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C U L T U R E

Havana.  November 12, 2014

24th HAVANA INTERNATIONAL BALLET FESTIVAL
A final look

Mireya Castañeda

The Havana International Ballet Festival, by its very nature, is among the most illustrious of festivals. It is a must for lovers of ballet and, since 1960, has acted as a powerful magnet, attracting all those who love dance.


BNC prima ballerina, Anette Delgado, in the first act of Giselle

It is a huge forum where dozens of groups and dancers from every continent converge. An event where, every two years, traditional classics and the very latest in XXI century dance come together.

Over the 10 days (October 28 – November 7) of the event presided by the prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso, 28 countries were represented in an edition commemorating the 450th anniversary of the birth of the renowned English playwright, William Shakespeare.

In a daring attempt to encapsulate the event, nothing could be better than a Closing Gala that would become a triumphant climax.

The current director of the San Jose Ballet, in the United States, the famous Cuban dancer José Manuel Carreño, surprised the audience by returning to the stage with the pas de deux from another Carmen, choreographed by Roland Petit with music by Bizet. Carreño accompanied the ballerina, Alesandra Meijer, from the company he now directs, with his unmatched style.


The assoluta Alicia Alonso, as always, appeared on stage in the
Closing Gala, this time escorted by Dani Hernández (left)
and José Manuel Carreño.

Much loved and respected on the island, José Manuel Carreño received the Lorna Burdsall Special Award, the highest recognition awarded by the performing arts section of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) at the headquarters of the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC).

The leading figures of American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes, soon due to retire from the stage, filled the sala Avellaneda with precise technique and style.

Reyes, as well as giving a master class in Jornadas Fernando Alonso in Memoriam, danced the Great Galloping Gottschalk, accompanied by the Spanish premier danseur, Carlos López, and received the ovation she deserved.

The famous Argentinean ballerina, Paloma Herrera, dedicated herself to Verano porteño, together with Juan Pablo Ledo, from the Teatro Colón Ballet Company, choreographed with music by Astor Piazzolla and Vivaldi.

Earlier, in the Teatro Mella, she had shone in the Tchaikovsky pas de deux, together with Gonzalo García of the New York City Ballet (NYCB). Both once again demonstrated the Balanchine method, a demanding pointe technique.


Pontus Lidberg Dance, from the United States, premiered four
choreographies in Cuba. Faune is a homage to the mythical Russian
ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950)

The NYCB premier danseur, Joaquín de Luz, considered by critics one of the most brilliant current exponents of male dance, premiered Five Variations on a Theme, by Mexican choreographer, David Fernández, with music by Bach and… the packed Avellaneda exploded.  He also brought Other Dances to Havana, alongside the ballerina Ashley Bouder, also from the NYCB.

Choreographed by the renowned Jerome Robbins, with music by Chopin, the performance featured award-winning Cuban pianist, Marcos Madrigal, who played on stage.

The Gala included Qiu Yunting and Wu Sicong, from the National Ballet of China, who skillfully performed Motley, a modern dance, while Nadia Muzyca and Federico Fernández, from the Teatro Colón Ballet Company, returned with Esmeralda by Petipa.

Another Carmen, choreographed by the great Marcia Haydee, also with music by Bizet, was well received with performances from Natalia Berrios and José Manuel Ghiso, from the Santiago de Chile Ballet, while Claudia D'Antonio and Salvatore Mazo, from Naples’ San Carlo Ballet, danced a delicacy, Mia eterna primavera, with music by Verdi.

The BNC demonstrated the strength of its schooling in the Gala, just as it did throughout the Festival. A splendid Spartacus by Yanela Piñera and Camilo Ramos, choreographed by Azary Plisetsky; The Dying Swan, by Michel Descombey, virtuously performed by Javier Torres (now with the Northern Ballet); Anette Delgado and Dani Hernández, lyrical and perfect in Aguas primaverales, by Asaf Messerer; and a premiere in Cuba of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Michel Corder, with Yolanda Correa and Joel Carreño (currently with the Norwegian National Ballet).

The prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés and the premier danseur Victor Estévez closed the Gala with the premiere of Valsette, a reduced version of Nuestros Valses, by the universal Venezuelan choreographer, Vicente Nebrada, directed by Yanis Pikieris.

I was lucky to witness Pikeris win the gold medal in 1981 at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow thanks to his unbeatable style and technique faced with the powerful group of Russian dancers from the Bolshoi and the then Kirov, now Mariinsky.

Now back in Havana, he gifted the BNC with this Valsette, three pas de deux to music by Teresa Carreño and Ramón Delgado, with Marcos Madrigal playing the piano on stage, making for a fabulous dialogue between Viengsay and Estevéz.

Viengsay, without doubt currently the most internationally known prima ballerina of the BNC, stood out in the Festival. She brought us a Swan Lake, the obligatory classic in the repertoire of every major company in the world, with a perfect combination of art and technique, alongside the Ukrainian Iván Putrov, who was almost a soloist with the Royal Ballet, but at the time did not meet expectations. Viengsay was flawless in the difficult dual role of Odette/Odile.

In addition, in The Magic of Dance, the scene from Don Quixote, she was partnered with the premier danseur of the Washington Ballet, Brooklyn Mack, and it could be said that they made history. Yet this was not enough and they also offered up a memorable pas de deux from Diana and Actaeon, by Agrippina Vaganova.

The prima ballerina also defended herself with the solo in El desequilibrio, choreographed by Laura Domingo, to cement her versatility in dance. 

No night of November 2 in Havana is complete without a performance of Giselle, this masterpiece of Romanticism which, 173 years after its premiere in Paris, continues to move audiences. On this date in 1943, Alicia Alonso substituted another Alicia – Markova - at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and a legend was born...

This time the peasant turned Wilis was played by Anette Delgado, who was great in the difficult role, especially in the Cuban company, and Albrecht was interpreted by Dani Hernández, a just partner. Both offered up a special performance.

As part of this bold summarizing exercise, Julio Bocca, renowned Argentinean dancer and choreographer and one of the major figures of international dance, had to be present. Since 2010 he has directed the National Ballet of Uruguay, which will celebrate 80 years since its founding in 2015.

Bocca gave a master class which opened the sessions in honor of Fernando Alonso (1914-2013), and held a brief dialogue with GI at the headquarters of the BNC on his memories of visits to the island and his thoughts on technique and art in the ballet. "It's the part that we teachers must work on most, the artistic part, on concentration and above all, it’s not that they do not have love for it, but they don’t know how to express it, we teachers must remind them why they are doing this, because this is a career that one chooses." 

He referred to his meetings in Havana with the prima ballerina Ofelia González, with whom he danced Don Quixote and a very memorable Swan Lake, as Bocca bid his farewell to the stage. "I remember her dedication, her sincerity on stage, not all dancers have that. The times we danced she came out calmly, she knew we were going to seek more, to go beyond, with her heart open to her character and her companion."

This wonderful dance encounter is not exhausted in these examples, but space in the newspaper is. The Havana International Ballet Festival is not a competition, but with all the stars who come mainly thanks to the convening power of the diva Alicia Alonso, it is an encounter that goes beyond the star system, for all it is a case of delivering the magic of dance on stage.

In two years time, without fail, Havana will once again become that powerful magnet that attracts the lovers of dance.

 

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