Stars of Cuban Ballet Gala, Wortham Theater, Houston, Texas, July 29, 2006
“¡Tio!” Alihaydee Carreño shouted into the darkness from the stage in Houston’s Wortham Center’s Brown Theatre. It was the dress rehearsal, and she was calling out to Lázaro Carreño, co-director with Richard D’Alton of the “International Stars of Cuban Ballet” gala to be held the following night to benefit McAllen Ballet. McAllen Ballet is the only professional ballet company in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. It was founded by D’Alton, who studied ballet in Cuba with Lázaro Carreño.
Even if your intentions are earnest, crying “Uncle” in a theater that is not crowded, but nonetheless thickly populated with observers from at least three generations of Cuban dancers, will get you a chuckle or two from the audience. Lázaro Carreño shouts back “¿Ali?” also in earnest. He wants to know his niece’s concerns about the piece they are “tech"ing during this first and final rehearsal.
The star-studded program includes Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal of Boston Ballet, Xiomara Reyes of ABT, The Sarabia brothers—Rolando, of Houston Ballet—and Daniel, a member of Boston Ballet, Adiarys Almeida of Cincinnati Ballet, and Alihaydee Carreño of Ballet Classical de Santo Domingo. They are joined by guest dancers, Joaquin De Luz of New York City Ballet, Sara Webb and Randy Herrera of Houston Ballet, and Meagan Finley of McAllen Ballet.
Those in my party are offered guest box seating on the following evening, and we happily accept. Perched above the orchestra, we have a rare bird’s eye view of the Black Swan and her partner.
The Black Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake” is performed by Adiarys Almeida and Joaquin De Luz. They dance with steadfast assurance, and in the case of De Luz, almost a little too much, considering Siegfried's dilemma. In short order, he is properly bedazzled by his partner, whose épaulement registers her determination to have her way with him. It takes some time before Odile’s character emerges, and this seems deliberate because when it does, her dancing becomes more cignetic—more swan-like. She throws her head back and mimes a sardonic laugh. Her movements become more frenetic, with switchback head turns built around a scant paranoid second glance to check that no one is on the verge of doing to her anything akin to what she is planning for Siegfried and her own doppelganger, Odette.
“Lady of the Camellias,” with choreography by Val Caniparoli and music by Frederic Chopin, danced by Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal is stirring. It begins with Feijoo seated on a chair, stage right, in a meditative state of suffering. She rises tentatively to the chime-like notes of the Chopin score, and we can see that she is wearing a two piece powder blue costume consisting of a bandeau top and a knee-length draped georgette skirt. Madrigal makes a dramatic entry in a very formal-looking black bolero with toreador pants and white shirt. He squires her through a series of evocative poses and over-the-shoulder lifts taken at adagio tempo. They partner exquisitely, and even when they are not moving “as one” because the choreography demands that Feijoo turn while Madrigal prepares to receive her, their timing is so perfect that you must force yourself to notice that they are dancing apart, as her delicately deployed arms and hands communicate their separation and her longing. At other moments, their arms gather air to usher in an embrace. Her legs gently barrel over each other in a lift that carries Feijoo to the other side of her partner. When he rocks her, his arms held like a porch swing, it is with tenderness, and she drops from them in cascades that correspond to the music's diminuendo. The adage poses are mobile sculptures that teach years’ worth of lessons about why placement is the foundation of classical ballet. You can hear the Lady of the Camellias’ labored breathing, not panting, but its opposite: ecstatic exhalations. She initiates each new step as if it were under the power of her own inspiration, her very own ideas taking shape in a light rain of sensibility.
Then comes the Coralli and Perot “Giselle,” danced by Alihaydee Carreño as Giselle, and Randy Herrera as Albrecht. There are no notes on my lined pad because I could not take my eyes off them. The tempo was achingly slow to capture the pathos, and Carreño’s rendering opens with a tableau vivant of a broken heart, the wili who recuses herself from judging her lover’s betrayal, while recasting her life force as a chimera in ghostly white. Every detail (head, arms, eyes, fingers) was in the Cuban tradition elucidated by Alicia Alonso and Lorna Feijoo at other times and in other places, and was no less of a work of art when danced by Carreño. Herrera rose to meet her as Albrecht, having benefited from Lazaro Carreño’s sustained presence in his professional life. If Alihadyee Carreño does not possess the mothwing-like feet of an Alonso or a Feijoo, she certainly uses what she does have to every advantage in the petite sauté solo that has the audience shrieking “Brava!”
