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  • 05 / 07 / 2010

Magia de la Danza, Wales Millennium Centre

The Cuban company comes to Cardiff for the first time and as the final stop of their UK tour and the audience was treated to a whistle stop tour of ballet's greatest hits

With Ballet Nacional de Cuba rounding off their UK tour in the Welsh capital, the audience was treated to a whistlestop tour of ballet's greatest duets – all given a distinctly Cuban slant by their founding mother Alicia Alonso.

  This is the first time the famed Cuban company has come to Cardiff, and there was no better way to start their stint in the city than with a guest performance from their home-grown legend Carlos Acosta.

Acosta is currently guest principal dancer with The Royal Ballet – but his roots are with the Cuban collective where he first trained.

Now nearing the end of his prime years as one of the most exquisite male dancer's for our generation, Acosta's short excerpt was one to remember.

The audience eagerly awaited Acosta's arrival on stage with a tangible excitement.

The first half consisted of a glimpse of a moving Giselle – performed in full length from Friday – displaying world class levels of dancing with an acute sense of timing and mastering of the very difficult romantic style.

Crowd pleasing hits followed including the wedding dance by Aurora and her Prince in Sleeping Beauty following by Tchaikovsky's memorable tunes to the Waltz of the Flowers, dance of the Sugar Plum fairy and the grand pas de deux from The Nutcracker.

The succession of partnered dances can become monotonous for those seeking the depth and engagement of a full length ballet – with set changes from one classic to the next ruling out any chance of developing moods or real character.

Uninspired costumes give the audience little distinction between partners – "is this The Nutcracker? Does she die at the End?" I heard someone behind me whisper.

But the audience's attention is hooked by the wow-factor moments – with every pas de deux there's a string of spinning top pirouettes – with the female dancers rather forcefully propelled by the male partner's paddle hands.

The Cuban style itself demonstrates the strict discipline the company champions – with every arabesque en pointe unwavering and each jété landing like a feather.

But some dancers sacrifice fluidity for technique – Yanela Piñera's muscular Sugar Plum builds momentum throughout the dance but her arms remain rigidly stiff.

Her Cavalier, Alejandro Virelles is a Cuban Jonathan Cope but given little time to shine.

Following an excerpt from Coppélia, the atmosphere audible rustles with anticipation for Acosta, and as he strides onto stage and jumps straight into his trademark leaps for the Don Quixote pas de deux, he is acknowledged with a roar of applause.

The brevity of his appearance was a notch below satisfying for those craving more of his graceful lines and powerful presence. But the passionate and cheeky duet with Viengsay Valdés sets him apart from the princes before him on stage – reducing them to aspiring young whipper snappers, and him the absolute master of his art (also markedly leaving Valdés to turn on her own without paddling).

The evening would be rounded off nicely if it had finished after a stunningly beautiful pas de deux from a fragile tormented Odette in Swan Lake – letting the mournful notes of ballet's greatest composer linger on the air.

But the finale is an odd choice from the lesser known Gottschalk Symphony, which lightens the tone, but baffles the crowd with the dancers in a long train moving slowing across the stage.

Overall, the evening is a colourful display of the Cuban's sharp technique across the board of their company – highlighting an impeccable ability from the dancers and strong sense of tradition which runs through the spine, Alonso's legacy.


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