International Reviews

Don Quixote – Ballet Nacional de Cuba

Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Australia
September 30th 2010

By Dolce Fisher

To be honest, I am completely biased when it comes to Don Quixote, as it is my favorite ballet. The last production I saw of the ballet classic was performed by the Australian Ballet with guest artist Ethan Steifel, so the benchmark was set high when I entered the Lyric Theatre to watch the National Ballet of Cuba’s rendition.

QPAC were a fabulous host for the company, getting into the Cuban vibe and offering a special Cuban bar outside the theatre complete with a live band and plenty of space to salsa. The venue worked well to set the scene even before the show began.

The ballet has a rich history, as does the National Ballet of Cuba, founded by the famous Alicia Alonso. This Don Quixote was choreographed by Alonso in collaboration with Maria Elena Llorente and Marta Garcia, after Petipa’s original version. The choreography felt like it had been adapted to show off the dancer’s Cuban flare and virtuosity, rather than the work being re-choreographed. I did, however, find the loss of the trademark fan in ‘Kitri’s’ Act 3 solo puzzling.

The dancers are some of the world’s best. Viengsay Valdés, playing the role of ‘Kitri’, stole the show. She performed with joy and vibrancy, truly bringing ‘Kitri’ to life, whilst displaying superb control and performing balances with almost super human strength. The dancers in the company seem to turn differently to us, executing multiple turns with such ease and control and truly finishing their pirouettes on balance. I want to know their secret! Valdés whizzed through her fouettés in Act 3 with triple pirouettes on every fourth turn with such ease.

‘Basilio’ was performed by Elier Bourzac. He danced the role well but lacked a little charisma for his character. The partnership created some amazing moments, particularly in the Act 3 pas de deux, where Bourzac let go of Valdés after a series of assisted pirouettes and continued unassisted for another four or so turns. The male dancers gave a praiseworthy performance in the bullfighters dance, showcasing their strength and agility. Amaya Rodriguez as ‘Mercedes’ and Yonah Acosta as the young gypsy in Act 2 were flawless.

Unfortunately I felt that the costumes and sets by Salvador Fernandez lowered the quality of the production. The set in Act 1 was too big for the stage and it encroached on the dancers, however, the sets in Acts 2 and 3 opened the stage and allowed the dancers to make the most of the space. The costuming, although it kept to the Spanish heritage of Don Quixote, at times was unflattering, particularly for the male dancers. The headdresses and the over abundance of lace were distracting and just too much for the eye. It would have been nice to see a more modern twist on the costume designs.

Overall, the National Ballet of Cuba’s Don Quixote was delightful. The company rightfully received many curtain calls, standing ovations and bravos from the packed audience.

So did the Cubans match my expectations? Yes, but for different reasons than I had anticipated. The dancers exuded an energy that just seemed to come deep from their Cuban culture, magnified by an ideal choice of ballet. Don Quixote is a perfect story to show their energy. The Spanish heritage of the ballet encapsulates the essence of the company itself and shows off dancers for who they really are. The virtuosity displayed, the steps and the execution were something we don’t see every day in Australia. Hopefully their next visit will take the company to more cities, so their Cuban energy can rub off on all of us.

Photo: Sadaise Arencibia. Photo by Jacques Moatti

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