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Uruguay National Ballet: an admirable début

A scene from Sinfonietta as danced by the Uruguay National Ballet.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

Now under Julio Bocca’s aegis, the ensemble boasts international standards

One of the most pleasant surprises this season has been the local début of Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional for a single performance at the Colón.

Amazing as it may sound, they had never been here before, even if the Ballet was founded as far back as 1935. It was originally called the SODRE Corps de Ballet, and along with the SODRE Orchestra they were basic instruments of classical culture for the official radio, complementing their fantastic policy of broadcasting splendidly chosen classical music for several decades to the delight of Uruguayan and Argentine audiences. (To be frank, in recent years they have changed their sober style and trivialized their programmes; I no longer listen to them).

As years went by, important figures were in charge of the Ballet, such as Roger Fenonjois, Tamara Grigorieva, Yurek Shabelevski, María Ruanova and William Dollar. Both the French and the Russian schools were thus assimilated by the Uruguayan dancers, along with some modernism. Although they did not transcend internationally, they did good work and had an important following. Alas, in the 1970s they lost their theatre and had to wander to other venues, but they had had Françoise Adret, Rodolfo Lastra, Oscar Araiz, Mauricio Wainrot and Gigi Caciuleanu as visiting choreographers.

Since 2009 the company resides at the new National Auditorium Dra. Adela Reta, and this gave them a renewed impulse. In June 2010, Argentine dancer-choreographer Julio Bocca was appointed director of the Ballet. What he has accomplished in little more than three years is astounding. Although I haven’t seen the SODRE Ballet before, Uruguayan as well as international opinion is that there has been a quantum leap in quality. More than 20 ballets from the classics to the moderns have been staged with great success and, judging from the 29 dancers (out of a total 66) that came to BA, their level is high and their discipline and knowledge are evident in their y oung, athletic bodies.

The repertoire had a Romantic pas de deux (the Pas d’esclave from the Petipa/Perrot choreography for The Corsair in Anna-Marie Holmes’ version) and three major pieces by well-known contemporary choreographers. All the music was recorded in pretty good versions (as usual, we were not told who the interpreters were).

The most avant garde is William Forsythe, long-time Director of the Frankfurt Ballet until its demise in 2004, and then founder of the Forsythe Ballet. Unfortunately, he has bad taste in music, and his 26-minute ballet In the Middle Somewhat Elevated (a quirky title) has ugly electroacoustic minimalist music by Thom Willems and Leslie Stuck. Its sole merit is that it gives a forceful rhythmic pattern to the choreographer’s complicated steps. The nine dancers showed their mettle in difficult, intricate evolutions, combining them in twos and threes plus some solos.

María Noel Riccetto and Ciro Tamayo made a very good impression in the pure classic lines of Le Corsair (on pretty but vapid music by Adolphe Adam and others), showing good technique and charisma. (Bocca has put on the complete ballet, as well as many others from the 19th century).

Without Words was the appropriate denomination of a 21-minute ballet by Nacho Duato on six Schubert Lieder heard in arrangements for cello and piano (not by the composer). They sounded lovely, though, including such standards as An die Musik and Heidenröslein). Duato headed the Compañía Nacional de Danza de España from 1990 to 2007 and came to BA with them; he is currently Artistic Director of the Saint Petersburg Mijailowsky Theatre Ballet.

A sensitive choreographer, his idea of using Schubert’s melodic charmers for sensual love duets was a very apposite one. The bodies almost never lost contact, and the men in the four couples were seductive and protective of the women, who frequently cuddled in their arms. However, there was nothing mawkish or too free in their movements, generally beautiful and managed with flexibility and continuity.

The final piece (Sinfonietta, on Janácek’s glorious music) was a hit here when choreographer Jirí Kylian brought it with his Nederlands Dans Theater, who directed it during 1975-99.

Fourteen dancers matched their joyous and fresh steps to every detail of the enormously varied sounds (Kylian is a very musical choreographer, the kind I’m especially fond of). There is a folkish, Spring-time feeling about it, as well as a need for great coordination.

By and large, this is what the dancers accomplished under Bocca’s vital guidance. The final Fanfare is so exultant that Kylian doesn’t quite match it, but part of the audience was so carried away that they started applauding a full minute before the final chord.

There were massive ovations after each ballet as a tribute to the merits of the dancers, but none bigger than the one bestowed on Julio Bocca.

Bocca, our greatest dancer, is an admirable ballet company leader, and the SODRE ensemble now boasts international standards. Bocca’s homecoming made a strong impact. The Teatro Colón was packed.

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