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Ballet Nacional de Cuba
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Alicia Alonso, Founder and General Director
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Salvador Fernández, Technical Director

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At
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Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
October 17, 2003

The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is celebrating its 55th anniversary year. It was founded in 1948 by Alicia Alonso, who was its principal ballerina. The Ballet Nacional de Cuba presents an international ballet competition each year, and for 43 years has invited dance companies from around the globe to Havana. Alicia Alonso was born in Havana and began her dance studies in 1931. She later came to the US to study at the School of American Ballet. Ms. Alonso appeared on Broadway and in productions of American Ballet Caravan and American Ballet Theatre. With ABT, Ms. Alonso danced lead roles and worked with Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Anthony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, and other renowned choreographers. (BNDC PR Notes).

After 1948, Ms. Alonso divided her time between ABT and Ballet Nacional de Cuba. She also danced as a guest star with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Ms. Alonso has staged Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, and many other full-length ballets and is considered to have been one of the finest ballet dancers in the world. She has received numerous awards for dance and choreography, including an honorary Doctorate in Art from the University of Havana, the Dance Magazine Annual Award, and an ABT award in 1997, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Theme & Variations, created by Balanchine for her and Igor Youskevitch. Ms. Alonso continues to teach and inspire ballet dancers in Cuba and throughout the world. (BNDC PR Notes).

Swan Lake: Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Choreography by Alicia Alonso after Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa; Set Design by Salvador Fernández; Costume Design by Julio Castaño; Performed by Viengsay Valdés as Odette, Joel Carreño as Prince Siegfried, Jorge Villazón, as von Rothbart, Ivis Díaz and Sadaise Arencibia as Two Swans, Idania La Villa, Dalay Parrondo, Aymara Vasallo, and Bettina Ojeda as Four Swans, and Corps de Ballet.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba provided lovely green and brown woodland sets for this evocative Pas de Deux and choreographed dances for two and four Swans. Joel Carreño is the brother of Jose Carreño of ABT, and he has the very bravura lifts and muscular skills so exciting in the performances of his brother. However, this is a scene in which a swan and a Prince fall in love. Swan Lake is the quintessential, romantic ballet, and we have reviewed many versions, either full-length or scenic presentations.

With recorded music, contrasting to the live orchestral versions at Lincoln Center, by larger Ballet Companies, one needs even more pathos and presence, on behalf of Odette and Siegfried. Here, the duo barely glanced at each other, and I longed for the passion so critical to the theme. After all, Siegfried is creating a scenario that can save the Swan from always remaining a Swan, and their true love can break von Rothbart's spell and return her to a human form. The lifts were lifeless, and the Prince seemed to suddenly back off, when he should be mesmerized and obsessed. Yet, his physical skills were superb, and theatricality grows with dance maturity.

Ms. Valdés seemed to have occasional balancing difficulties, in this youthful, relaxed version of Scene II, but, all in all, she is a highly accomplished dancer and has great potential for poise. Her strength was in the double-jointed arm movements, that allowed her to sprout wings, as she was drawn to her tormentor, von Rothbart, expertly danced and dramatized by Mr. Villazón. The Swan Pas de Deux and Pas de Quatre were superbly choreographed and presented, and the entire scene was received with accolades by the adoring audience, many of whom appeared to be from Latin America.


The Black Swan: Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Choreography by Alicia Alonso after Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa; Set Design by Julio Castaño; Costume Design by Francis Montesinos; Performed by Bárbara Garcia and Romel Frómeta, as Odile and Prince Siegfried. In all of ballet, this Black Swan Pas de Deux is one of my favorites and is almost always performed as part of the full-length ballet, Swan Lake.

It was an uneasy feeling to see the prior Scene, of the same ballet, danced by a different duo, with differently designed sets and costumes. It was like having an interrupted dream, change of partners, change of mood, change of expectations. In fact, there were no Princesses to dance with Prince Siegfried, to try to win his heart and hand in marriage, before he is tragically tempted by Odile.

