I am having a lot of firsts lately. For someone who’s done many things in one lifetime, this is amusing to say the least. For instance, I went to my first Dodgers game over Memorial Day Weekend. I also adopted my first pet from the pound, a Chihuahua, two days ago. How I managed to miss something as basic as the all American baseball game experience and dog ownership my whole life, I’ll never know.
Anyways, when my friend told me she had two tickets to see the Cuban Ballet at Vibianas tonight, I thought…it figures. This was my first ballet.
You’ll have to excuse my lack of expertise in covering a ballet, but I’ll try to make up for it with charm and sarcasm. As usual.
I’d also never been inside of St. Vibianas Cathedral. Like Charlie Bucket dreaming about that golden ticket, I figured some day I’d be cool enough to get invited to something going on there. It was just as glorious as I’d imagined the many times I’ve stared at it from the windows of Pitfire Pizza. What a gorgeous venue. Arched ceilings, choir balcony, confession booths. As a former Catholic schoolgirl, I have a certain nostalgic reverence for these grand old churches. I felt so at home I had to stop myself from genuflecting before sitting down.
Speaking of seating, they’d clearly oversold the event. People were scrambling for seats, marking their territory with purses and shawls draped across rows of white folding chairs. I liberated two chairs from the back of the venue and set them up myself, positioning them on the backside of the square area on the floor where the dancers would be performing. We had the equivalent of courtside seats, and our ballet experience that night was accompanied by the pounding of toe shoes on the floor. Sort of like hearing the sneakers squeak at a basketball game. Very authentic.
The ballet opened with a ring of dancers all in white. Reminiscent of the three graces, their hands were often intertwined, as their joyful faces moved round and round. Bertha Blankenship, the star and better half of the dance company’s husband and wife owner partnership, made her appearance among the graces. A strand of silver pearls around her neck distinguishing her from the others, she moved to the front and performed several powerful jumps to the sound of the audience’s applause.
I should have known right there we’d be in for many surprises. Like red tasseled beauties performing to saucy Latin numbers, Spanish guitar, Flamenco dancers and something called Capobale’, a mix of ballet and Brasilian Capoeira. But the more traditional numbers still outshone the unconventional performances.
One of my favorites was a Nutcracker Suite inspired piece where a clumsy dolly and stiff toy soldier performed a hilarious courtship ritual of bad timing and wind-up doll humor. The female dancer began the performance sprawled out on the floor with her ass in the air, like a spoiled child in need of a nap. Needless to say, her doll-like movements were exquisite, technically complicated, and downright adorable.
This was followed by a piece that reminded me of the fawn and nymph sequence in Fantasia, with a male and female dance pair in gold sequin leaf decorated costumes. This well matched duo brought the house to their feet, after performing a round of strenuous lifts and turns.
After this came a Flamenco piece that had everyone in the audience tapping their feet uncontrollably.
But the biggest surprise of the evening was when a bare-schested man entered the stage playing a Berimbau, wearing tracksuit pants with a Brasilian flag patch. First he gave us some traditional Capoeira moves. A handstand, a little ginga, a few acrobatic kicks. The dance got increasingly more difficult as he performed one armed handstands, backflips and breakdance poses all with impossibly graceful balletic touches, and finally he pulled out a move that can only be described as a twisted, one-handed, spinning cartwheel thingy that he repeated over and over until the audience hollered with joy.
I probably shouldn’t mention that there was a wardrobe malfunction during the next to last performance. But I’m going to anyway. It was a trio of dancers wearing stunning bird inspired costumes. A dark feathered female and a jealous prince danced, while a rogue male falcon provided tension and drama. At some point something from the prince’s costume got attached to the backside of the female’s tights during a lift. When he put her down, he had torn off the entire half of the backside of her tights. They continued the performance with some mildly ruffled feathers and a few bewildered looks exchanged between them. Luckily she had the nicest ass in the troop, and none of us minded getting mooned for the remainder of the piece. And that’s saying a lot, because the Cuban Ballet ladies weren’t your typical emaciated ballerina types; these girls had bodies.
Finally the stage filled with lots of white bodiced dancers, a flurry of crinoline and satin. I felt like I was watching a Degas painting come to life. At one point, fire engine sirens from out on Main Street blended with the sound of violins, making a curious harmony to offset the dancers’ sweet romantic poses.
The music swelled, the star reappeared as a swan captured by an archer, and the ballet wound up for a grand finale. When it was done, the troop took a nice long bow, and I headed for the exit through the garden adjacent to Vibianas. I could have stuck around for the meet and greet with the dancers, grabbed a cigar and had some Cuban food, and I kind of wish I had. But I had a certain Chihuahua on my mind, and so home I went.
As I laid in bed tonight, drowsy pup at my feet, preparing to a good night’s sleep, I got another first experience. A special treat thanks to the Blankenship Cuban Ballet—my head was swimming with visions of beauty.