Mixed Cubano

Written by Susan Reiter on . Posted in Dance, Posts.

Cuba has had a high profile in the dance world mainly due to
the tireless efforts of the legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso who, at age
90, still directs the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. That purely classical company
will show New York its current roster of dancers next month, with four
performances (June 8–11) at BAM. At the moment, however, we have a chance to
discover where Cuban contemporary dance has been heading as well. Modern dance
styles have definitely taken root there as well, though Americans haven’t had a
chance to sample that development, due to political stalemates and subsequent
embargo that prevented much cultural exchange and touring. But now, more than
50 years after it was founded, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is making its U.S.
debut with a two-week season at the Joyce Theater, offering two separate programs.


The 24-member company may have chosen to open its first
program with George Céspedes’ Mambo 3XXI in order to lead off with a
work by one of its five resident choreographers. But this mostly regimented
display of punchy, athletic moves was more formulaic than inspired. At least
things improved once the 21 dancers had made it through the opening sequence,
in which they formed seven lines and delivered a fast-paced, uninspired
aerobics demonstration. As Mambo 3XXI progressed, one could discern a
faint theme of regimentation giving way to individuality, or predictability
ceding to spontaneity. Beginning in white tank tops and black shorts (women)
and white tops and khakis (men), they gradually added more color and variety to
their costumes as the dance progressed. And they eventually were allowed to
show us more of who they are.

The dancers spilled across the stage in a skein of solos and
duets, demonstrating great fluidity as well as strength. The men showcased some
b-boy moves, and the weight-baring improvisatory approach of Contact
Improvisation was evident in some of the pairings. Céspedes interspersed
male-male and female-female pairs with the male-female ones in what seemed a
dutiful, rather than motivated, element of the work. Sections set to more melodic
Latin music, rather than a pulse-heavy sound score, allowed the dancers to
loosen up and display their sinuous reach and coiled strength. At the
conclusion, the dancers returned to their lines but were allowed to be more
wild and spontaneous; as the work drew to a close, they were verbalizing their
enthusiasm as they former a partying cluster in the center. It felt like a
manufactured ending, but it worked: The crowd responded with an excited
cheering ovation.

The second half of Program A is Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa,
a 40-minute work with individual parts more intriguing than its overall impact.
Ek is a well-known Swedish choreographer who has long been a major figure on
the European scene. He is skilled at alluding to dramatic situations through
subtle encounters, and his duets can be eloquent in their yearning ambiguity. Casi-Casa
suggests a framework of lazy domestic coziness, but its uninterrupted
series of scenes unearths darker urges and somber consequences. A freestanding
door and a stove are onstage. A tall, striking earth-mother appears next,
propping a fedora on a raised foot. She later returns to lead a quintet of
women who smoothly manipulate stylized vacuum cleaners to the sounds of wistful

Duets are Ek’s strength. A man and woman in gray seem
destined to be together, partnering with a sleek urgency reminiscent of early
Jiri Kylian works. Their intensity is such that it sets the stove to smoking,
with ultimately grim consequences. Another lithe, intense couple reach for each
other around and through the door. The music is credited only to Flesh Quartet,
but sounds more like a collage of varied selections, though mournful violin-led
melodies predominate.

This program will be performed Friday and twice on Saturday;
Program B (Wednesday through Friday evenings and Sunday matinee) features an
intriguing trio of choreographers. It includes Horizonte by Ballet
Hispanico alum Pedro Ruiz, the first Cuban-American to work with the company,
plus Demo-N/Crazy by Rafael Bonachela, the Spaniard who now directs
Sydney Dance Company, and Sulkary, a 1971 work by DCC resident
choreographer Eduardo Rivera that incorporates Afro-Caribbean movement.

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba

Through May 22, Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave. (at 19th St.),
212-242-0800; $10 .