Tonight I saw Giselle performed by the Cuban National Ballet. It was in the Gran Teatro, the theatre where I saw them perform back in September.
The dancing was impeccable, as expected. There was a live orchestra, which for the first half seemed great. For some reason the second Act was different. It seemed like they turned on a bunch of microphones in the pit and people kept banging into them noisily throughout the second Act. And when things started getting out of tune in the middle I started wondering if I was hearing the effects of instruments that aren't as expensive as the ones heard in the states. You can get pretty far with technique, but I guess having a 300 year old violin really does make a difference.
I was lost through the second Act of Giselle because it took me a while to figure out what was going on. It seemed kind of like a dream sequence for a while, but eventually the prince actually dies. So I guess that was real, huh.
A couple things I did notice about the dance. The corps de ballet is really really solid. There were so many of them! And they all looked to be of identical height. It was especially eery in the second act with all the green light that made their white dresses glow. It was quite beautiful seeing them all there, so many perfect painted bodies all dancing in unison. Doll-like came to mind more than once.
After the performance there was a film montage honoring some Soviet ballet star who danced the role of Giselle with Alicia Alonso. After watching clips of him spinning for 10 solid minutes they included a clip of the climactic closing sequence of Giselle. It it you can see how old Alicia looks compared with him. She could've been 60 by the looks of it. And so, so thin.
Then we saw the Soviet dancer in real life, looking like someone who has been enjoying his retirement and his blond hair. He got huge applause from the crowd and seemed to enjoy this too. Finally the curtain is raised to reveal Alicia, framed by the soloists of the Cuban company. She's wearing her traditional outfit: greenish blue blouse and matching skirt, with a headscarf of the same color. She looks really wobbly and fragile on her little heels. Isn't she like 90 or something? She still wears heels, and with that turnout of hers she really does kind of waddle when she takes a step.
The crowd goes crazy for Alicia, again and again. She's old and frail, and almost completely blind from what I've heard. There are two strapping young company dancers with their arms on her shoulders, seemingly protecting her and framing her between them. It was quite moving to see her up there, with all that fanfare, and her tiny little curtsy that she finally bestowed upon us as we waited for her to do something other than just smile and clap. She has a knowing smile, but an appreciative one. And I get the sense she knows this could be the last time she comes out at the Ballet Festival. It really feels like the end of her era.
What this could mean for ballet in cuba, I'm not sure. One thing I am sure of is Americans have a surprising presence here at the festival. Like I mentioned last night, the New York invasion is really kind of arresting. I talked to some ladies as we were exiting the theatre. One of them, Cheryl, was from Chicago. She has been here four times and she came to the festival last year as well. We talked about NYCB the other night and how refreshing it is to hear such enthusiastic applause in the audience (especially for Wheeldon's Liturgy). Interesting to me is that this festival is on the cultural radar of Americans interested in dance. I had no idea. I guess it's one type of "cultural tourism" that the Cubans are happy to have as a source of income.