SFW Stage

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
Giselle. Performed by Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Directed by Alicia Alonso. At Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley campus, Feb. 12-14.

Cuban verve met European romanticism over Valentine's Day weekend in a production that injected vibrant new life into a very old ballet, and showed off the schooling for which Ballet Nacional de Cuba is rightfully lauded. Stunning footwork, an impeccably timed corps, and affecting dramatic interpretation won the company an extended standing ovation and a cry of "Viva Cuba!" from the balcony on opening night.

Giselle, a staple of the classical repertoire that debuted in Paris in 1841, is a tough ballet from every standpoint, beginning with the obvious challenge of making modern audiences care about a complex tale of unrequited love among Rhinelanders. (Synopsis: Disguised as a peasant, engaged nobleman Albrecht goes slumming in the village and falls in love with Giselle, a charming peasant girl with a heart murmur. She spurns fellow peasant Hilarion for Albrecht. A bitter Hilarion reveals Albrecht's ruse, and Giselle dies of grief. She joins the Wilis, the ghosts of brides who have died before their wedding days, and through her loving forgiveness, saves Albrecht from being danced to death by her vengeful spirit sisters.) Dancers face formidable technical challenges in the work's many types of grand and petit batterie -- a rapid crisscrossing of the legs in jumps -- and the less specific (and in that sense, trickier) demands of telling the story not just through the dancing, but through whole mimed passages relying on theatrical gestures, facial expressions, and real feeling -- an elusive thing that can't be drilled into a dancer in class.

Despite a tinny taped score, this accomplished cast, directed by former Giselle great herself Alicia Alonso, brought out the emotional heft of the piece. As Giselle, young dynamo Lorna Feijóo won viewers over early with her sympathetic portrayal and her technical prowess. A string of perfectly executed attitude turns and blown kisses were as lighthearted as new love, while her subsequent distress was palpable as she worriedly clutched her overexcited heart. In an encounter with Albrecht's wealthy fiancee, Feijóo registered a poignant longing, softly stroking her wistful face with the fiancee's red velvet train. Act 1 showed off jaunty ballotte sequences between Giselle and Albrecht (a courtly iscar Torrado), whose beats were crisp and whose solo jumps lingered in the air for tantalizing half-seconds. The company's men scissored their way through brises and landed triple tours and big jumps with assured ease.

More astonishing still were the Wilis, who appeared first as small green flashes of light in the forest, then emerged in shivery bourrees, small traveling steps executed so smoothly they seemed to be skimming across the floor on a conveyor belt. Led by a commanding Viengsay Valdes as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, they made clear that a corps de ballet can be so much more than just a backdrop, with exquisite synchronicity and a visible sadness befitting lost love. Here, too, Feijoo proved her mettle with a dizzying arabesque-chaine turn sequence. By the time the bell tolled daybreak, and Feijóo dipped into a long, breathless arabesque penche over Torrado's shoulder, only to be suddenly whisked into the forest by an unseen hand, Torrado's was not the only broken heart in the room.

Viewers savored the show for more than just its virtuosity -- Ballet Nacional hasn't toured the States since 1979 due to the politics between the U.S. and Cuba, and the company has lost many dancers to more lucrative contracts with European and American companies. To finally see what we'd been missing made one wish that the relations between countries had just a few more ounces of the ballet's generous spirit.

-- Heather Wisner

All Jesus' Children
Jesus' Son. By Denis Johnson. Directed by Sean San Jose. Starring Hansford Prince, Michael Torres, Omar Metwally, John Robb, and Patricia Silver. Produced by Word for Word and Campo Santo at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th), through Feb. 28. Call 626-3311.

Eyes for Consuela. By Sam Shepard. Directed by Juliette Carillo. Starring Zoe Galvez, Cesar Flores, Bob Ernst, and Richard Coca. Produced by the Magic Theater at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, through Feb. 28. Call 441-8822.

Denis Johnson is unknown to hordes of people who read, though he's been championed by literary elder statesmen like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, and clung to as a cult hero by edgy young hipsters who like his rock-music references and apocalyptic landscapes. Johnson's novel Fiskadoro describes the Florida Keys after some kind of nuclear war (Bob Marley is worshipped as a messiah from another age), while Jesus' Son, a book of stories, follows a single shiftless wanderer through an addict's desolation in the '70s. It's a grim and funny elegy to the drug culture that Word for Word and Campo Santo are staging, in pieces, at Intersection for the Arts.

First, the title: Jesus had kids? Johnson has hijacked a lyric from "Heroin," by Lou Reed, but what the hell does it mean? "I feel just like Jesus' son" evokes the holiness and delusion of a heroin rush, maybe, but Johnson's hero isn't into smack. And we're reminded that some secret societies, like the Knights Templar and the Priory of Psion, really believe they've traced Jesus' lineage through Leonardo da Vinci and Newton to the present day.

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