Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Posted 22 November 2001 - 12:43 AM
I was blown away last night. The Giselle was danced in the romantic period style, and this, to me, just seems SO right. I always wondered why the style was not maintained in this ballet the way it is in La Sylphide. There were some rather sad looking costumes, especially in Act I, and the dancers shoes are also quite sad looking. This aside, on the whole I loved the production. The corps de ballet was perfectly matched in size, and rehearsed to the eyelash. There was not a fingernail out of place smile.gif
Giselle was Lorna Feijoo. It took her a little while to win me over, but once she did, she REALLY did! The problem early on was poor make up, so she didn't look very pretty, and something that is hard for me to get past, which is a tendency to sickle her right foot, especially when being lifted. However, by the variation I was coming around, and her mad scene may have been one of the best I've ever seen. Her second act was breathtaking, and I never even saw a sickle foot.
Albrecht was danced by Oscar Torrado, who is very beautiful as a dancer. He has long, long legs and very nice feet, and lovely technique. I did not feel that he was a strong actor.
The Peasant Pas de Deux has been transformed into a dance for 6 girls and 4 boys, which I thought a bit strange, but still enjoyable.
Tonight's Coppelia was more mixed for me. The second act was purely delightful, but I had a few problems with the first and third acts. Swanhilda was the charming Viengsay Valdes, who is an exceptionally strong technician. Her pirouettes of all kinds are amazing. However, with the short tutu used in the first and third act, I had a bit more trouble getting past her legs and feet, which, though not at all bad, are just not exquisite. She also has a tendency to sickle, and I found this throughout the corps de ballet as well, with an overall lack of really fine articulation of the feet. This puzzles me, as I think the overall training of the dancers is exceptional. But there is a weakness in use of feet.
Franz was danced by Victor Gili (last night's very fine Hilarion). He is a fine actor/character dancer, with a good technique too, however, he did appear to me to be a bit too old and too heavy for the role of Franz.
The soloists in Dawn and Prayer were disappointing. Prayer (Ivis Diaz) was very pretty, and danced well, but she needs some work on the line of her left leg in arabesque.
Overall I really like this company. There are always things one can pick apart, but they presented good ballets with a lot of good dancers who were strong, energetic, enthusiastic, and charming. I appreciated the attention to the details of the pantomime in both ballets, and to the romantic era style in Giselle. The corps in Giselle was exceptional. The company deserves much better sets and costumes, and the blinking/moving lights behind the scrim in Act II Giselle (supposed to be wilis before they appear)MUST go! The idea is a good one for lights, if they just flickered like one here and one there, but this is a moving bank of lights that look like some kind of alien invasion.
Posted 22 November 2001 - 01:23 AM
I did want to say to Washingtonians that there are very few tickets left, I've been told, except for the MATINEE on Friday! (I don't think I remember a Friday matinee.) So if you don't have anything planned for Friday afternoon and want an excuse to slip out on the relatives, go take in a ballet smile.gif
Posted 23 November 2001 - 09:00 AM
I was very impressed by the Cubans when they were at City Center for their Alonso tribute. I loved their sense of style, and their port de bras -- it did indeed make me think I was looking at How It Was Done in the1940s. And even though there were too many inappropriate tricks thrown in here and there for my taste, I did like that fact that the Cubans seem to have been innoculated against the Guillem epidemic that has infected so many other companies.
I saw Alvarez dance Giselle Act II (and, later, theWhite Swan pdd). I forget her first name. One thing that really struck me about her use of her arms was not only that she always held them beautifully but that she used her arms to let you know exactly what she was doing and thinking -- begging Myrtha and the Wilis, imploring the heavens, bemoaning her fate and, always reaching out for Albrecht. I wish more Giselles were so well-coached.
Posted 23 November 2001 - 10:29 AM
I did like the upper bodies in "Coppelia," but I did not like the "Giselle" at all, especially the corps. Romantic style, to me, is SOFT. These were spiky, jerky, wiry dancers. The arms were held in a round position, but not rounded. When they bend over -- nearly double -- and charge Hilarion, or held their hands to their ears, all I could think of was the Trocks, who dance "Giselle" very much the same way. I think the style does look like it's copied from old lithographs, but to me, that's not a good thing. I think it looks like a very external copy, and it's so exaggerated it misses the essence of Romantic loveliness.
