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 Post subject: Ballet Nacional de Cuba at Sadlers Wells
PostPosted: Wed Aug 17, 2005 9:20 am 
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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
“Magia de la Danza”
Sadlers Wells
16th August 2005

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 most brief 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 burrees 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 part of 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 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 menatl 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 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 jetes were so high that they would not have looked out of place on a computer animated computer game). The partnering was risky (sometimes breathtakingly so) and nano-second timed.

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 that 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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PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2005 11:03 am 
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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Magia de la Danza
Sadlers Wells
16th August 2005


Bringing over a company of unfamiliar dancers, it was easy to see why the first programme was made up of gala night diverts as it made a useful showcase for the performers. It was a programme in which each and every one of the items was choreographed by Alicia Alonso, in what turned out to be a frequently unwise attempt to embellish the originals. Expectations were clearly high for this with a queue for returns stretching right outside the theatre but what the company actually delivered was work of a very uneven quality.

Starting with an extract from “Giselle”, I thought I was at a Trocks performance as the Wilis made their entrance with near comic gestures of malevolence, but the potential laughs were stifled by the lovely Giselle of 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 “Sleeping Beauty” preceded by the polonaise in which the male members of the corps were saddled with wigs that looked like spaniels ears. This was not well danced with the Aurora of 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 in “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 act 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 flight Swanhilda and Franz giving off happy vibes in this very Cuban version of village life in middle Europe. The Don Q. pas de deux 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, but what was done to it on this occasion goes beyond anything I can stomach I’m afraid. 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. Ms 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 called ‘Creole Party’ that was great fun to watch with most of the principals together with the corps all looking as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Once more it was Hayna Gutierrez who caught my eye, this time with a dazzling display of chaîné 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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PostPosted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 1:04 am 
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Weird, wonderful - and woeful
by ISMENE BROWN for the Daily Telegraph

In Havana, watchers applaud ecstatically; in London, there was the dead silence of mass incredulity. Carreño is equally praiseworthy. Shorter than his half brother José Manuel (fondly remembered at ENB and the Royal Ballet), Joel delivers the electric split jumps and pinpoint spins of his tradition with the refined discretion also characteristic of great Cuban artists.

published: August 18, 2005
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 1:08 am 
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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
by SANJOY ROY for the Guardian

If the Giselle excerpt is all drama, the Sleeping Beauty is all display. Sadaise Arencibia as Aurora looks more scorpion than swallowtail in the classic "fish dives" sequence, flipping her legs right over the head of partner Miguelángel Blanco. It's an effortful performance, and effortlessly outclassed by the Nutcracker duet, where bright Anette Delgado is well matched with breezy Rómel Frómeta.

published: August 18, 2005
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2005 3:26 pm 
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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
By Jann Parry for The Observer


Down in London, the National Ballet of Cuba, on its first visit to the city for 21 years, opened with a bill of classical ballet highlights that showed the company seemingly in a time warp. Each excerpt was given with drilled precision, its style predetermined down to the last fingertip. Alicia Alonso, the company's founder and still its director in her eighties, has imposed her will on each generation of dancers, however ebullient their spirits.

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Never mind the men — Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s female leads are awe-inspiring
By Clifford Bishop for The Sunday Times


Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday night was the first chance to see the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in London since 1984, but excitement at the prospect was initially tempered by a sense of foreboding about the programme. Magia de la Danza promised a dollop of Swan Lake following a slab of Don Quixote, a nibble of Coppélia, a chunk of Nutcracker, a slice of Sleeping Beauty and a titbit of Giselle. The eye automatically, incredulously, scanned the list for Raymonda, almost the only easily dissectible ballet that wasn’t included.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:22 am 
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Pariah island where classical virtues thrive
by CLEMENT CRISP for the Financial Times

The Cuban Ballet is an affirmation of an ideal, of a feeling for dance itself that ignores every boundary of social order, and of dance as an identity. So it was a great pleasure to witness last week's visit by the company to Sadler's Wells, because of what it signifies in terms of national attainment.

published: August 22, 2005
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2005 8:59 am 
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Take one great survivor and a fabulous Cuban stretch...
by NADINE MEISNER for the Independent

The ballerina Viengsay Valdés has a terrific jump and the control to modulate her phrasing, despite the jarring sounds coming from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Giovanni Duarte. She may not be one of the defining Giselles, the way Alonso was; but she never forgets that technique is a vehicle for expression, no matter how academic the steps.

published: August 28, 2005
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2005 9:26 am 
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The body of Clement Crisp's article is a fine celebration of Cuban Ballet and Alicia Alonso's magnificent legacy. Shame about the headline: "Pariah island where classical virtues thrive", which may well have been penned by a sub-editor. While this may be the view of successive US governments, it is not the case as far as Canada, the EU and many other countries are concerned.


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 Post subject: Giselle
PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2005 10:25 am 
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Location: 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 has she 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 in this over-romantic look of the ballet.

