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Ballet Nacional de Cuba - 'Don Quixote'

by Ana Abad-Carles

September 5, 2006 -- Sadler's Wells, London

After a very successful season last year with “Giselle” and a mixed programme called “Magia de la Danza”, Ballet Nacional de Cuba returned to Sadler’s Wells with another “Magia de la Danza” programme and their version of the classic “Don Quijote”.

After this summer’s performances of the same ballet by the Bolshoi company, to great acclaim and with certainly great standards of dancing, the Cubans had very high stakes to compete against. As on their previous visit, they managed to carry through a show that, although it could be improved in many production and choreographic aspects, managed to be entertaining and display the talents of soloists and principals.

BNC’s “Don Quijote” is not a typical production of the classic. Although the programme claims original choreographic material by both Petipa and Gorsky, the names of Alicia Alonso, María Elena Llorente and Marta García also appear as choreographers and it is obvious that the Cubans have rearranged the original to suit the needs of their dancers and audiences. This has resulted in a production that, as a friend of mine described when the curtain went up, resembled some sort of tropical Spain, rather than the country Cervantes used for inspiration. The costumes and spare sets are tropical indeed! The storyline has also been simplified and narrative passages have been erased from the stage, leaving the ballet to shine through the dancing of its principals.

The choreography is at times old fashioned, but that is part of the Cubans’ charm. They have managed to preserve things that no other company presents any more... for better or worse!

The leading roles were danced on the night I attended by Viengsay Valdés and Joel Carreño. Valdés’ Kitri was charming and sensual, although she lacked the jump necessary to make some of her solos shine. Her balances and pirouettes were, however, faultless. Carreño’s Basilio was delightful. Carreño is a star in his own right. He has the technical bravura to soar through his solos, the refined finish to his steps to give them meaning and style and a stage persona that is both likeable and manages to project beyond the first rows of the stalls.

During the second act, the standards fell due to the not very refined performance of the corps de ballet in the Garden Scene. Alonso (who is credited with the artistic-choreographic direction) has decided to keep only Kitri and Cupid in this scene and the costumes are not very clear in terms of characterisation, leaving the audience wondering about the identity of that other character appearing with Kitri. The corps was not really up to the standards needed to make this scene succeed.

The third act was a joy to watch, mainly due to the outstanding final pas de deux that both Valdés and Carreño performed. I cannot recall having ever seen such outstanding balances on pointe as those Valdés performed that night. Balancing in arabesque or attitude for several bars of music is hard enough… but to do so and then carry on for another few while going from arabesque into passé and then into développé devant is something that I had never seen on the stage. IThis is one of those things you witness in a class when somebody is having a good day, but to see it repeated on stage, is something totally different.

This final pas de deux deservedly brought down the house. Despite the flawed production, the Cubans showed that when there is a will, there is a way. Their will is to succeed, to entertain and to carry performances through by the sheer enjoyment of what they are doing. True, this was not the perfect bravura of the Russians or the finesse of the French, but in the world of ballet, there is room for many takes on popular ballets like Don Q.

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