Friday, June 10, 2011

Dance Review: The Ballet Nacional de Cuba at BAM - By Marissa Bianco

"La Magia de la Danza" is on view at the Brooklyn Academy of Music until Saturday, June 11, 2011. For schedules and tickets, click here

Because of the continuing embargo against Cuba and the ensuing limitations for travelling between this country and the Caribbean island-nation, the appearance in the United States of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba is a rare event. That's why "La Magia de la Danza," the show featured this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the ¡Sí Cuba! Festival, constituted such an especial occasion. 

An internationally recognized company, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba is headed by Cuba’s prima ballerina absolutta, Alicia Alonso. In 1948, Ms. Alonso established the Ballet Alicia Alonso, which after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 changed its name and became the country's representative company.

Despite this, the performance at BAM barely included any Cuban dances. Instead, the company displayed a set of movements from seven different ballets, six of them classical; Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and Gottschalk Symphony. This format, however, worked very well. Often full-length ballets can drag, but the frequent costume, set and principal changes rejuvenated each movement.

Although the changes were frequent, the staging was a bit lackluster. The sets could have been more elaborate, the costumes more lavish (At times, the costumes of the principal dancers seemed strangely out of place from the rest). 

The dancing techniques among members of the company varied widely. The ensemble was a bit heavy on its feet and made several missteps. But the principal dancers were absolutely exquisite. The men gained height in their jumps and the women’s arms were graceful and delicate. The principal dancer in The Sleeping Beauty, Viengsay Valdés, stood out. Her form was perfect, her pirouettes clean and precise; she received a standing ovation after her performance.

The last movement was by far the most vibrant and soulful. It was quintessentially Cuban. The background was painted with tropical flowers and the music was inflected with African rhythms. The dancers moved their formerly rigid hips to the salsa-classical music --if only more of the movements had had the same flavor. The music, the set and the dancing reflected Cuban pride infinitely more than Swan Lake. The dancers’ faces also became more relaxed; they began to smile as they danced.

Overall, this event was worth seeing if only because an appearance of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba is so rare in the U.S. It was a privilege to witness such an internationally acclaimed company. Hopefully, it will soon return.

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