Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cuba: Ballet Nacional de Cuba

In Cuba, ballet dancers are royalty.  Evidence: the Gran Teatro de la Habana, a sugar-coated castle worthy of any fairy tale prince or princess and home of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.  At night its lights twinkle over the Parque Central in Havana, filling the air with the promise of magic.

One of the highlights of our first visit to Cuba was a Sunday matinee performance of this Ballet company, revered in Cuba, renowned in ballet circles worldwide.  The performance took place not in the fairy tale castle but at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba because the Gran Teatro, like El Capitolio next door, is currently closed while renovation takes place.

The Teatro Nacional de Cuba is adjacent to the Plaza de la Revolucion, a modernist concrete square of epic proportions that appears as brutal as ballet is delicate.  But the dancers had brought their fairy dust with them and the performance was exquisite.  The theatre itself, though modern and far less 'pretty', was blissfully cool.

Alicia Alonso
Before the dancing even began we shared a privileged moment with Havana's ballet aficionados, the appearance on the balcony of Alicia Alonso.  She was captivating.  Her slight frame, elegantly attired, was regal.  A charming gentleman, seated next to me in the front row, told me about her as he applauded rapturously with the rest of the audience.    Later, in the interval, he would introduce me to his eye surgeon with equally generous plaudits.  His desire to share the pleasures of the afternoon transcended the boundaries of our alien tongues.

Alicia Alonso is Cuba's queen of ballet, the reason the company exists.  Even now she knows how to command an audience. She was Cuba's finest prima ballerina, founded the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1948 and still plays a key part in its artistic direction. All of which is remarkable in itself, but when you add that she became partially blind in her teens, danced solo into her seventies and is now 93, well, the idea of ballet as magical seems much less fanciful.
Curtain call for Amaya Rodriguez and Luis Valle who danced Diana y Acteon
The dancing itself was spellbinding: dynamic, accomplished, inspiring.  The programme was a selection of pieces, a 'something for everyone' box of delights, some of them choreographed by Alicia Alonso herself:  En las sombras de un vals; Pulso romantico; Percusion para seis hombres; Esmeralda; Diana y Acteon; Raymonda; and Sinergia.  Of them all, 'Percusion para seis hombres' was perhaps my favourite, an explosion of energy captured in a dance for six men.

After the performance we chatted to a Canadian couple who had come to Cuba on the spur of the moment, desperate to escape the winter that had buried them in snow for so long.  Then, as we strolled away in search of a taxi, we passed men, their whole lives contained in plastic carrier bags, who clearly lived, day and night, in the park.  Life in Cuba, as everywhere else, is full of contradictions.      

Practical:  The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is currently based at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, Sala Avellaneda, near Plaza de la Revolucion.  Performances are given at the weekends on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.  Our tickets cost 25 CUC each, purchased from the box office immediately prior to the performance.  Getting there.  The red Havana tourist bus, 5 CUC for an all day ticket, stops on the Plaza but check the time of the last bus.  We took a taxi both ways but it wasn't easy finding one post-performance.  It might be worth booking your return journey.            

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