Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ballet Nacional De Cuba: Don Quixote

Superb dancing: Viengsay Valdes as Kitri in Don Qixote

Coolish Q from Cuba
By Sarah Frater, Evening Standard 06.09.06

If you wanted aliens to understand human happiness, you'd show them the ballet Don Quixote. Admittedly, the music is pretty tumtetum, but the 19th-century romcom is sweet and sunny and bright and funny, with two young lovers happily joined after a not too rocky romance and some not too threatening adventures.

All is lightness and good cheer, with some show-off dancing and the chance to see sets and costumes that evoke the baking heat of the Spanish Med.

You'd expect this in spades from Alicia Alonso's Ballet Nacional de Cuba, yet the strange fact is you get no sense of place in her production of Don Q. This is truly baffling, given Cuba's history and the company's very considerable talents.

Last summer the company's Giselle won us over, not something you can say of this autumn's Don Q. A large chunk of the problem is the production, a quaint and incomplete affair, with feeble props, weedy sets and costumes that look like the work of a Bulgarian nylon factory some time around 1972.

Budget production values need not be fatal, provided the dancing and acting is tip-top. Here, unexpectedly, the Cubans were also below last year's par. Actually, the dancing of Viengsay Valdes (Kitri) and Joel Carreno (Basilio) was very special, she bright and strong with a staggering balance, he spinning like a top. Both are compact dancers, and their neatness and precision looked gorgeous.

Also excellent were Carlos Quenedit and Yolanda Correa, he as the bullfighter and she his heel-kicking girlfriend.

However, Don Q is a dance-drama, and everyone has to act. And the truth is that most of the dancers did not. Indeed, many of them looked rushed and careless. We all know that Cuba, a small communist island of just 11 million souls, produces some of the best ballet dancers in the world. The problem is that whizz-bang dancing and slipshod acting is dangerously close to circus.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba is not that, but on this evidence, it needs to be careful.

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