I remember the military precision of the Wilis from the production the company brought here 20 years ago. I hadn't particularly liked that -- although it is pretty astounding; the corps looks like a centipede -- but I'll accept it as a valid and original point of view. (I do like the way the Wilis appear as shadowy figures in the forest at the beginning of the act, and that they come on through a gap in the back cloth rather than always from the wings.
There's a lot of detail in both productions seen here (Giselle and Coppelia, if you haven't guessed) but I don't think the productions are well-directed. There's a detail, another detail, and yet another detail -- not necessarily related. I was distracted by a moment of byplay in "Giselle" where one of the corps girls, handed Giselle's crown by one of the corps boys, looked as though she were Juliet, and Romeo was handing her his mask. Nice touch, wrong ballet. It distracts the eye and has nothing to do with the story.
In Coppelia, several standard scenes were thrown away. Frantz is environmentally sensitive and doesn't stick the butterly with the pin (drat; my favorite moment), the ear of wheat scene is barely there -- Swanhilda shakes the staff at Frantz. He seemed confused. More importantly, the byplay between Swanhilda and Frantz, which appears in both the Danish and the NYCB productions (both created from different 19th century sources) where Frantz does something Swanhilda doesn't like, so she retaliates, which makes him retaliate, etc -- isn't there. They just romp around, acting childish, the way adult dancers playing children often seem. The miming has been generally excellent, very clear. But there's no context to it. [Editing to say that this is apparently a cast problem, not a production problem. While Valdes used the ear of wheat as a prop, Hormigon, at the Sat. mat., made a scene of it, and the byplay between Hormigon and Madrigal was much more clear. Saturday evening's cast was back to the fuzzy version.)
I was looking forward to the Cubans partly because of what I'd read as they made their way here -- how wonderfully old-fashioned they are -- and partly because I remember them fondly from their appearances here in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I think the company is weaker than it was 20 years ago -- this may be very understandable, considering their economic situation -- especially among the men. Alonso had the world's greatest affirmative action program ever in ballet to start this company. She went around to the orphanages in Cuba and picked little boys whom she thought would make good dancers -- and she chose extremely well. The Cuban men were on the highest level then. Big, strong fellows who won medals at every competition. The corps was strong -- and the most well-integrated corps I've ever seen; that's gone, too. What the company had was a ballerina problem. There were several able soloists, but all looked not only that they were imitating Alonso, but that they were frozen in that imitation.
What I do admire about the company this time is that they do not condescend to their material -- they take it seriously. They dance their hearts out. The couple dancing Coppelia DEMANDED that you love them and won me over for doing it. There's an innocence about them that I find tremendously appealing. It will sound paradoxical, perhaps, but there's nothing calculated about this demand.
The Coppelia, I was told by those who were actually around in the 1940s, is a very 1940 production. (Swanhilda did wear a short tutu then; both Alonso and Danilova.) There were some poses that made old photos flash in my mind -- an innocent lasciviousness that's totally gone now, and that the dancers did carry off very well.
Back to "Giselle," I agree that the production has a vision -- the dancers are doing, stylistically, exactly what they're being told to do. I just think there's more to Romantic style than tilting the head and bending forward, and I think both the Danish and Kirov ballets have a very correct and consistent Romantic style that's also soft and lovely, and unexaggerated.
What I find so interesting about the reaction to the Cuban company is not only is it polarized -- in just a few intermission and post-game-show conversations, I've found four friends who would say pretty much what Victoria (and Sarah Kaufman in the Post) wrote, and four friends who'd be more in agreement with what I wrote. Often, differences of opinion are of the "oh, she could not turn" "could to" "could not," etc. but in this case, what fascinates me is that we all seem to be seeing exactly the same thing, yet seeing it very, very differently.
I hope anyone in the D.C. area reading these posts will go see for yourself -- what do you think? I'm going back for two more Coppelias and one more Giselle.
