La Magia de la Danza
Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Brooklyn Academy of Music – June 9, 2011
Ballet Nacional de Cuba performed for four nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Si Cuba Festival, which gave New Yorkers the opportunity to experience Cuban culture. The festival went a long way toward opening my eyes, ears and all my senses to the heritage of this nation which is such a close geographical neighbor, yet from whom we are so far removed.
I’d read about all the creature comforts that American dancers take for granted, that aren’t to be had for Cuban dancers, including simple things like air-conditioning, water bottles, bandages, Marley floors and pointe shoes that aren’t dead. But I’d also heard from American dancers who had the opportunity to work in Cuba that its artists are so inspiring and that they can do so much with what little that they do have. From the moment that the Ballet Nacional’s BAM program opened, and throughout the evening, again and again I kept having the sense of Now I know what they mean!
Without the huge budgets enjoyed by American companies, their sets and costumes are a little less spectacular. Still, I saw things at La Magia de la Danza that I’d never before seen at the ballet. Much has to be said about the tricks that this company can perform. I’m usually not one for tricks. But I saw so many in this performance that took such technique, strength, poise and precision timing that there were moments when I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe just to assure the audience that they mustn’t doubt what they’d just seen, the choreography would often repeat the trick.
Still I felt that the tricks were just a stunning ornament on what was, down to its bare bones, a very stirring heartfelt performance. These dancers do not get bogged down in perfect technique. Instead they move with such stirring passion and sincerity. Even when presenting the most popular excerpts of the most popular ballets, there was never a moment where their dancing seemed anything less than beautiful, genuine and compelling.
One thing that struck me about the company was that while the ballerinas looked like seasoned professionals at the top of their game, some of the men looked very young and relatively slim compared to the men I’m used to seeing at the ballet. It also seemed to me that in many of the excerpts, almost all of the bravura came from the women. The men were excellent partners, but I’d have liked to have seen them featured more than they were. I later learned, via Dance Magazine editor Wendy Perron’s blog and an informative article by Gia Kourlas in The New York Times, that many of the boys who are trained in Cuba choose to defect when they come of age. Ballet Nacional’s repertoire is mostly limited to the classics. While many Cuban dancers long to expand their horizons in terms of choreography, some like Lorna Feijoo who dances with the Boston Ballet also lament that America’s ballet is too “Hollywood”, while Cuba’s ballet is strictly ballet.
One week earlier, I’d seen Diana Vishneva playing an ethereal waif-like Giselle in Act II with American Ballet Theatre. In contrast, Ballet Nacional’s Sadaise Arancibia’s Giselle was so deeply somber, both in face and movement, giving a completely different take on the character, but one that was every bit as heartbreaking.
Viengsay Valdes appeared as Princess Aurora in the pas de deux from Act III of Sleeping Beauty. Adorable and jubilant, she moved through one astonishing turn sequence to the next, one run finishing in a fish dive! She also performed an impossibly long series of turns in attitude front. I especially liked her partner Alejandro Virelles.
There was something amusing about seeing the Waltz of the Flowers and the Nutcracker’s Grand Pas de Deux performed on what had been one of the hottest days in June. Ballet Nacional’s Flowers were dressed in soft pastel colors and danced with garlands of green leaves. The dance featured two leads (not named as Dew Drops in the program) and a Sugar Plum Fairy dressed like a pink confection. Beautiful performances by Anette Delgado and Dani Hernandez.
The company also danced scenes from Swan Lake, Coppelia, and Alicia Alonso’s Gottschalk Symphony. For me, the highlight of the night was Don Quixote, with dazzling performances by the Yanela Pinera as Kitri, Jessie Cominguez as Mercedes, Jose Losado as Basil and, of course, the bull fighters.
The audience was wildly enthusiastic. I’d never heard cheering at the ballet like I heard that night in the balcony at BAM. It often reached rock concert levels.
It’s sad to see the company go. I’d have loved to have seen more than one performance, but their run was so short. I’m hoping that we Americans won’t have to wait too long to see them again. They are an exciting company who have a very passionate audience here in New York City.
All photos by Jack Vartoogian