Ballet Lizt Alfonso/Danza Cuba

June 1, 2007

Ballet Lizt Alfonso/Danza Cuba


Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto

June 1–10, 2007

Reviewed by Michael Crabb

Frilled skirts swooped and swirled in a blur of color. Rhythmic feet sounded a mesmerizing tattoo as serpentine hands swirled upward like lapping flames and hips swayed sensuously. Bodies stood proud and erect in classic Spanish style, shaped themselves into gracefully attenuated ballet arabesques, or contracted forcefully into modernistic expressions of anguish and longing. There was laughter and singing, sometimes joyful, other times mournful and melancholy—a veritable fiesta of volatile Latin emotion.

    Welcome to the choreographically hybrid world of Havana-based Lizt Alfonso and her latest work, VIDA!, created in an unusual collaboration for her company’s Canadian debut as part of Toronto’s first Luminato International Festival of Arts and Creativity. She worked closely with producer Kelly Robinson to shape pieces of existing choreography to fit the narrative frame of a quasi-musical. Legendary Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuondo was signed as VIDA!’s star attraction.

    Elements of Portuondo’s own story were woven into a song and dance show—effectively a personal trip through some 70 years of Cuban history—structured as a series of autobiographical flashbacks. The result, though at times creaky in narrative respects, was exuberantly seductive in its dancing components even if the choreography rarely appeared to be an organic outgrowth of the story.

    Alfonso’s young-looking troupe—many of them graduates of her Havana school and trained in her distinctive melding of classical Spanish, flamenco, ballet, and Cuban Afro-Hispanic dance traditions—is all-female. Of necessity, given the narrative demands, women were thus required to portray, not always convincingly, both repressive Battista-regime henchmen and revolutionary soldiers in VIDA!’s more politically charged episodes.

    Vadim Larramendi, a ballet-trained guest male dancer with matinee-idol looks, was introduced to inject some romance, partnering Yudisley Martínez, one of the three Alfonso women cast to portray the title character at different phases of her life. The ensuing pas de deux was among the show’s most choreographically evolved and dramatically expressive sequences as was their parting when he opts, post-revolution, to leave for America.

Although perhaps overly strenuous in its effort to be uplifting, VIDA! provides an engaging showcase for Alfonso’s spirited dancers and her intriguing fusion of styles—enough to lift audiences to their feet and warrant an extended run in Toronto’s Edwardian 1,500-seat Royal Alexandra Theatre.