|Alonso in 1949|
Instead as I'm home yet again because of an awful ankle injury, I'm looking at Alicia Alonso films and comparing them to the written word. Alonso was a favorite subject of famed critic Edwin Denby and trying to compare what Denby thought with video evidence is important, because Denby saw her in her absolute prime in the 1940's.
This was before Alonso's eyesight deteriorated, and before later appearances where critics tactfully mentioned what she could do rather than what she couldn't. (A 1976 performance of the 56-year old ballerina dancing Alberto Alonso's Carmen is thus described: "Miss Alonso is still effective; she dances with a passion that cannot be described as less than grand, and her technique is moderately unimpaired.") There are a bunch of videos on YT of Alonso dancing in the 1980's which are mere relics of greatness.
It's far more instructive to look at what Edwin Denby* says about her Giselle in 1945:
"Alonso is a delightfully young and very Latin Giselle, quick, clear, direct in her relation to her lover. She is passionate rather than sensuous. She is brilliant in allegro, not so convincing in sustained grace. Her plié is not yet a soft and subtly modulated one and this weakens her soaring phrases. She has little patience for those slow-motion, vaporous effets that we Northerners find so touching. But there is no fake about her, no staginess. Her pointes, her young high extensions, her clean line, her lightness in speed, her quick balance are of star quality."Luckily video of exists of Alonso when she was still in her relative prime. This video taken from Moscow in 1958 visualizes almost word for word what Denby described in 1945:
|Alicia Alonso as Giselle|
It's interesting to compare her to variation to the video footage of Olga Spessivtseva and other ballerinas doing this variation. Spessivtseva does go down to a flat-footed penchée, a move I've always preferred because it foreshadows Giselle's second act deep penchée.
Edwin Denby writes about Alonso's second act of Giselle compared to the first:
Her first act was the more distinguished of the two in its dramatic interpretation. She is no tubercular ballerina-peasant but a spirited girl who stabs herself. The confrontation scene and the mad scene were convincing, simple, and large in their miming. In the second act the first whirls were thrilling, and the famous passage of lifts with the following solo of échappés and spins stopped the show by its cumulative, bold speed. If there was little that was spectral in the second act, there was nothing that was not vividly young and straightforward.A video from of the second act pas de deux 1963 mostly confirms Denby's observations.
It seems that Alonso struggles enough in the developpés that the camera does a quick cutaway during the second. There are other artful cutaways during the most exposed adagio moments of this pas de deux. We can see that there is indeed nothing "spectral" about her Giselle -- she doesn't go for the tendril-like arms or ghostly disembodied look. In fact, her dancing doesn't come alive until the very end -- at 7:42 in the video, she does the fastest series of backwards traveling entrechats that I've ever seen. But one can sense the strength and force of her Giselle that made it such a famous portrayal.
Another favorite video of Alonso is her dancing Dolin's fluffy Pas de Quatre. The piece is meant to be a recreation of a ballet originally set on the 19th century's most legendary ballerinas -- Lucille Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Marie Taglioni. Alonso takes the Grisi part. It was filmed in 1960.
|Alonso in 1955|
Denby touches upon Alonso's gift for par terre footwork elsewhere: he says that "her greatest moment was in the Mazurka of Les Sylphides, where her perfection in the quick accuracy of leaps, in the lovely bearing of chest, shoilders, and head, and in the rapid and exact tripping toe steps was very exceptional indeed."
Unfortunately I couldn't find any footage of Alicia Alonso in Sylphides. However there is footage of the National Ballet de Cuba dancing Sylphides and they dance it very much the way I'd imagine Alonso to have danced it. There's not the slow, moonlit but somewhat affected mannerisms of, say, the Mariinsky when they dance this. It's instead exactly as Denby says: great par terre dancing.
The Mazurka is at 7:45 in the video and Yolanda Correa could be Alonso's daughter. Even the low-to-the-ground jumps look exactly like Alonso's jumps in the Pas de Quatre video.
One last comparison video clip. In 1968 Alicia Alonso made a film of her dancing the Black Swan pas de deux:
Her Odile variation starts at 6:36 and instead of the developpé after the renverse she chooses a sextuple pirouette. Arlene Croce wrote about this film that "Her Black Swan ... shows a perfection in multiple pirouettes which is missing in the Giselle, yet in the earlier performances Alonso's whole figure dances and has an active humanity which baffles the camera. In Black Swan, Alonso has declined to the sum of he specialties." Croce is probably right, and the sextuple pirouette is not necessarily the artistic choice I'd make but if I was dancing Odile but hey, if you've got it (at the age of 48!), flaunt it.
So many years later Annette Delgado does "only" a quintuple pirouette in Odile's variation.
|Carlo Acosta is one of the many globally famous Cuban ballet dancers|
Alicia Alonso said in a 2010 interview that she would "live to be 200 years old." It was a flippant comment perhaps, but her legacy of Cuban dancers will probably extend her legacy by a couple hundred years. I'd say RIP but somehow I just can't picture Alonso ever resting. So, D(ance)I(n)(P)eace.
*excerpts from Edwin Denby's Dance Writings, an absolutely indispensable book of dance criticism
|Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak in T&V, photo @ Gene Schiavone|
The finale of Theme and Variations is usually a surefire applause generator with its accelerating storm of allegro dancing. Instead the corps, Lane and Gorak looked like they were on their last legs, and the ballet limped to the finish line. The fact that ABT struggles so much in a ballet that's a test of classical technique is worrisome. It's great that ABT can dance Ratmansky and Tharp so well, but standards need to be maintained for one of the most famous ballets ever created for the company.