Alicia Alonso won appreciative applause for dancing the title role in her acclaimed production of "Giselle" at the Kennedy Center last night, but the true heroine of the evening was the corps de ballet.
Precise and expressive, the corps of the Cuban Ballet portrays the vengeful Wilis (spirits of jilted maidens who prowl the forests seeking men to kill) as zombies, completely by Rosario Suarez as Myrtha, whose strong, smooth jumps were but one highlight of a superbly danced performance, these Wilis are just plain spooky - ghost women out for blood.
One of the delights of the Cuban company is that principal dancers are cast in roles that other companies consider minor. Last night's cast was a particularly strong one. Loipa Araujo was a beautiful and gracious Bathilde, who made one realize that Albrecht really did lead a double life and that Giselle was not the only person hurt by his behavior. Clara Carranco as Giselle's mother was effective in her mime scene (omitted in most productions) where she tells of the legend of the Wilis. Ramon Ortega was a simple, honest Hilarion whose jealousy set a tragedy in motion. Dramatically, the weak link was Jorge Esquivel as Albrecht. He is a strong dancer and a superb partner, but lacks presence and dramatic credibility.
And Alonsoherself? Anyone who goes to see a 57-year-old ballerina in a demanding role should not expect an Olympic-caliber performance, but a ballet is not a track meet, and Alonso's dramatic reading of the role more than compensated for any technical weaknesses.
In the second act, for example, Alonso makes it clear, as do few others, that Giselle is also in Myrtha's power and is forced to be her accomplice as the Wilis attempt to dance Albrecht to death.
The Cubans have presented a "Swan Lake" that is off the mark and some disappointing modern works during the current season, but there is nothing disappointing about this "Giselle." It may become the signature work of this company, in the same way that it has long been the signature role of its prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso.