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Anyone who has visited Cuba will know it is a country full of music and movement. The country’s first ballet company, the Ballet Alicia Alonso, was founded in 1948 by the renowned ballerina of the same name, Alicia Alonso (the company went on to become the Ballet Nacional de Cuba). Contemporary or modern dance, as it is known in the West, was only introduced in the early 60s after Cuba’s revolution. With trade embargos meaning the world has seen little of the Cuban dance scene, when Cuban dance company Ballet Revolución decided to include Australia in its world tour, the opportunity to attend opening night at Sydney’s State Theatre was more than intriguing.

Performance

Ballet Revolución

Place

State Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, June 23-25, 2015

Words

Claudia Lawson

Ballet Revolución in their eponymous performance. Photograph by Nilz Boehme

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The work is “Ballet Revolución”—the company’s namesake. In two halves, the performance is co-choreographed by Cuban choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez together with Australian choreographer Aaron Cash (of Tap Dogs fame). It features an eight-piece big band together with 19 Cuban dancers, most of whom are classically trained at Cuba’s Escuela Nacional de Arte or ENA (founded by Fidel Castro). The performance fuses classical ballet, contemporary dance with hip hop and Afro-Cuban dance. It’s the type of sell that is easy to be skeptical of—fusion being synonymous for not exceptional at any one style. Wonderfully, Ballet Revolución absolutely bucks this trend. Despite Cuba’s relatively new foray into professional dance, these are no up and comers. The dancers are beyond talented, bringing classical technique, the energy of hip hop all with a brilliant sensual and energetic Cuban flavor. The entire cast has that rare ability to transition seamlessly between dance styles.

On opening night at Sydney’s State Theatre, the first half begins before you know it. For all those who have ever dabbled in ballet, it will be a familiar scene: piano music plays while dancers donned in leg warmers stretch at the barre, there is cracking of backs and chit chat and after a few port-de-bras, the theatre goes dark. When the lights lift, the show truly begins. Cuban beats explode into the State theatre, the band is on a podium at the back of the stage. Each dancer seems has been cast for their own distinct style and personality. From the outset, routine after routine play out with full blown energy, technical brilliance and a sense of fun. The dancers are raw, powerful and exude an infectious energy. Of the seven girls in the show, four perform entirely in pointe shoes. Yet there is no sense that we’ve got ballerinas trying to do hip hop. They are sensual, moving with the power of hip hop and the wonderfully aesthetic lines of ballet. The highlight of the first half comes mid-way through as the band starts playing the big numbers—starting with Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” followed by Lorde’s “Royals” and then into a Beyoncé medley. It is big, bold, soul-filling dance coupled with bright, colourful costuming. You can feel the energy from the stage buzzing through the audience.

It’s hard to fathom that the energy level of the dancers can be maintained, but the company continue to deliver with innovative and engaging pieces. The highlight of the second half is a sensuous push-pull piece with two couples taking up either side of the stage. The other, a fabulously naughty piece to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” If there is one critique, it is the synchronicity is not as wonderfully perfect as you might find watching a ballet classic. But that is not the point of this show. This ballet revolution is a joyous one: Ballet Revolución demonstrates that classical ballet, contemporary dance and hip hop can be fused with cultural flavour to deliver deliciously energetic and crowd pleasing performance, without any loss of technique.

Claudia Lawson


Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.

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