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National Ballet of Cuba -- anybody going?

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From Friday's NYTimes (also posted on Links)

The National Ballet of Cuba opened at the City Center on Wednesday night with Don Quixote. Anna Kisselgoff reviews in the Times.

Those looking for passion, Latin or otherwise, will find it in this idiosyncratic 1988 version of the 19th-century "Don Quixote." But most of all, they will see the classical dancing, even academic precision, on which Ms. Alonso and her ballet mistress Josefina Méndez insist.

This "Don Quixote" is typical of the company because it is a production filled with dramatic motivation. There are many changes from standard versions, but these changes make sense and fill out details that explain much of the action. The tavern scene that opens Act III is not just for heavy drinkers but the setting for the planned wedding of Kitri, the vivacious heroine, and her foppish rich suitor Gamache (here called Camacho).

There's a new review on DanceView Times -- just posted, an Extra -- by Eric Taub:

Breathtaking Virtuosity, Unabashedly Itself

It's a rare delight in these days of bland and blurry International-style ballet to see a company which is so unabashedly itself as the National Ballet of Cuba. The Cubans dance with a rare attention to detail and homogeneity, and revel, unapologetically, in their muscularity, even among the women. No reed-thin waifs here! At least, none were in evidence at City Center Thursday night.

The evening began with artistic director Alicia Alonso's staging of bits of the second act of Swan Lake, a last-minute substitution for Les Sylphides, caused by an amazing fit of peevishness by the Fokine estate and American Ballet Theatre (who had purchased a three-year "exclusive" license for the ballet from said estate). After the unfortunate beginning, where the curtain rises (and mercifully falls) on the corps of swan-girls glaring at the audience and all-but-hissing, this is a fairly traditional production, and one which showed off the great strength of the Cuban women. Perhaps the corps of the Kirov, Paris Opera Ballet or even ABT are as strong--perhaps--but where these companies, indeed, most companies, these days work to mask this strength behind a carefully cultivated appearance of lightness and ease, the Cubans, while never graceless, don't take particular pains to hide their strength.

Has anyone gone yet? What did you think?

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I just got back from seeing their repertory program tonight , and I loved them. I really enjoyed their performance - once I got used to the different look of the corps in Act 2 of Swan Lake. I'm not talking about their muscularity, I liked that, but compared to what I'm used to they didn't seem to "breathe" through the movement. I like a very fluid, flowing style and to my eye a lot of their movements seemed to end abruptly rather than linger. I don't really know the technical terms, but I've read some posts here that discussed dancing on the beat vs dancing through the music. I think that they danced on the beat and that was what I didn't like about their style. I also think I prefer positions to be stretched, rather than held (if that makes any sense). Anyway, after the first few minutes I think I just accepted the differences as simply being a style of dancing I wasn't familiar with and my eye adjusted.

Odette and Sigfried were danced by Viengsay Valdes and Joel Carreno, and while both were good, she was outstanding. Carreno's dancing was very elegant and understated, but his role is a supporting one here. The entire evening was danced to recorded music, and the adagio was very,very slow. Some people don't like that, but I do. Valdes' dancing had a beautiful quality to it, a kind of pliability and expressiveness without being wimpy. Her balances where wonderful and she came out of them with great control and fluidity. The shapes that she carved out with her upper body were really beautiful. One of the things I liked most about everything I saw from the Cubans tonight was that technique was very much in the service of artistry. Valdes reallly communicated the pathos of Odette's dilema through every movement.

Drew mentioned in a post about the performance he saw that they appeared to be very well coached and that each dancer had a sense of what they were doing at every moment. I really felt that too, and really admired it. I think that's so important.

Next, Barbara Garcia and Romel Frometa danced the Black Swan pas de deux. Again, I really loved the ballerina. She is tiny but what a steely portrayal of Odile, and she was quite a turner. When this pas de deux is danced as an excerpt the context is often lost. Not here. Von Rothbart presented Odile, and although it was not danced as a pas de trois he was present throughout to guide Odile through her seduction of Siegfried, just as he would have been in a full length production.

