Ballet Revelución visited Auckland two years ago, and I missed the show, so I was really looking forward to catching them on the first night of their new Australasian tour. They’ve run an excellent marketing campaign, with beautiful imagery in banners across and Broadway and Remuera Road. My hopes were high for a great performance.
Musical Director: Osmar Salazar Hernandez
Choreographers: Aaron Cah & Roclan Gonzalez Chavez
Designer: Jorge Gonzalez
Civic Theatre, Auckland
Wednesday 17th June
Cuba has produced some truly brilliant dancers in recent years; case in point Carlos Acosta CBE who is Principal Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet. Cuban dancers, especially the men, have a reputation for stunning elevation (the height of their leaps) and fluid Latin style. The show is billed as “an explosive fusion of classical ballet, contemporary dance and modern hip hop” with a live band and a cast of twenty dancers.
The highlights of the show for me were indeed the well-elevated leaps from the men, and an impressively quick and rhythmic solo from conga and percussionist Luis Palacios Galvez.
Ballet Revolución seems to have all the right ingredients: classically trained dancers, a live band playing a mixture of pop and Cuban music, a fusion of dance genres, high production investment and an international flavour. Unfortunately, the show did not live up to its hype, in more ways than one.
The show opens with some slightly awkward ‘acting’ as the dancers pretend to warm up at the barre. Aspects of the technique are dubious, and the scene seems unnecessary.
The dancers ranged in classical ability, with only three of the women en pointe, although it’s billed as ‘ballet’. All of the dancers were strong in at least one of the styles and are physically in great condition. They worked hard throughout the show, with well-sustained energy and attack. Disappointingly, any attempted unison among the dancers was unsuccessful. The entire show looked under-rehearsed, and the dancers were unable to stay in time with one-another for most of the group sections.
The choreography was mostly out-dated, and at times kitsch. At certain moments, it felt like a Prince video from the 1980s: unitards, jazz shoes and all. The so-called ‘hip hop’ sections reminded me of a student ballet school recital in the 1990s. Occasionally, interesting partnering and shapes looked promising, but these were few and vanished quickly. The formation changes were painfully slow and there were several moments where the dancers were clearly just waiting on their spot for the next section of choreography to begin.
The show did not manage a fusion of dance styles. Classical leaps and pirouettes were performed many times during the numbers, but always by single dancers who ran out, did one trick and ran off. There was no integration of these movements with the body of the choreography. Dancers often made clearly visible mistakes, such using the wrong arm, or missing their turns. One of the women changed almost all of her pirouettes to singles, when the others were doing doubles.
It’s usually easy to see when dancers love what they do. It’s a demanding profession, and you need to be passionate about it to manage the lifestyle and workload. One or two of the dancers had expressive and lively faces on Wednesday, but the majority of the cast looked emotionless and sometimes even embarrassed.
Visually, the stage design and lighting were effective. The costumes were mostly old-fashioned and the grooming was sloppy. More than once, female dancers got hair stuck in their mouths or moved it out of their eyes. This is very basic stagecraft – dancers learn it as small children.
The covers of pop songs were reasonably successful, however, I think it’s disingenuous to bill a live band when only some of the numbers are the band playing without a backing track. At times, the levels of the backing track were so bad, it sounded as though the speakers were going to blow – audience members near them were blocking their ears.
As New Zealanders, I think we can fall victim to the hype of international shows. Some of them are brilliant, but truth be told, this one was not. We have a thriving dance community here in Aotearoa. If you want to see the very best of international-level hip hop, check out the men from the Identity dance crew. The Royal New Zealand Ballet offers a whole company of dancers who can manage the most impressive classical leaps and pirouettes, integrated with highly-demanding and innovative choreography. Third-year student dancers from the Unitec Bachelor of performing and Screen Arts Contemporary Dance programme delivered strength and elevation to match anything in Ballet Revelución at their solos and duos show earlier this week.
In the professional arena, with a professional price tag, I expected a lot more from the choreographers, designer and dancers. As did the audience members I noticed leaving at intermission.