[ November 25, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]
Posted 23 November 2001 - 10:58 AM
To see a corps dance take themselves seriously, perform with precision and become one as a "character" in a ballet is a rare treat these days. It was one of the great delights of the recent Royal Ballet vist to KC and I enjoyed seeing the Cuban corps in Giselle -- even if, as the above experts say, it was very 1940s. It was great for the little "corps" of local teen dancers in the audience, who are rarely taught dance history (unless they are lucky enough to have teachers like Victoria who make connections for them).
And now my request: To those who see this weekend's shows, please talk about Myrta. The opening night Myrta, as my ruthless kiddo says, "couldn't intimidate a puppy."
Posted 23 November 2001 - 11:19 AM
Samba, if all the little girls in Washington think this is the way they're supposed to do Giselle corps to be romantic, I'll be very upset!
I am puzzled by remarks by many people of how consistent and well-drilled the corps was because I didn't see that. I thought the "Wili's hop" was a mess. The one precision moment was Hilarion's death scene, where the line of Wilis ripples as one, and I thought that very effective.
Perhaps it's that different people are comparing different companies, across time as well as space, and coming up with different conclusions? I'd certainly agree that in every American Giselle I can remember, the corps looks as though it's a) doing class and B) wishing it were doing something else. But I've seen European companies where this isn't so. And with that, I'll bow out of this one until I've seen another performance smile.gif I'll look out for tomorrow's Myrtha, Samba.
Posted 23 November 2001 - 11:50 AM
Posted 23 November 2001 - 12:21 PM
The Thursday performance of Gisselle was probably my favorite time seeing a ballet at Kennedy Center, or in Washington Ballet on whole. (I have only lived here for three years.) Companies visiting Washington, and namely the Kennedy Center) tend to perform overblown spectacles for which we pay $50+ only to find that this money went to costumes and sets that would be better fit to a Sigfried and Roy spectacle in Las Vegas. When Ballet Nacional's production started, it was quite the opposite from this. The sets were niether abstract, nor economicaly wasteful. They were just there. The costumes were not exactly traditional, but the they were able to convey the mood and intentions of the ballet. For once,I could take my mind off of the scenery, and focus on the dancers! And this was quite wonderful! The corps was full of beautiful performers - niether one outshining the other. The women had wonderfuly formed arms which actualy looked healthy! No skin-and-bones whiz-bang ingenues here. Just magnificent performances. The choreography is straight-forward, and tells the story like it is.
I am going to see the afternoon performance today, for Coppelia. I am very pleased with the company and hope for a return. smile.gif
Now, if only ABT would give up it's Nutcracker, I would think Washington is starting for one of it's best ballet seasons. (Bolshoi and Kirov yet!)
[ November 23, 2001: Message edited by: Auvi ]
Posted 23 November 2001 - 05:27 PM
Today's Swanhilda was Wednesday's Myrtha (Laura Hormignon) with Nelson Madrigal as Frantz. AND four different -- young! -- Swanhilda friends. The whole performance was younger, fresher, lighter. If this had been the opening night, I'd have a very different view of the company. Comparing last night's with this afternoon's Coppelia, I wonder if last night's cast was the Senior Stars, the state occasion cast, by seniority rather than.....well.
Hormignon reminded me a bit of Evdokimova -- the same sweet, intelligent smile, the same gangliness (long legs). I thought she was especially fine in the second act, where she really owned the show. She outwitted Coppelius and was a worthy adversary -- not in mischievousness, but in wits. She's not a strong technician and the last act pas de deux lacked bravura, but she had such beautiful feet and hands I didn't care. This performance had what I've missed from the other evenings: softness and grace.
Today, I also saw only the "old-fashioned" virtues, especially from the four friends. Gorgeous upper bodies, nothing external about them. And there isn't a stingy jump in the company.
Nelson Madrigal, the most contemporary looking of any of the dancers I've yet seen, was simply...dear. And a lovely dancer. Slight, long legs, huge jump, very controlled. But also an excellent mime and an attentive partner.
