Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Ballet Nacional de Cuba made its formal debut at the Kennedy Center Tuesday night with a performance of "Giselle," featuring the company's founder-director, Alicia Alonso, in the title part. But in a way, the company only began to reveal itself fully with Wednesday night's mixed repertory program, which afforded the first glimpses of what is truly distinctive about the troupe. It was an eye-opener, in more ways than one.
The fare included three works which, though utterly different in content and manner, were all unmistakably Cuban in their flavoring and refreshing individuality.
There was "Canto Vital," a roof-raising bravura number for four men, so blazingly executed by the Cuban quartet that it brought the house down. There was "Tarde en la Siesta," a lovely, mood-drenched period piece for four women, summoning images of turn-of-the-century Cuba. And there was the most telling of all, the startingly powerful "Blood Wedding," a rendering of the Lorca tragedy in the flamenco idiom. The "classics" were represented, too, by the evening's opening performance of "Les Sylphides," as staged by Alonso from her recollections of Fokines final revision shortly before his death.
"Canto Vital" was created for the BNC by Azari Plisetski, the Bolshoi dancer - brother of Maya Plisetskaya - who partnered Alonso for a number of recent years. In its mixture of Bolshoi pyrotechnics, Grahamesque contractions and falls, and jungle animisms, it reminds one of Bejart, as does its accent on male virility.
A program note speaks of primitive man's struggle for survival, but in the main the piece strikes one simply as a splendid display of Tarzan-style virtuosity by Jorge Esquivel, Andres Williams, Orlando Salgado and Lazaro Carreno. Near-vertical headlong dives to the floor, a twisting leap ending in a seated split, and soaring, intricately embellished jumps were among the feats the four tossed off with unflagging dazzle.
In "Tarde en la Siesta," choreographer Alberto Mendrez uses classic steps and interpretive gesture, together with wonderfully fragrant salon pieces recorded by the late Cuban composer-pianist Ernest Lecuona, to fashion a kind of genre portrait of four women of contrasting temperament. Especially impressive were Mirta Pla as the tenderly pliant Consuelo, and Rosario Suarez as the fiercely introspective Soledad.
With a brilliant economy of musical, scenic and choreographic means, the great flamenco master Antonio Gades conveys in his "Blood Wedding" all the terrible brooding pathos of the Lorca drama. Lipa Araujo and Marta Garcia were searingly intense as the jealous wife and the bride; the cast as a whole was superb.