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Ballet Nacional de Cuba

'Giselle'

by Ana Abad-Carles

August 18, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

On Thursday 18th August, Ballet Nacional de Cuba presented Alicia Alonso’s version of the classic “Giselle”. According to the programme notes, Alonso first staged her version in 1958 for the Ballet del Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Alonso’s version of the Romantic classic is not for the fainthearted. Though she has not changed much of the choreography for the main characters, nor touched the story in any way that might offend the purists, she has indeed made substantial changes in the dances given to the corps de ballet, especially in the second act. Some people may find it refreshing, others may have problems with this over-romantic look of the ballet.

Personally, I did not mind the changes in the choreography, and some of the old-fashioned carriage of the arms and positions of the torso simply made me think of other versions that used to be treasured in the West but which have given way to the now canonical Russian productions. Credit must be given to a company that is capable of bringing alive what, in other interpretations, would be but a museum piece.

The Cubans certainly know how to put some life into old steps. During the first act, I found myself smiling, which I cannot remember doing while watching ”Giselle” before. The corps de ballet’s choreography is not brilliant, and maybe some interpretations in the pas de six were not very gentle, but there was so much enjoyment on the stage, so much passion put into the steps that it made the audience react in a way which is rare nowadays. Cubans dance with their hearts and some of them do this extremely well!

There were problems again in the corps in the second act, especially in the famous arabesque voyagée sequence, where there seemed to be a problem with keeping those raised legs in place. The choreography, though old-fashioned to our Russianised eyes, worked, and so did some of the details of the production. I still found that Giselle’s last moment with Albrecht in the arabesque penchée, is one of the most beautiful to be seen in any production.

The principals for the night were fantastic, especially Viengsay Valdés’s Giselle. Her balances defied gravity, her jump was light, her interpretation absolutely convincing. One look at her pointe shoes and her technical achievements became something out of the ordinary. Her beautiful jumps on pointe in her variation in the first act made my feet ache. I remark on this as a proof of admiration for a company capable of producing these wonderful dancers even though quality ballet shoes can be scarce in Cuba. This may explain the unfortunate decline of what used to be a very fine corps de ballet.

Yoel Carreño’s Albrecht was passionate and convincing. His portrayal reminded me of his brother, José Manuel Carreño, though his physique lacked the beautiful lines of his sibling. His variation in the second act was stylistically pure, something which, again, is welcome and simply shows how much understanding there is in this company about the treatment certain ballets deserve.

Liuva Horta played Myrtha and she had the most unforgiving role to dance, full of poses that, thanks to her conviction and her malevolent looks made everybody refrain from laughing. One note for the dancer who bourrées across the whole stage from left to right… I had not seen such beautiful bourrées in a very long time!

Víctor Gilí played a very sympathetic Hilarion and he carried his character to his death with conviction of his love for Giselle.

Overall, it was a great performance. The audience loved it and I enjoyed the difference of interpretation. It was a performance in which passion and commitment overcame technical inadequacies. I wish the company were given the financial means to return to their former standards, which, for those that never saw them, were very high.

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