New casting in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's productions at Kennedy Center this weekend showed how much the company's dancers have been trained alike. To forge a Cuban style, Alicia Alonso has taken the technique of her youth - the Ballet Theatre look of the 1940s - as a starting point. Viewers, expecting Soviet flow from these visitors and familiar with the current melting-pot manner of American Ballet Theatre, are being surprised by the Cubans' reined-in precision.
Different bodies and temperaments distinguish the soloists despite their strict schooling. Marina Elena Llorante, a small blond, danced "Coppelia" on Saturday afternoon. She flirted in a shy way with sinewy Lazaro Careno, who wasn't too tall a sweetheart but outdid her in stamina and brilliance.
New here on Saturday night was the delicate and tall Mirta Pla in a richly romantic performance of "Les Sylphides." She reminded fans of Diana Adams, one of Alonso's Ballet Theatre colleagues. Josefina Mendez, entering as Giselle on Sunday afternoon, looked and moved remarkably like Alonso, but also isn't a carbon copy. She is a warmer performer but lacks the star's lightness and concentration. Orlando Salgado's Albrecht had noble presence and direct vigor that derive from Igor Youskevitch, Alonso's great partner of the past. The training of the classical men, though, has not been as thorough as the women's. Those ghost maidens, led by Cristina Alvarez, again were superbly drilled.
Alonso, herself, partnered by Jorge Esquivel, introduced the white swan adagio from "Swan Lake" on Saturday night. There were a few moments when, fully stretched, this veteran still smoldered.