ABT reinvigorated and perhaps deepened its Cuban heritage tonight as Rolando Sarabia made an emergency guest stop to cover for an injured Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote with Xiomara Reyes. Since defecting from Cuba and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (via Mexico) to the U.S. in 2005, Sarabia has danced with Houston Ballet and then Miami City Ballet which he left about a year ago citing an incompatibility with the Balanchine repertory.
The way in which Sarabia simply and very comfortably stepped into the middle of ABT looked almost like a homecoming. We've seen him before on this stage, haven't we? Nope. He used to dance with ABT in the 1970s, didn't he? Nope. He just showed up, and he fits real good, as they might say. Well, it didn't hurt that he knew Xiomara Reyes like the back of his hand. In Act I, he twice lifted Reyes above his head with one arm and kept her there so long that she started banging her tambourine in order to come down. In the downstage corner facing Reyes who was in the opposite corner, Sarabia launched a marvelous pirouette with the working leg changing positions and finished it by motioning with his fingers to Reyes to come on. It set her off - big time.
Act I was a period of acclimation for Sarabia. When the lights came down low for the Act II Gypsy Camp scene and then up again for the Tavern scene, Sarabia got down to demonstrating how Cuban ballet got its reputation - and why that reputation is so important to American Ballet Theatre. His characterization of Basilio, the poor barber, was extraordinarily theatrically detailed. No moment was wasted. It was among the most fully acted Basilios that Haglund has seen at ABT. When, after Basilio had performed all kinds of amazing feats, the glittering gold Espada showed up and indicated it was time for him to dance, Sarabia motioned as if to say, "I just did all of that, and now you come along with your fancy clothes to fight some tame little bull and try to make everyone think you're something special?" Well, to be fair, Jared Matthews was a fierce Espada, and there was no question as to where the sword went near the end of his variation. Stella Abrera was a glistening Mercedes, even more stunning than at yesterday's matinee.
Act III included a superb PdD with Sarabia rotating Reyes' pirouettes with one hand. Reyes' variations were on fire all night long, but Act III in particular, was thrilling. Her version of the fouette turns included fully opening her red fan above her head on the double revolutions. Usually Reyes is the one who has such a positive influence on her partner that he delivers a superior performance, and that may well have been the case again tonight; but it also seemed that Sarabia coaxed Reyes to a new level of energy and a new level of daring.
There were many other fine performances tonight as well. Maria Riccetto and Misty Copeland were perfect Flower Girls. Their simultaneous jumps landed with a single, barely audible sound. Luciana Paris and Daniil Simkin as the Gypsy Couple were phenomenal, and Luciana's interactions with Sarabia were nicely wicked. Yuriko Kajiya's Amour flew around the stage like the ultimate Tinker Bell. The Toreadors were improved this evening, but really, why is it so hard for everyone to stab the floor with the arrows on the same count? Is it really more difficult than a double saute de basque? To be fair, things were improved tonight, and Sean Stewart and Isaac Stappas were neat as a pin when dancing with the two Flower Girls.
So, it would seem that ABT could do this country's ballet community a service by finding a place for Rolando Sarabia for a few years and then work him into the artistic team. He's got what we can't seem to develop on our own. He's not young; he's struggled with injuries; but there is no denying his ability, talent, and commitment. Oh damn, and he's not tall. Oh, well.
Haglund bestows this shiny Givenchy Pump Bump Award to Rolando Sarabia and Xiomara Reyes for the brightest Don Quixote of the season so far: