Review: Ballet Revolución at The Peacock Theatre

Performance: 25 Apr - 19 May 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Friday 27 April 2012

Ballet Revolución

Reviewed: 25 April 2012

Wednesday evening at the Peacock Theatre began with the elegance appropriate to a night at the ballet. A trio of dancers executing precise ballet phrases to the recorded strains of classical orchestration. The graceful threesome lifted, pivoted and extended; pointe-edly strutting their way across the front of the stage.

This neat little sequence was the last of its kind, however. For after only a few moments the reverie was interrupted by a piercing whistle, the pounding of drums and a cavalcade of Cuba’s best and brightest dancers, set the floor alight with a conflagration of dance forms, performed with incredible skill. Ballet Revolución is a touring showcase for dancers from the Latin American Island nation, drawing talent from two of its most prestigious conservatoires, the Escuela Nacional de Arte and the Escuela Nacional Cubana de Ballet.

The training delivered in these academies must be rigorous indeed, for it’s hard to imagine such an impressive collection of finely-toned bodies or technically proficient movers inhabiting a single island, let alone a single stage. As the title suggests, the physical vocabulary of ballet was never far from sight and no wonder, since a good portion of the cast has performed as soloists or in leading roles in dozens of classical works between them. Others members of the group boast training in folk dance, modern and even gymnastics. So the swan-like shapes of the erudite art form appeared against a pulsating motley mix of Latin, hip-hop, pop styles and the rest, creating a kind of rhythmic tension that in its best moments was breathtaking but at times felt a bit awkward.

The arabesques, jetés and retirés of the hardcore classical crew, would lengthen and linger like smoke rings floating above the party atmosphere, then evaporating into the percussive jumping and jiggling of the more popular forms. The first few numbers came across as somewhat mannered with the ballet bits seeming forced and tacked-on. But following a blistering bongo drum solo everybody loosened up and the choreography started to come into its own. An exuberant mambo section was an excellent example of the classical meeting the Latin influence with spicy results. At its climax the group shouted “mambo!” as though joyfully declaring their reinvention of the style.

The blending of genres was also particularly seamless in the Tango-esque sections. The partnering in ballet mirrors that of the sensual Latin dance, and the physical prowess afforded by intensive training in the classical medium opens up a range of movements to the tango, making it even more tantalisingly suggestive. A female dancer en pointe opened her legs in a seemingly impossible split, held aloft by her smouldering male counterpart, making it look like wings were growing from the sides of his muscular torso.

Ballet Revolución is ballet fusion for the people. In its attempt to be something for everyone, it employs a puzzling collection of pop music, a lot it the kind of bubble gum stuff that’s on repeat at the gym. Along with the garish costumes, this aspect threatened to turn the show into a chintzy revue. But the live band was allowed to churn out enough of the lively Latin rhythms to keep us in the spirit. And the artistry of these formidable performers, the fun they were having, radiated through any minor distractions, making this a night of dance as uplifting as one of their soaring skyward leaps.

Continues at the Peacock Theatre until 19 May

Jeffrey Gordon Baker took part in this year’s Resolution! ReviewThe Place’s online magazine which includes reviews of every Resolution! show, by professional dance critics and aspiring writers.

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