Picture this. Turin. A balmy summer evening. To the left is piazza Castello with its impressive medieval castle. To the right, the Royal Palace, once home to the Kings of Savoy. Between the two, a stage ready to host the Cuban National Ballet. Storm clouds toy around the mountains in the distance, and as the evening opens, with a scene from the second act of Giselle, lightning illuminates the distant clouds. Yes, it was the beginning to a good evening.
The Cubans were presenting their Magic of Dance programme, which has been on the road for several years. It's a ballet's greatest hits evening, though not just pas de deux, but scenes to flesh it out a little, avoiding a vomit-inducing evening of 20 grand pas de deux. Having read various reviews over the years, I was delighted to enjoy it as much as I did. Yes, they do tend to dance every ballet in the same way, yes, they do cram in the circus tricks, but hey, it's a gala! It's also a fine way to be introduced to the company's top dancers, and it's whetted my appetite for the 26th International Ballet Festival in Havana next year.
Certainly, the company style of dancing with the low leg, a sometimes-baroque pas de bras, the often-curved arms and legs, the ballet-print poses, is rarely seen elsewhere and many would claim to be dated, which is another way of saying unfashionable. But, like skinny jeans, fashions can return, which is largely what Alexei Ratmansky has been trying to do with his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake reconstructions. Same again: many hate them… I happened to love them.
The Cubans also dance with assurance, flair, precision and great musicality.
Anette Delgado was a touching Giselle, soft and floaty. Grettel Morejón's Sugar Plum Fairy was delicate and precise, and her young Cavalier, Rafael Quenedit, is a strong, handsome presence. It goes without saying that Viengsay Valdés found all her extraordinary balances as Kitri and shone like a beacon. Ariel Martínez showed off some flamboyant cambré poses as Espada, and his six toreros were suitably arrogant and virile, but always with that slight flirty playfulness that the Cubans lend to their dancing. Dani Hernández was elegant and princely in both Giselle and Swan Lake, with beautiful classical lines. Hernández, like Patricio Revé as Basilio and Daniel Barba as Franz, showed how those Cuban men can turn… and turn, and turn! For completeness, it's right to mention excellent performances from Sadaise Arencibia and Raúl Abreu in The Sleeping Beauty, Claudia García as Swanilda, and Ginett Moncho as the Queen of the Willis.
The sniffiness shown by some to the Cuban style can be understood but isn't necessary, as the fact that a company can preserve its own way of dancing, when most other companies' styles are becoming muddied and universal, doesn't mean that it's passed its sell-by-date. On the contrary, it appears to be quite fresh.
For the continuing summer season at the Palazzo Reale and for events in Turin visit www.torinoestate.it
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.