Ballet Nacional de Cuba
Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 2, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
A tropical blaze of colors, a ballerina's incredible strength and genial dancing in general made the Cubans' "Don Quixote" an entertaining experience. The production preserves many highlights of the traditional Petipa/Gorsky ballet, even though some are disguised. Of recent vintage is the Hispanic character choreography. It has fizz, but the new classical passages seem flat. This tale of mad chivalry coming to the aid of young love might easily have been told with sharper wit and characterizations that resonate, yet wasn't. Instead, the cast communicated its devotion to the main task - dancing - warmly.
In the starring role of Kitri "the beautiful", Viengsay Valdes was technically phenomenal and stylistically staunch. Her short, sturdy frame is sufficiently curvaceous and stretched strongly enough to offer the viewer a proud, pristine line - one that doesn't flow, but neither is it blunt and static. In arabesque, a pause which Valdes can hold for incredible lengths of time, one senses that her dancing will thrust forward. In attitude, in which her endurance is equally amazing, there is the anticipation of turns to come. Those turns turn out to be fast, decisive, multiple. Moreover, she offers these feats not as mere tricks but as examples of temperament and style. Having seen Viengsay Valdes previously, I think she outdid even herself in the dancing. As actress she was all that was asked for - being in turn flirtatious, willful, kind and loving - but never more.
Alejandro Virelles, as Kitri's love Basilio, is tall and lean - a shape that's less typical of Cuban dancers. His bearing is casual, he doesn't at all present himself - which suits Basilio's lowly barber boy status - but then his technical feats come as surprises, there being little visible preparation. Virelles jumps well. Spiral turns seem to be his particular forte. He hasn't, though, Valdes' endurance as yet. Despite the loose stances, Virelles sometimes shows a slight stiffness in motion, a trait shared with other tall Cubans like Jose Lasada. As the bullfighter Espada, Lasada danced precisely yet with a rigor that was quite pronounced, more than that of Virelles. I noticed it too, in some of the company's streamlined women. Is the Cuban training not suited to this body type?
Most of the Cuban dancers are of a moderate build. Dancing throughout the ranks is neat, steps are finished, often there's a stop and restart between phrases. This gives the company a nicely old
fashioned look. The men, as the cadre of bullfighters, had a chance to leap and strut, to wield knives and swirl red cloth. The women relished the Hispanic dancing but weren't as well served being dryads in Act 2's dream scene. This was partly because the dryad choreography had been softened, romantically disguised instead of being styled as crystal clear classicism. The change also limited the scene's soloists - Lissi Baez as Dryad Queen and Maureen Gil as Cupid. Valdes even, as the dream's dancing Dulcinea, was not at her best in this pastiche.
None of the ballet's mimes made much of an impression, especially not the Don Quixote. The choreography, following in the footsteps of Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky, is credited to Alicia Alonso, Marta Garcia and Maria Elena Llorente. The music, by Ludwig Minkus, was played by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra conducted by the Cubans' Giovanni Auguin.