fri 06/12/2019

Magia de la Danza, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Magia de la Danza, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Coliseum

Magia de la Danza, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Coliseum

The Cubans' decline confirmed in their gala programme

Viengsay Valdes as Giselle: 'she is not just a trick-pony but an affecting and sensitive ballerina'Nancy Reyes

“It’ll be tricky to write about,” said the man next to me last night, a Cubaphile. “It's the good, the bad and the awful.” The Cubans’ second programme, The Magic of Dance, is an old-fashioned warhorse of showstoppers from the classics, a tapas bar of Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Coppelia, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and Gottschalk Symphony. Come again, the last one? It’s a company conga by Alicia Alonso. Enough said.

The awful we know about - epitomised by last week’s Swan Lake, the bodging of text and exigencies of decor, permissible to put down to accidents of history and economics. Chunks of Swan Lake turned up again last night, and of Sleeping Beauty, the two greatest works in ballet vying for the depths of direness in costuming, text butchery and musical treatment. But the bad is much more worrying.

As the US critic Arlene Croce said, for ballet to be any good it has to be great. In Cuba, for ballet to be any good it has to have dozens of fouettés in it and arabesques several bars long. There’s some good in this gala programme when the right people are doing the fouettés and balances. Viengsay Valdes is becoming too celebrated for smilingly holding arabesques long past their bedtime. Valdes is Cuba’s herald angel, but not because of that practised skill.

As she showed in her Giselle last night, she is a most affecting and sensitive ballerina too, able to flow through the curiously mannered tilts of the head and wide ports de bras of Alonso’s youth 70 years ago, trailing a certain period parfum behind her. Her broad Caribbean face is beautiful when it’s dreaming, her shoulder drops with appealing gentleness, her fingers part naturally and responsively to air. Even while her conductor, Giovanni Duarte, was murdering the music with his extraordinary changes of tempo from turgid to presto, she created a coherent little trailer for the ballet of Giselle.

Valdes was at the opposite extreme in her famed turn from Don Quixote, the total hackneyed balletic trick-pony, grinning and throwing out the clichéd turbo-spins and endless balances like a woman marketing her wares. This was the Valdes who knows she is locked in a professional cell. Occasionally she tilts her head manically back as if she might howl at the moon, and I wish I could see her be MacMillan’s Juliet, full of sweetness - or a Lise in Ashton's Fille mal gardée, even. She just might be a darling. Once upon a time Ashton was crazy about young Alicia Alonso.

All the other women were far, far below Valdes, though there was at least in Coppelia a pert vivacious young Gretel Morejon showing an interest in leg finesse, though like almost everyone bafflingly unmusical. It’s really hard to understand how Cuba, the island of music, can produce a corps de ballet that keeps unanimously losing a beat a bar, so that by two bars in, they are two beats out.

But to keep focusing on the shreds of good, Javier Torres in The Nutcracker showed a little of the fine male Cuban style in places. I also liked the reticent grace and raw talent of Dani Hernandez, the lad who squired Yanela Piñera’s Odette in the Swan Lake - his Prince Siegfried was discreet but not invisible, reliable for her but careful in drawing his poses (unlike Yonah Acosta, Carlos’s nephew, in Coppelia). There were two dark-skinned young men in the Don Q corps who presented their steps with a sense of occasion. And the Waltz of the Flowers girls in the Nutcracker had a real joy in their faces.

The rest of it is that worrying part, the bad. The bad feet and unturned-out legs, the simpering exaggerations and enforced mannerisms in pose - when those girls have such delicate hands, such full and gracious arm carriage, and willingly mobile torsos. The outrageous insensitivity to the music displayed by the conductor and whoever cut and pasted the music regardless of key changes. The peculiar rhythmic unanimity in the corps de ballet that simply ignores the music, as if counting steadily in their own pace regardless. You can’t quite admire dancers who are losing touch with a waltz swing, however synchronised.

Overall, the company looks much deteriorated in talent and teaching in just the past few years, as if it had fallen victim to vampires; pale, bloodless, dispirited. It's weird how little feels Cuban about these presentations, so little proud independence, Caribbean colour, Latin pizazz, eye contact, music, mystery, allure or physical fire. And that can't be blamed on outside politics or anything other than sheer bad artistic direction.

Comments

Valdes' balance in Don Q was phenomenal, no? But I agree about the unturned out legs and lazy feet ... don't know why Cubans have merited this reputation for 'superb technique" ... i sat there thinking - poor things, poor dear things PS Another things that worries me is the gentlemen's supports - all sorts of bumps and lumps worryingly visible

This is nothing but a reflection of what is going on in The Island of Cuba. It is also reflected in sports as well where the "professional" baseball team just recently lost when playing against a team of rookies from the USA. We should keep in mind that those dancers are doing what the could do just to survive and waiting for the opportunity to defect and become free artists and find the opportunity of become dancers without the shadow of the "state" breathing on her necks even while they are performing. Yes it is sad and obvious how deteriorated the whole spectacle is, Viengsay Valdes may be the last and newest jewel of the crown of the company and is sad she is going to be wasted like her previous "coworkers" (they are not spoused to be called STARS in Cuba). Alicia Alonso is no longer working with the company, she left Cuba years ago, obviously running away from the worsen of the situation in the Island although she still claims to be the DIRECTOR of the Ballet Company...Yeah, right. and she was the force who kept the group together because of her Fidel-like DICTATORIAL style. She was the most adored and hated individual among her pierces. As Fidel Castro, she is old, blind and kind of "cu-cu" so is Fidel so is the whole concept of the old Revolution. We should applause the effort of those young kids and understand that they are nothing but a reflection of what Cuba has become.

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