One thing about Hormignon that interests me -- and that I've never been conscious of with another dancer -- is that she breaks down movements into parts. She did this in "Giselle" as well. In an attitude turn, for example -- and she has a beautiful attitude -- you'll see the leg go up, see it be raised, poised to become an attitude, and finally become an attitude. She did this with Myrtha's ports de bras, too. It's not that she dances in slow motion, and it's not that she's jerky. She just makes two steps into four. It's interesting, and I'm wondering -- pure speculation -- if this is what was going on technically when Alonso, an allegro dancer, danced adagio -- this was her way of stretching a movement out? I'm sure this isn't clear to anyone who hasn't seen this dancer, but for those who had, I'd be interested in your comments.
The house was happy, I thought. A bit tentative at first, but by the second act, Hormignon had won them over, and there was a real rapport between the cast and the audience in the third act, I thought. It was the kind of performance where dancers and audience waves at each other during curtain calls, and it's totally genuine and very sweet to see.
More later smile.gif If anyone else saw today -- or Tuesday or Wednesday and hasn't yet posted -- please jump in.
Posted 24 November 2001 - 11:51 AM
The flying-missile-launch-leap-to-the-shoulder sequence -- the best reason to stay for the third act -- must have been choreographed back when the men were sturdier with those wonderful Soviet tree trunk thighs. Now, it's terrifying to watch. The dancers look as though they're consigning their souls to the gods before each take off.
Without a ballerina, this production of Coppelia looks very threadbare. Valdes, on Wednesday, took the "I'm going to ignore the story and turn, turn, turn" approach, which at least gave you something to look at. (And the Ricky Ricardo interpretation of Frantz from Gili helped, too.) Hormigon, at the Friday matinee, took gentle command of the whole procedings and the ballet was fun. Friday night it was just dull. (And in this comparison, I think I'm in tune with the audience. At the matinee, there was a happy, spontaneous standing ovation. On Friday night, there was a nice round of "thank you" applause and then a hushed shove to the exits.)
What Friday night's ballerina did have was schooling; that's what marked her as the product of a worthy company. I continue to be astounded by what the Cubans have accomplished -- that a tiny company that (thanks to us, sorry) is so terribly poor can put on ballet at this level is quite remarkable, even if the company is not as strong as it was during its heyday. It's still a national level company. But it really is stuck in the 1940s, and the dancers need coaches that can make that look alive. I don't mean they need to be shaken up, kicked into the 21st century, etc. etc. They don't need anything cosmetic (tricks, grins, flash -- no thank you; they have integrity, and I hope they keep it). The style needs to be renewed from the inside, so that the dancers look as though they're dancing in Today rather than dutifully copying Yesterday.
Posted 24 November 2001 - 05:45 PM
Saturday matinee -- Giselle
I still think it looks like a 1940s (rather than 1840s) production that's been so carefully preserved, but I've gotten used to them now smile.gif
After five performances (and this is the last I'll attend) I'm finding the company rather uneven at the top -- not surprising, again, for its size. This afternoon's Giselle (Galina Alvarez) was perfectly acceptable -- and actually rather good in the second act, I thought -- although I didn't sense any affection in her for Albrecht (Victor Gili), which didn't help Act I.
What this performance had, though, was one of the finest Myrtha's I've ever seen, right up there with Martine Van Hamel and Mette-Ida Kirk -- Viensga Valdes, who was much more suited to this role, I thought, than to Swanilda. (Samba, you want intimidated puppies, send them here smile.gif ) It was exquisitely danced -- and, because she's such a strong dancer, the details, mostly in arm positions, really show -- and beautifully mimed. She was a queenly demon.
In general, I think the company mimes as clearly and intelligently as any company I've ever seen. I admire its artistic integrity. You're getting the Giselle the producers want you to see, and every dancer takes part in it. Some of the old-fashionedness I admire -- the upper bodies, the miming -- and I hope they keep this forever. And of other companies want to imitate this, please do. Something that I don't think has anything to do with being old-fashioned, but is what I didn't like about "Giselle," especially the second act, is this carefulness to the point of eradicating risk (Zulma overreached a bit in her variation and I wanted to cheer!) as well as individuality, and to give an external copy of arm and head positions that, to me, seem two-dimensional raher than three-dimensional. It also dawned on me this afternoon that one of the reasons the company's dancing seems old-fashioned (in addition to the fact that I don't think they've added a single step invented since 1940 to either of the productions seen here) is that line is not a primary concern. (I'd date the concern for line to the mid-1950s.) I wonder if our preoccupation with line, with stretching the body out, is part of why there's no longer attention to upper bodies? One disappointment, considering the care and the attention to mime, is that neither of these ballets seemed very dramatic to me. It's as though all the attention goes to the details, and nothing to the big picture.