Yet, in no time, the audience was drawn to these extremely muscular and unusually talented dancers. Ms. Garcia had the ability to stand endlessly en pointe, one leg, unattended, and Mr. Frómeta utilized the full stage in his solo leaps and turns. This ballet duo, against red and black, eerie scenery, received thunderous ovations, mid-dance and after. My only concern was the fact that the dancers stopped, mid-dance, to bow to the audience, and the recorded music had to be re-started after these bows, mid-dance.

I am used to Bocca and Ananiashvili, the virtuosic ABT duo, who draw their audience into thunderous applause, in this very same pas de Deux, non-stop, as the momentum must build and not be broken. I would like very much to see this duo dance again, in the near future. They exuded charisma and characterization.


Canto Vital (Song of Nature): Music by Gustav Mahler (Rondo finale from the 5th Symphony in C); Choreography by Azari Plisetski; Costume Design by Salvador Fernández; Performed by Miguelángel Blanco, as Nature, Joan Reyes, as Beast, Javier Torres, as Fish, and Daniel Sarabia as Bird. This is a contemporary piece for four male dancers and a vehicle for physicality and prowess, as they leap and crawl and climb, up and over and under each other, in bare, bathing-suit types of colorful costumes. This is a work of biceps and bravura, masculinity and muscularity. Mahler's music is perfectly positioned here, with its trumpet flares and swelling strings. Kudos to the Lighting Designer (not mentioned) and to Mr. Plisetski, the Choreographer.


Blood Wedding: Music by Emilio de Diego; Choreography, Direction, and Lighting Design by Antonio Gades; Book by Alfredo Mañas, after the play by Federico García Lorca; Set Design by Francisco Nieva; Costume Design by Julio Castaño; Performed by Ivette González, as The Mother, Victor Gilí, as The Groom, Jessie Domínguez, as The Wife, Óscar Torrado, as Leonardo, Laura Hormigón, as The Bride, and Corps de Ballet, as Wedding Guests.

Ms. Alonso chose to end this program with a highly disturbing and dramatic work, one of lust and vengeance, death and destruction. Emilio de Diego's music, with Flamenco rhythms, dance, palmeras (clapping), as well as Mr. Gades' choreography, with its dark and dynamic qualities, were stark and searing, reminiscent of the solo works of Pilar Rioja. This tragic story of unrequited love and slow-moving violence unfolded before our eyes. In fact, our eyes saw much of the rhythm, as a portion of this ballet was performed in total silence, so effective and ethereal.

Two couples exist in this drama, and Leonardo, danced by Mr. Torrado, the powerfully provocative husband of Ms. Domínguez, entices Ms. Hormigón, the bride, to leave her wedding party and the cuckolded groom, Mr. Gilí. Leonardo's rejected wife, Ms. Dominguez, viciously alerts the wedding party, and then the groom's mother, powerfully danced by Ms. González, assists her son's revenge, by returning to him a dagger. The violent double-death scene, between husband and lover, follows.

This was a flawless ballet, flawless dancing by the entire Company, flawless theatricality, flawless transitions, flawless Flamenco (in shoes), flawless costumes and sets, flawless auditory images, such as the clopping of horses (a superstitious premonition), and flawless presence and attitude, with dancers relating to this high drama with tension and tight torsos, fiery passion and earthy vignettes. Kudos to Ms. Alicia Alonso and Ballet Nacional de Cuba for this most amazing performance. Hopefully, they will return very soon.


Ballet Nacional de Cuba performs "Canto Vital"
Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyes Suarez



Ballet Nacional de Cuba performs "Canto Vital"
Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyes Suarez



Ballet Nacional de Cuba performs "Canto Vital"
Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyes Suarez




Viengsay Valdes and company of Ballet Nacional de Cuba perform "Don Quixote"
Photo courtesy of Enrique Falcon



Viengsay Valdes and Jose Zamorano perform "Bodas de Sangre"
Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyes Suarez



Viegsay Valdes performs "Bodas de Sangre"
Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyes Suarez
 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net