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National Ballet of Cuba

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National Ballet of Cuba: Impressions on a gala evening.

What a magical Friday evening at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with the National Ballet of Cuba.

With only a couple of flaws it was a wonderful evening with a top-notch company.

First on the program was Giselle with Lorna Feijoo and Oscar Torrado as Giselle and Albrecht.

After a rocky start the truncated version of Act II in the forest made me a little confused but the dance was pretty splendid with the exception of Felix Rodriguez as Hilarion.

The gentleman was frankly pretty awful. Overweight with no apparent dance skills that I could see.

The corps dancing was uneven and as they left the stage I thought “Oh no, what is this all about.” Luckily the entrance of Feijoo and Torrado erased all doubt from my mind and I sat entranced through their pas de deux.

She was fluid and emotional and he was the perfect heartthrob partner making the lifts look effortless and artistic. Her footwork was precise and she also made it look easy. As they danced I was moved so that I had to force back small tears at the beauty of it all and the emotion that was created.

I thought that this was what Guillem’s Giselle should have been like emotionally and wasn’t.

Next were scenes from Act III of Sleeping Beauty with Laura Hormigon as Princess Aurora and Nelson Madrigal as Prince Desire.

The grand ballroom promenade was appropriately grand with only one “off” little thing that I am sure most people didn’t notice. But the wig on the king’s head was WAY askew and looked as if someone had dropped a nasty bit of ratty brown carpet on his head. I had to try very hard not to giggle.

The wedding pas de deux in this ballet is one of my favorite’s with what I call one-arm drop lifts. I know there is a technical term, but I don’t know it.

Even with expecting those three moves I was thrilled at the execution, more daring than I had ever seen before. At the last one, an inadvertent “Holy Cow” escaped my lips to the chagrin of my friend who was sure that the 10 rows in front of us heard me.

Hormigon’s legs were almost over her head as Madrigal held her perfectly still after nearly dipping her to the floor. The whole auditorium exploded with applause.

Madrigal’s variation produced more gasps even though his jump landings were a tad off. But again, I don’t think most people noticed.

Bringing up the end of the first half was scenes from the Nutcracker with the Waltz of the Flowers and a pas de deux between the Lilac Fairy and her cavalier performed by Galina Alvarez and Joel Carreno...brother to ABT dancer Jose Carreno.

According to the program he graduated from school in 1998 and is already a Premier dancer.

To my untrained eye his partnering looked rough but his jumps and turns were right on and was another crowd pleaser.

Which brings up a sore point with me. Is it only American audiences or does everyone clap after the “tricks” whether they be fancy footwork or soaring leaps.

It seemed limited to the back of the house and up in the “cheap seats” but the applause was disruptive, especially during delicate little moments.

And this company does the very Russian thing of taking bows after every solo or variation. Now that REALLY interferes with the flow of the dance. It reduces portions of it to an exercise that says “Hey, look at what I can do.”

After the interval came scenes from Coppelia. These I could have done without. Not my favorite ballet to begin with, but a completely non-charismatic Octavio Martin as Franz — another plumpish male dancer — created a dud.

Hayna Gutierrez won the audience over at the end with some lovely footwork on the diagonal across the stage. I wish I knew the names of all these steps!

Don Quixote was quite nice with very charming dancers Victor Gili as Basilio and Viengsay Valdes as Kitri. Jaime Diaz was a stand out as Espada, the lead toreador. He had beautiful feet and extension and was really quite splendid.

Back in the corps was a dancer that looked like a younger, thinner, taller Acosta.

This excerpt was not as exciting as I hoped but still very nice. I think the long breaks between Basilio and Kitri dancing together and their variations flattened the excitement.

Gili was one of the few dancers that looked like he really loved what he was doing. I had rented a pair of opera glasses and was able to watch faces and this man didn’t just have the obligatory smile plastered on but was actually having fun while working.

Swan Lake was next with scenes from Act II and again Lorna Feijoo and Oscar Torrado did the honours. And oh my. They really are wonderful together. Another teary moment for me.

An odd moment came in the beginning with the corps. All the dancers lined up with beautiful arms MOST all pointing one direction with the exception of one poor girl.

Her arms were going the opposite direction! At first I thought maybe each dancer was alternating but on closer inspection I thought, nope, she is the only one that has arms pointed the other way. And it was the kind of still moment where she couldn’t exactly “fix” the problem without it being very obvious.

It is this kind of moment that makes live ballet so vital!

Bringing up the end was a banal, but pretty piece call Sinfonia de Gottschalk with small “curtain call” solos for the principals and a last chance for the corps to shine.

When it was all done I thought, is that all there is? I wanted more! What better compliment to a company, yes?

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Saw The National Ballet of Cuba's mixed bill Thurs. night. I'm claiming the "doting mothers" amendment.

Saw their "Coppelia" Sat. night and it was wonderful. Lorna Feijoo and Oscar Torrado starred with Felix Rodriguez as Dr. Coppelius. Put me on the list of Lorna Feijoo fans; she was simply beautiful (as she was Thurs. night): secure, technically brilliant, fleet, and a happy/girlish Swanilda. Rodriguez as Dr. Coppelius was so much fun to watch. Much of his dancing was tiny walking steps that glided him smoooooothly (just the slightest ripple) across the floor. Idania La Villa was also noteable in Act II's Dawn Solo. There was a live orchestra rather than the ear-splitting blaring canned music of Thurs. night. What a difference that makes...watching Feijoo and the orchestra work with each other on phrasing delicate steps. The sets were minimal but so colorful that you didn't notice. My main complaint about the company: the manner in which the men support the ballerina about her waist in pirouettes. Usually it looks like the ballerina supplies the initial motion with the man unobstrusively coming to her assistance as she slows down. These men start spinning her from the first rotation, vigorously and visibly...their hands coming more than half way around her waist.


[ 10-21-2001: Message edited by: Giannina Mooney ]

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>>These men start spinning her from the first rotation, vigorously and visibly...their hands coming more than half way around her waist.<<

This is something I noticed too - and have noticed especially with ABT. Check out the video ABT Now and watch the pdds. Especially the Black Swan with Jaffe and Carreno. And to a somewhat lesser degree Corella and Herrera in Don Q, and Bocca and Ferri in R&J. The men turn the women from the beginning rotation.

I also saw this very plainly in ABT's Corsaire. Is this a new style or just trying to get more turns in?

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Some of my impressions...

National Ballet of Cuba

Orange County Performing Arts Center

Saturday, Oct. 20, 2001, and Sunday, Oct. 21, 2001

"Coppélia" (Alicia Alonso, after Saint-Léon, and Petipa version)

Music by Léo Delibes; Pacific Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ivan del Prado

Set design and Costumes: Ricardo Reymena

Swanilda: Alihaydée Carreño (Sat.), Viengsay Valdés (Sun.)

Franz: Joel Carreño (Sat.), Victor Gili (Sun.)

This is a vibrant production of "Coppélia;" the costumes are brightly-colored, and the dancing full of life. The story is told through strong, spirited dancing and clear mime sequences (although there was no clear reference for the sheaf-of-wheat dance).

In the Saturday matinee, Alihaydée Carreño danced Swanilda with sharp, fleet strength and attack, and the youthful playfulness that one expects of her character. Although I wished at times that she used a little less "force" (in some développés, for example), she had great technical control and balances. Viengsay Valdés, on Sunday afternoon, danced an even more wonderful Swanilda. She had the same kind of technical security and bravura as A. Carreño, but with a softer edge, and she used her large eyes to good advantage in charmingly effective facial expressions. Of special note were her three arabesque balances en pointe in Act III (consistently solid and held long), and her series of varied turns (begun w/ a triple pirouette, into fouettés with the leg in low attitude, and then "regular" fouettés).

Joel Carreño was a delightful Franz. He posesses an elegant line and an easy ballon; it was pleasing to see his fully stretched legs and feet. In the Act III pas de deux, he sailed around in perfectly placed, multiple pirouettes in attitude (beautiful!), and did some of the fastest grand pirouettes à la seconde that I've ever seen live. His entrance into tours en l'air were somewhat "cheated," but well-placed in the air and finished with control. Victor Gili was charming and exhuberant as Franz, if not as technically accomplished as either his partner or J. Carreño.

I was also impressed with Ivis Díaz, who danced the Prayer solo on Saturday with an unforced, seamlessly lyrical quality (she was also one of Swanilda's friends on Sunday). As with the Miami City Ballet, this company's pointes were very quiet. In these times when there is a prevalence of "incredible ballet bodies," I found it (perhaps strangely?) refreshing to see high-quality dancing by dancers who did not possess extreme hyperextension, "banana feet," etc. I appreciated the general attention to detail in this production, and was glad to be a part of the audience treated to these enjoyable performances.

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