“Prelude” by Ben Stevenson to music by Rachmoninov, and restaged here by Texas Ballet Theatre’s Lucas Priolo, could be viewed as derivative of “Etudes,” “The Lesson” and “Afternoon of the Faun,” as it is set in the ballet studio. However, it differs vastly in mood from the other pieces because of its romantic reference to and reverence for that intractable studio fixture, the barre, which it uses almost exclusively as an armature for the piece. The dancers, Meagan Finley and Daniel Sarabia are positioned on opposite sides of the barre, and begin the piece with cloches that move into leg stretches taking them toward and away from each other. Then steps are danced to and away from the barre itself. Finley is fleet footed and quick, possessing all the corporeal assets of a Balanchine dancer—high extension, quick dispatch, flexibility and adroit musicality. Sarabia shows some of the same attributes, but his musicality is no match for his partner’s. They slide under the barre to embrace, and then chassé down the barre. They mirror each other’s movements on opposite sides of the barre, and then she breaks free, arms pumping furiously, swanlike, to cannons of arpeggios rolled out capably by pianist Katherine Ciscon. They pair up behind and in front of the barre en face. He lifts her on and off the barre. The piece shows off the two young dancers to maximum advantage and is a pleasant antojito for what follows.
The “Don Quixote” pas de deux and variations come next, danced brilliantly by Xiomara Reyes and Rolando Sarabia. Both are perfectly cast. Reyes is a bourgeoning cauldron of spirit and virtuosity, and Sarabia was born to dance Basilio, a claim few dancers can make. He is so well suited for the role that it is tempting to label his work "mimetic" because his body language is so distinctly Castillian. To do so would beg the question because he has clearly worked at making his rendering fatally authentic. His is quintessential toreador dress, and her costume is a red tutu with concentric circles of multi-colored sequins. Dressed this way, she reminds me of a toy I played with when I was four: it was a huge top with a plunger that went through it. You pushed the plunger and the layers of circles painted on the top’s surface made it into a borealis that looked like it might launch itself into space. The same could be said for Reyes, whose energy was only a nanosecond in advance of her technique. Both Reyes and Sarabia are absolutely fearless dancers: When she throws herself halfway across the stage parallel to the floor and he catches her without a hitch, the audience goes crazy. Her exacting penchées are spot on the mark and his spirals stop on a dime, giving you escalafrios. In the first men’s variation, Sarabia’s pirouettes are not only plentiful, but pulled up so expertly that he can slow them down like one of those New York apartment building rooftop fans, until they decelerate to a stop. Her fan variation is a match for his energy and technical mastery. I wrote in my notes that “her foot owes everything to her back.” I think I meant that her back was flexible enough for her foot to reach it at will. This Don Q was a crowd pleaser, and at times you had the feeling that you were witnessing a competition rather than a gala, as the audience cognoscente cheered their pet dancers or variations with hearty shouts of “Bravo!” Lázaro Carreño is the veteran of many competitions, both as a contestant and a coach, and so this mood may in part owe its inspiration to him.
The Diana and Actaeon pas de deux from “La Esmeralda” is a favorite of every dancer to watch and perform. In this one, Joaquin De Luz’s entrance is nothing short of astounding, as is most everything else he does--from cat’s paw insinuations to details in his double saut de basques. Alihaydee Carreño, who was so delicate as Giselle the Wili, is here just as athletic and staunch as she was illusory in the earlier piece. Common to both characterizations is her graciousness, which she seems to have in abundance.
Outstanding also were the pas de deux and variations from “Le Corsaire,” danced seamlessly by Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal, with Feijoo dressed in an ornate periwinkle blue tutu, and Madrigal in the piece’s iconic pirate/slave garb. She showed us regal arms and hands and spotless spotting, as she pulled out what seemed like many more than 32 flawless fouettés. In her solo variation, Feijoo uses every inch of her back to drive the remaining inches of her body. If you’re thinking about the first time you saw Nureyev in the role, you may come to the sudden and sobering realization that technically, Madrigal is every bit as expert as Nureyev in his rendering of the manege.
Other pieces on the evening’s program included “Spring Waters,” by Jules Masser to music by Rachmoninov, danced with great virtuosity by Xiomara Reyes and Rolando Sarabia, "Carnival in Venice," by Richard d’Alton after Marius Petipa, danced by Adiarys Almeida and Randy Herrera, and "Flames of Paris," danced by Sara Webb, whose work read smartly, and who was partnered by Daniel Sarabia. He gave us three 540 turns in a row without the barrel turns in between, normally done to build momentum.
It was ambitious to book the Wortham Theater for a first-time-out fundraising gala. Though the effort to publicize the event and sell tickets was prodigious, it took place after the ballet season in a city without much of a niche audience for Cuban cultural events. The turnout was modest, but included devoted dancers from Texas Ballet Theatre who traveled from Dallas to the event, and a contingent from McAllen, Texas. Plans are in the works for next year’s program, and hopefully, it will fall on a date that will enable the full roster of Cuban dancers to participate, with word having spread about the excitement generated by this year’s.