Ballet showcases can display a company’s talents across a range of classics; but without the dramatic context of the full pieces, they can sometimes seem all icing and no cake. The Cuban National Ballet’s programme of highlights works hard to keep the advantages and offset the downside by including ensemble numbers among the star turns, and by setting the scene for each excerpt. In the opening scene from Giselle, the doomed romantic duet for lead dancers Hayna Gutiérrez and Víctor Gilí is given a necessary dramatic prelude, as menacing ranks of women in white enter the misty stage, arms as stiff as branches as they crowd and fence in the hero.
If the Giselle excerpt is all drama, the Sleeping Beauty is all display. Sadaise Arencibia as Aurora looks more scorpion than swallowtail in the classic “fish dives” sequence, flipping her legs right over the head of partner Miguelángel Blanco. It’s an effortful performance, and effortlessly outclassed by the Nutcracker duet, where bright Anette Delgado is well matched with breezy Rómel Frómeta.
Like a statue on a plinth, Valdés balances on pointe for so long the orchestra has to wait. It's as if she knows she belongs on a pedestal.
A peppy Coppelia number with Yolanda Correa and Octavio Martín leads into the evening’s high spot: Viengsay Valdés and Joel Carreño in Don Quixote. Like a statue on a plinth, Valdés balances on pointe for so long the orchestra has to wait. It’s as if she knows she belongs on a pedestal. Carreño astonishes with his split-legged leaps and the way he saunters out of whirlwind spins.
It’s a hard act to follow, and the Swan Lake scene can’t quite achieve its own moonlit ambience. Sinfonia de Gottschalk is the dated finale, balletic brio with a touch of conga – distinctly odd, and yearning for a bit more swing. Overall, this evening of tasters shows a troupe of punchy, athletic dancers, and whets the appetite for the meatier second programme, the company’s version of Giselle.