I personally did not mind at all the changes in the choreography, and some of the maybe 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 until not so long ago and that have given way after the Russians established their version as the canon for all versions. 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 as I cannot remember doing it while watching this piece before. Obviously the corps de ballet’s choreography is not brilliant, and maybe some interpretations in the pas de six were not very gentle… but somehow, there was so much enjoyment on the stage, so much passion put into the steps that, in a way, 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!

The second act, once again, had problems in the corps, especially in the famous arabesque voyagee sequence, where there seemed to be a problem in 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 find that Giselle’s last moment with Albrecht in that beautiful arabesque penchee, 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 point 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 the wonderful dancers they produce, when ballet shoes are scarce. Which explains the unfortunate decline of what used to be a very fine corps de ballet. One look at the shoes and one can see that point work has become a luxury for the company that they can only afford on the stage.

Joel Carreño’s Albrecht was passionate and convincing. His portrayal reminded of his Brother's 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 ungrateful role to dance, full of poses that, thanks to her conviction and her malevolent looks made everybody refrain from laughing. One note to remark on the dancer who bourrees the whole stage from left to right… I had not seen such beautiful bourrees 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 personally 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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PostPosted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 7:58 am 
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Quote:
Pointes for the revolution
by ZOE ANDERSON for the Indepepndent

With strong techniques and bold stage personalities, Cubans star in companies across Europe and America. In Britain, Carlos Acosta is the best known; his phenomenal jumps, his no less phenomenal turns, are characteristic of his schooling.

published: August 24, 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 07, 2006 4:06 am 
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Quote:
Ballet Nacional de Cuba
by JUDITH MACKRELL for the Guardian

But London has rarely seen such a record-breaking tally of effects as those notched up on Tuesday by Joel Carreno and Viengsay Valdes. And what made it amazing was that they produced these fireworks after having danced though all three lung-bursting acts of the ballet.

published: September 7, 2006
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Don Quixote
by DONAL HUTERA for the Times

I enjoyed Carlos Quenedit’s gravitas as Espada, and his resemblance to Val Kilmer in matadorial drag. Anette Delgado and Aymara Vasallo made brief but lovely impressions in the second-act vision scene, ...

published: September 7, 2006
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Last edited by kurinuku on Tue Sep 12, 2006 4:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 07, 2006 4:47 am 
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Quote:
Cuban stars shine amid the gloom
by ISMENE BROWN for the Daily Telegraph

It sticks pretty close to the Petipa original, but fiddles around with the running order of the story of glamorous Kitri and her barber boyfriend Basilio, moving his mock suicide to the final act, for example, and letting the aged knight of the title tilt at windmills much earlier in the story.

Such amendments give the last act a great verve and purpose, but leave the middle of the piece rather thin.

published: September 7, 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:55 am 
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Quote:
Not even the satin snoods can slow them
by LUKE JENNINGS for the Observer

It's a rule of thumb, naturally, that whenever you take a guest to a dance performance, hoping to persuade them of its fabulousness, you get a stage full of guys in costumes of such off-the-scale ghastliness that you blush for the entire art-form. Nor is contemporary dance exempt. The Cunningham style has recently inspired a rash of would-be-mutedly tasteful but actually just plain boring costumes, usually in peasant cuts and shades of tofu. Let's hope that little spasm has run its course.

published: September 10, 2006
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Don Quixote, Sadler's Wells London
by JENNY GILBERT for the Independent

The odd sartorial nod to authenticity - as in the village men's long black hairnets - succeeded only in looking odd. And the dryads of the vision scene wear frocks of such a violent hue that by rights the dreaming Don should be wide awake and screaming.

published: September 10, 2006
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Quote:
To leap, perchance to dream
by DAVID DOUGILL for the Sunday Times

At every opportunity, all eyes were on the leading couple, and an impressive pair they were: the boyishly engaging and virtuosic Joel Carreño (a member of a distinguished Cuban ballet dynasty) as Basilio, and, in the star ballerina role of Kittri, the remarkable Viengsay Valdes, with a firecracker performance of outstanding technical brilliance — so dazzling, it seems churlish to complain (but I do) of her self-indulgence. All right, she has the knack of balancing, rock steady, on one pointe for impossible ages, while all else waits, but after several such displays, you feel once would have been enough.

published: September 10, 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:08 am 
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Location: London
“Don Quijote”
Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Tuesday 5 September, 2006
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 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, though 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. Though the programme claims choreographic original 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 good or bad!

The leading roles were danced on the night I attended by Viengsay Valdés and Joel Carreño. Valdés’s Kitri was charming and sensual, though 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 ballet fell in standards 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 who that other character appearing with Kitri is. The corps were 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 the ones that Valdés performed on the night. Balancing on arabesque or attitude for several bars of music is hard enough… to do so and then carry on for another few ones while going from arabesque into passez and then into develope devant in something that I had never seen on the stage… it is one of those things you witness in a class when somebody is having a good day, but to see it on stage repeatedly, is something totally different.

This final pas de deux brought the house down and very deservedly. Even when dancing a 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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