Adios Havana

November 9, 2008

My week at the Festival is over.

When I said my goodbyes, the festival staff expressed surprise. “How can you leave now? You’re going to miss the best!” (Both Giselle and Swan Lake were yet to come, not to mention the arrival of Carlos Acosta.) In retrospect, it does seem shortsighted not to have taken in everything. But seriously, one can only absorb so much.

Here are some highlights from my final evening:

Napoli, Act III: As the result of a two-year exchange between the Royal Danish Ballet and Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Frank Andersen coached a talented group of BNC corps members in the Bournonville classic, featuring Thomas Lund and Diana Cuni of the Royal Danish Ballet. After seeing the ProDanza company dancers struggle in Andersen’s class, I understand a little of what it took for the Cuban dancers to set aside their bravura technique for the subtleties of Bournonville.

• Ballet de Teatres de la Generalitat de Valencia: Maybe 10 minutes into the ambitious El Amor Brujo (choreographed by Ramón Oller), Teatro Mella lost sound, then lights. When the curtain finally re-opened, the modern dance ensemble from Spain gamely took up where they left off. The dancers were beautiful and the movement engaging. I only wish the editing had been as aggressive as the partnering. The love triangle for 19 dancers had one too many encounters between the dead husband and his wife. And did the mistress end up dead or alive at the end?

• Later at Teatro de la Habana, Maria Pagés’ flamenco got the only standing ovation I saw all week from the ballet crowd. Also on this program were the anticipated Michel Descombey premiere of Che, and Tania Vergara’s winning choreography competition entry. But my vote goes to two pas de deux: an elegant Grand Pas de Deux Classique (Victor Gsovski) by the Paris Opera couple, Myriam Ould Braham and Emmanuel Thibauld, and Viengsay Valdés and Rómel Frómeta in Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.

It never fails to thrill when the woman throws herself repeatedly at the man from halfway across the stage—especially if the guy seems to just barely save her from breaking her neck. Viengsay and Rómel weren’t the edgiest pair I’ve seen, but they looked stunning nonetheless.

What an opportunity of a lifetime this has been to look behind the scenes at a dance organization that is inaccessible to us here in the U.S. Certainly U.S. ballet companies benefit from the legendary training of the National Ballet School of Cuba via an influx of Cuban defectors. But unless relations between our governments change, American dancers are excluded from the unique kind of cultural exchange that the Royal Danish and BNC experienced. Regardless of your politics, the potential for artistic collaboration to replace defection is something worth anticipating.