I wasn't crazy about Canto Vital, but it was interesting. It's a modern, athletic piece for 4 male dancers. The dancers I saw were Miguelangel Blanco, Joan Reyes, Eller Bourzac and Daniel Sarabia. They were all excellent, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

The evening ended with "Blood Wedding", which I would describe as a dance-drama. The book is after a play by Federico Garcia Lorca and the music is by Emilio de Diego. The music has a very strong spanish guitar, flamenco feel to it, and the dance also makes use of flamenco style dancing. It's very much a psychological drama, and at some points it almost reminded me of Tudor, the way he used dance to express inner turmoil. I liked the way it mixed traditional style spanish dancing with more balletic type of movement to tell a story. Again, every dancer on the stage was completely in character from the first moment to the last.

I had a great time and am looking forward to seeing Don Q tomorrow night.

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A big thank you to Eric Taub and nysusan for their reviews! :blink: Having just read all three reviews, and nysusan I know yours was not an "official" review, I enjoyed Taub's and nysusan's the most. Why? Because theirs painted a much more visual picture for my mind's eye and included their own insights which really helped me to "see" the ballets performed much more than Ms. Kisselgoff's, though I know she has some constraints of being the NY Times dance critic upon her.

I wish I'd made it to the performances...and would have loved to have seen Mr. Taub jump into the fray to finish off the slow motion knife fight! ;)

Seriously, thank you both for your reports. :D

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From today's Links, two more reviews:

Two more reviews of the National Ballet of Cuba at City Center:

  • Sylviane Gold in Newsday
    With the Ludwig Minkus music on tape and the production values fairly spotty, there's nothing to carry the show besides the dancing. And fortunately, with the boyish Carreño (yes, he's the younger brother of American Ballet Theatre star Jose Manuel Carreño) and the doll-like Valdés in fine form, the company managed to hold onto its reputation as a breeding ground for top-notch dancers. . . .
    The opening night audience just roared as Valdés uncorked one balanceafter another, posing on one toe and then, casually as you please, turning on it, and embellishing the feat with a dainty, little kick — just to prove it was no fluke. You could hear people gulping.
  • Robert Johnson in the Star-Ledger
    Apparently there are no young choreographers in Cuba (here Alonso doesn't count) to support the remarkable talent of Valdés or of Sadaise Arencibia, a first soloist who exhibited long-limbed grace and aplomb as the Queen of the Dryads, in "Don Q," and as one of the "big" swans in "Swan Lake," Act II.
    Ballet Nacional de Cuba's devotion to classical ballet is transformative, however, generating performances filled with inspiration and personal triumph. Modeled after Alonso, this is a heroic company that reaches for the stars.

Thank you nysusan, thank you very much for taking the time to write that. One thing you wrote particularly struck me:

Anyway, after the first few minutes I think I just accepted the differences as simply being a style of dancing I wasn't familiar with and my eye adjusted.

I had the same experience (often do, actually!). One DOES have to adjust one's eye, I think, to appreciate a style that's different from what one is accustomed to. But as you found, this has its rewards! Please keep posting about what you're seeing!!!

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I just came back from the matinee. Perhaps ABT should consider acquiring "exclusive" rights to Canto Vital as a companion piece to Welch's Clear--all that naked glory.

They do dance underneath themselves and ON THE BEAT, which is very tedious, but there is also a directness and honesty in their movement that is winning, as is the nonchalant softness of their rock solid technique.

May be the program could have been better chosen. The Black Swan pas de deux a trois with Rothbart looking like a security guard at a Renaissance Fair did not work for me, and much as I love the Gades "Blood Wedding" film, it is not exciting theater and doesn't show the company to best advantage--they lacked the economy and weight of gesture to give the piece needed force.

The music for the prince's variation in Act 2 of Swan Lake seemed unfamiliar (sort of a bad Strauss imitation orchestrated by Minkus). Does anyone know what it was?

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Roma, I was curious about the music for the Prince's variation in Swan Lake. At the beginning of the variation I thought--"How Nice--Alonso is using the same music that Youskevitch danced to"-but then, it veered off into something unfamiliar--it easily sounded like Minkus. :blink:

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