Alicia Alonso’s version of Giselle is a staple in the repertory of Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The title role is dear to the founder of the company, for it launched her international career in 1943 after a memorable performance in New York in substitution of Alicia Markova. Alonso created her own version of the ballet in 1948 and the piece has ever since received numerous awards, the 1966 Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris among them. Ballet Nacional de Cuba proudly cherises it as one of its oldest and most acclaimed ballets.

With these antecedents, the Cuban Giselle is always eagerly awaited when it is scheduled in the company tours abroad. In Madrid, the expectations were high and Ballet Nacional de Cuba met them to a large extent. The performance was technically brilliant (with a corps de ballet in top form), but there were some drops in dramatic intensity in places that prevented the evening from becoming an unequivocal success.

The ballet started languidly, with a slow pace in the music that accentuated the lack of dynamism in some of the dancing passages. The opening acting sequences did not have enough nerve either, and maybe that was the reason why the story did not fully entice the audience from the beginning. The ballet finally took off thanks to the technical perfection of the corps de ballet and of the leading ballerina, Anette Delgado.

Delgado has been dancing the role of Giselle for more than a decade and that experience shows in the confidence and poise with which she performs it. She is at ease with the technical difficulties of the role and this command allows for her grace and elegance to come through naturally in her dancing. Delgado’s solos were an example of virtuosity and panache that were a pleasure to watch.

The performance of her partner Dani Hernández, in the role of Albrecht, was far more discreet. He gave evidence of excellent technical skills in the few opportunities for virtuosity that this ballet offers to the leading man. He was elegant and clean in the execution, and partnered Delgado with supreme command. However, his dramatic interpretation lacked the force required for a compelling rendering of an ardent and distressed lover.  

In the secondary roles, Hilarión was played by Ernesto Díez, who gave a convincing performance of a man in love completely shattered by the betrayal and subsequent death of his beloved fiancée. Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, had a competent performer in Ginette Moncho. She was particularly brilliant in her introductory solo, which she danced with a combination of serenity and authority. It was a pity that she did not maintain such portrayal of a firm yet gentle leader for the rest of her performance.  

The corps de ballet made the most of the group scenes of the ballet. They achieved a pitch-perfect unison in the dance sequences, which were performed at the highest level of technical standards. The village of Act I become boisterous when the corps invaded the stage and the mysterious, magical forest of Act II become haunting with the presence of the Cuban Wilis. They were as ethereal, compact and imposing as one can expect from this famous Romantic sorority.