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Jerry Tallmer

Ballet Nacionale de Cuba


When Laura Hormigon, as Kitri the beautiful, the innkeeper's runaway daughter, spun for the third or fourth time like a top on one toe, with her other leg kicking the heavens, the young woman on my right gave a shriek of sheer appreciative ecstasy while the gorgeous person on my left, herself a dancer, merely murmured: "I'm going to die."

In the next instant Ms. Hormigon dove through the air into the arms of Oscar Torrado -- her lover, an impoverished barber (the Warren Beatty of that town, that century) ?- and the whole City Center went nuts with cries of "Brava! Bravo! Brava!"

This was Saturday night, and these were but two of the alternating premier dancers of the Ballet Nacionale de Cuba, a company that would seem to have no flaws from brightest stars to lowliest (but no less glittering) supers. The work before us was "Don Quixote," as adapted from Petipas and Gorsky (and Cervantes) by the Nacionale's near-mythic founder-director Alicia Alonso.

Precision. Cleanliness. Technique. Given those three basics, what you get at the other end, our end, is emotional wallop, whatever the conveyer belt, the setting, be it a fusty old slice of happy villagers, foppish aristos, and cape-swinging bullfighters ("life ran very full in those days," as James Agee once put it), or, with "Swan Lake" on the night before, a saga of seduction and rape to the most sensuous music ever written. On that evening (Friday) the other miraculous premier dancers were Barbara Garcia and Romel Frometa. I could almost forget that Matthew Bourne's male-swan Tchaikovsky had been so powerful as to spoiled me forever.

That was then, this is now. On these two of this season's all-too-few New York performances by the Cuban visitors before they would head en pointe for points west, every dimension seemed to be continually pushing to the next dimension, most particularly in the male/female mano a mano between the lovers toward the end of "Don Quixote" -- her turn, his turn, her turns, his turns, outdoing one another until she (Ms. Hormigon) put it, and us, away with about 20 spins, on one toe, one foot, one toe, one foot, in an arrow-flight clean across the width of the big City Center stage.

I once saw Plisetskaya fly, legs outstretched, in one shot straight across the stage of the old Met Opera. This was the next thing to that.

Yes, Don Quixote, with his lance and his shield, still fights a windmill and still gets the worst of it; his horse is a giant wooden toy, on wheels, and he himself (Miguelangel Blanco the night I went), the tallest dude on stage, may herky-jerkily put you in mind of Ray Bolger's Tin Woodsman.

Yes, Sancho Panza (Javier Sanchez) is a gregarious clown. Yes, there are more beautiful tulip girls on stage at any one time than in any Broadway show you ever saw. Yes, the bullfighters' dance of the red capes is stirring, and yes, the "Canto Vitale" ("Song of Life") on the "Swan Lake" bill, a piece set to Mahler in which four near-nude males perform bonding-and-lonesomeness rites on a beach lacking only a volleyball net, has, given the Castro regime's homophobia, been amazingly in this company's repertoire since 1973.

Given all that, what counts is the breathtaking skill ?- just, for instance, the tiny, tiny baby-step floating-backward, floating-forward ghostly motion of deep-veiled Dulcinea (Ivette Gonzales), Don Quixote's long-dead imagined lady-love of days of yore. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee ?- that's the Ballet Nacionale de Cuba in all its fire-and-ice perfection. [Tallmer]

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