestures of malevolence.  The potential laughs were stifled, though, by the lovely Giselle portrayed by Hayna Gutierrez, a dancer with a fine understanding of romantic style and blessed with the softest of arms. I believe she dances the role at the Saturday matinee, a performance which, on the basis of what I saw, would be well worth going to see.

The following pas de deux was from “The Sleeping Beauty”, preceded by the polonaise in which the male members of the corps were saddled with wigs that looked like spaniels’ ears. These excerpts were not well danced, with the Aurora danced by Sadaise Arencibia managing to get her leg in a perfect 180-degree position as often as she possibly could. She came to grief in the fish dives when attempting an unnecessary manoeuvre of positioning her legs in a curve above her partner’s head.

Happily, this was followed by a gorgeous Sugar Plum Fairy from “The Nutcracker”, danced impeccably by Anette Delgado and very well supported by Romel Frometa as her cavalier. Alonso’s all-female arrangement of the Waltz of the Flowers was attractive, and as we dispersed for the interval I decided that two out of three wasn’t a bad score.

The second half of the program began with the mazurka and Act 3 pas de deux from “Coppelia”, and although the mazurka was danced with real attack, I was bemused by the one-handed lift performed by the leading couple. Yolanda Correa and Octavio Martin danced a top notch Swanilda and Franz, giving off happy vibes in this very Cuban version of village life in middle Europe.

The Grand Pas De Deux from “Don Quixote” has always been a bit of a barn-stormer as far as I’m concerned, though even a hackneyed piece like this can come to life in the right hands. However, I’m afraid what was done to it on this occasion goes beyond anything I can stomach.

Viengsay Valdes, dancing Kitri, is blessed with wonderful balance, and it is so much her party trick that she balances for an eternity even when the choreography requires no more than a pause. The audience loved it – I found it hideous. No fault to find with her partner, Joel Carreno, though -- he’s a virtuoso who’s got the lot technically and is blessed with fantastic good looks as well. But the lady’s performance was very much ballet as circus.

Arencibia returned for the second act “Swan Lake” pas de deux which illustrated the Cuban links with Russia, as this was danced in slow motion with sky high extensions: not my cup of tea at all.

The final number was “Sinfonia De Gottschalk”, a short original work by Alonso, danced to a jolly piece of music called ”Creole Party”. It was great fun to watch with most of the principals and the corps looking as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Once more it was Gutierrez who caught my eye, this time with a dazzling display of chaînés turns. It made an ideal finish.

What struck me about this company was that the dancers don’t appear to follow an over-all style, with refinement and vulgarity jogging along together in a crazy mix. Perhaps that is the Cuban way. There were a lot of happy punters that night though. One chap behind me in the bus queue afterwards seemed to prefer them to the Kirov, telling his companion “I can’t be doing with that Lopatkina: too icy”. Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but say what you like about those Cubans – icy they’re not!

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