New Yorkers pride themselves a little too chauvinistically on their high-powered cultural scene. But one of the most gratifying events of the dance season, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba performing Giselle, was relegated to a one-night stand in Newark, where it played to an audience of appreciative locals and bused-in aficionados at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
The agreeably old-fashioned version of the Romantic classic is the work of the company’s founder and director, the legendary ballerina Alicia Alonso, who credits the ballet’s original choreographers, Coralli and Perrot, as her sources (and fails to mention Anton Dolin, in whose version for Ballet Theatre, now ABT, she once starred). Characteristically, Alonso has emphasized the dramatic emotional truths in the ballet’s story of love, betrayal, retribution, and salvation. Every move – not just from the featured dancers but regularly from the ensemble as well – looks impelled by thought, feeling, and belief. The smallest event is detailed and nuanced, and the interplay between characters has an intimacy equaled only by the Royal Danish Ballet in its good old days.
Alonso has done more, though, than set and coach the work to emphasize its theatrical resonance. She has, through the school she founded to feed into the company, imprinted on her protege’s a distinct vision of classical style. Many of these dancers are chunkier than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at today’s sleek ABT and New York City Ballet, and almost all are less adept. But the members of the Cuban group share a concept about dancing – centered on fleetness, fluidity, and brilliant clarity of form – that holds firm even when individual performers can’t fully embody it. At the same time, these artists retain a naturalness – shed long ago by most major-league dancers – that elicits the audience’s empathy.
The star of the show was the Giselle, Lorna Feijo, by turns wistful and impetuous, alight with infatuation, then annihilated by her suitor’s perfidy, and finally devoted to him with a tenderness that reaches beyond the grave. Her Albrecht, Oscar Torrado, just fine as the irresistible lover of Act One, needs to develop further to command the technical and spiritual dimensions of Act Two. Laura Hormigon – as Myrtha, queen of the ghostly maidens who inhabit Act Two – also seemed young in experience, though she brought the house down when she floated cross-stage in toe steps as impeccably even as stitches on a knitting needle. The secondary roles of Hilarion (whose love Giselle can’t return) and Berthe (Giselle’s mother), played respectively by Jose Zamorano and Anael Martin, glowed with the dancers’ accomplishment. Zamorano was a Stanislavskian model of quiet authenticity, while Martin successfully blended a simple peasant’s devotion to her child with a chilling excursion into macabre superstition.
Couldn’t the Cubans visit New York next year – with a longer engagement and a wider repertory? We’d overlook their canned music; Paul Taylor is reduced to it, too.