Behind every real "Swan Lake" stands an utimate "Swan Lake" that each particular performance strives to emulate. If last night's performance by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba at the Kennedy Center failed to realize that ideal, it nonetheless provided glimpses of the vision that this ballet about the pull between ideal and profane love has come to symbolize.

The Cubans danced with purity of style and abundant energy. The haunting view through shifting columns and tunnels of dancers in white was magical as always. Still a certain stodginess of phrasing prevented the melting and blending of elements this most romantic vision seems to require. And the rather percussive rendering of the score didn't facilitate this synthesis.

Lazaro Carreno was a slight, melancholy Siegfried who managed a smooth, quiet manner and noble line even in the heat of most demanding pyrotechnics. Maria Elena Llorente danced the Odile half of her double role with more strength and control than venom and flash. (She did 27 of the obligatory 32 fouettes." Though one never had a sense of a seamless performance, there were moments - the floating arms, her feathery, preening movements as Odette, and her second act pas de deux - which were quite lovely.

The happy ending the Cubans have tacked on is silly but rather splendid: The ghoulish Von Rothbart dies in a heap of horrible feathers and the ladies return with veils of color over their white tutus - swans no more.