The company has gotten a very good response here generally. Except for last night, all the audiences I've been part of have been quite happy -- not just by the applause meter, but by the sense one has when the audience is involved in a performance.
Please, if anyone saw these, or will go tonight or tomorrow afternoon, I hope you'll post.
Posted 24 November 2001 - 05:45 PM
Posted 25 November 2001 - 09:13 AM
As a teacher of advanced teens and professional dancers I find that it gets harder and harder to maintain a sense of tradition in many ways, not just in terms of technique. There is such a focus on higher/bigger/more that it is hard to keep them focused on basics such as the path of the arms and placement of the head that creates a uniformity in the movements and lines. Perhaps a part of it is also the great emphasis on freedom and individuality in our society, and of constantly trying to find new ways to do everything, which is great of course, however it can lead to a lack of discipline and respect for tradition. I certainly don't want to keep everything in the 40's, or in any other place, however there are some things that do need to be preserved and cared for in this most non-democratic of art forms! eek.gif
Posted 25 November 2001 - 10:46 AM
So in that sense, I admire the Cubans tremendously. They're isolated, but they're not in a cave; they know what's going on in the rest of the world. Yet they stick to their guns. And the audience here has accepted them. I've heard intermission comments about some of the dancers being "too heavy" (not my term) but no complaints that there isn't enough virtuosity.
I think it's possible to preserve values without ossifying them, and I hope the Cubans will have a ballet master who can do this. I don't think they can cance in Brigadoon forever, and it's more likely that there will be a wrenching change with a new generation of directors than that there will be someone who knows how to enliven what they have without destroying it.
After having seen Giselle again, I have a clearer view of what I thought after opening night smile.gif Why it matters that this is a 1940s staging is that the 1940s have as little to do with the 1840s (when Giselle was made) as the 2000s do. Every generation reinvents Romanticism, produces a Romanticism that's acceptable to its audience. (Acknowledging that not every company does that; some of them just get out there and dance, and to hell with style.) There isn't a continuous performance history with Giselle, as I'm sure most people know. The French threw it out after a few decades. It survived in Russia -- rechoreographed by Petipa, Mr. Diagonal, so a lot of the roundness disappeared very early. It was brought back to the West by Diaghlev and, when that company died with him, found its way into the new companies that sprung up in the 1930s and 1940s. If my older friends who found much of the Cuban's production familiar are right, there's a lot of Dolin in there, and Dolin did not learn his ballet at either Petipa or Perrot's knee. (The ending of act I where Albrecht's indecision about whether to leave the stage or not -- should I go? should I stay? Wilfrid, what do you think? Can we take a vote here? -- and then with one huge, desperate belly flop lands, sobbing, at Giselle's feet (which both Albrecht's did with a great deal of dignity, I must say) and the second act ending, where Albrecht nearly dives into Giselle's grave before realizing it's too small for him and he'll probably get stuck have to be Dolin, and perhaps Dolin after Lifar). So there's no more reason to preserve a 1946 Giselle than a 1952 or a 1971 Giselle. Mary Skeaping's 1972 (?) production for London Festival Ballet, which I saw several years later, was judged very authentic stylistically (she reconstructed or rechoreographed a few segments) without looking archaic.
Another aspect on line, historically, is that the 1940s were part of the Ballet Russe-influenced demicaractere era; the change to the neoclassic era that lasted until whatever is going today -- The Freefall Era? -- began in the very late '40s. Line -- in the sense of line for the sake of line and an emphasis on the limbs rather than the whole body -- is not a characteristic of the demicaractere genre. This used to be one of the demarcations between demicaractere and classique style, and is part of the reason that demicaractere dancers were mistaken for "bad" dancers (because they didn't have line). (In the 1940s, "Giselle" was considered a demicaractere ballet, and there are many French and Danish, at least, great Giselles and Albrechts who were demis. Including Alonso and Dolin.)
[ November 25, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]
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