Our Cuban brothers and sisters cruised into the Los Angeles Music Center last night. They drove their charmingly ramshackle Don Quixote, a vehicle purring on high-octane Russian ballet technique that's been passed through generations -- similar to the classic cars parading Havana's island coastline.
The ballet was choreographed in 1988 by Alicia Alonso, after Petipa/Gorsky original dating from 1869.
It was a winsome and nostalgic tour in a ballet time capsule, a demonstration of how it used to be done, a display of clean and unfettered classical technique by the engaging, youthful company. The dancers, brown skinned and with few exceptions homogeneous in their look, burst through the conventions of Minkus's war horse of a three-act ballet, eager to please. The ballet's claptrap narrative about the old geezer, Don Q, with sidekick Sancho Panza, pursuing Dulcinea, the feminine ideal, faded into irrelevance in a showcase of the beautifully trained dancers' technical prowess.
Remarkable was the purity of the port de bras, an art lost, indeed killed, in the U.S.: a clean, highly controlled curvilinear frame for the ladies' pretty heads, and an ergonomic support to the men's beautifully natural leaps powered by exceptional ballon, or "ballet bounce."
The most alluring sequence, a gilded variation by six gold-costumed toreadors, trumpeted unabashed Cubanissimo. Red capes whipping downward by their sides, the men stepped onto high relevé attitude position. Qué machismo!
In tempi whose speedometer Conductor Giovanni Duarte cranked up and down (Minkus's soporific score could take it), the Cubans performed some of their most technical feats with body-defying slowness, inserting hesitations in their balances, then teasing the audience with wicked grins. The breaking of the fourth wall is not very standard, but youth and vigor prevailed and this audience member succumbed.
Act two's dream sequence saw the filing of the female brigade, and here the presence of the ballet's 90-year old director Alonso was most evident. The ladies echoed the great former ballerina's long-necked romantic line, unearthly balances, and soft, noiseless pointe work that you simply don't see anymore. The muffled non-sound emanating from a stageful of 16 corps de ballet beauties was a glorious occurrence. I scribbled "cupcakes" in my notes.
The Don Q grand pas de deux, Act three's huge fun, featured a somewhat unequal pairing of Anette Delgado (Kitri) and Dani Hernández (Don Basilo). She, more advanced than he, confidently inserted multiple spins into her barrage of fouettés and pulled it off; he powered 'round the stage on a pair of Grade-A legs with upper body not 100% connected. He'll be fully cooked in three years, so stay tuned.
photos: courtesy ballet nacional de cuba, nancy reyes, jacques moatti
Los Angeles-based arts journalist Debra Levine blogs about dance, film, music and urban culture on arts•meme.