Havana-based contemporary dance company Malpaso. Photo by Judy Ondrey. Courtesy of TITAS Presents.

Theater & Dance

Malpaso Dance Company’s TITAS Debut Laid Excellence Bare

The fledgling company from Cuba brought a world of fresh talent worth seeing.

I remember when Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company debuted with TITAS Presents three years ago, and I felt it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Kibbutz performed a single, stunning piece last month — their 2016 work Horses in the Sky — that was an example of their usual, hard-hitting social message — apocalyptic, dark, perturbing — that left the audience breathless.

On Friday and Saturday, the Havana-based Malpaso Dance Company, Cuba’s first independent dance company, named after the Spanish word for “misstep,” debuted with TITAS Presents, and the emotion brought me back to my first vision of Kibbutz. This was one of the most stunning things I had ever seen.

The company of nine exploded with energy, which they also corralled and contained. Using their bodies to astonishing effect, they were in full control, technically brilliant.

The evening began with a piece staged to offer no distractions. The dancers performed in black stockinged feet, tight black shorts, and sports bras and tops, as though we had interrupted them in rehearsal. Lighting and backdrop were minimal in a refreshing artistic choice that placed all the attention on the dancing, which was extraordinary. The piece, Indomitable Waltz, choreographed by award-winning Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton, who has created works for the Bolshoi Ballet and Alvin Ailey, among others, was sensuous, the dancers slicing through air. They resembled aerialists, with a stirring romance in unusual balances and the sinuous motions of their hips. Deep bends seemed to open chasms that turned into new movements. And perhaps as an expression of the title, indomitability found expression in a fluidity and follow-through of movement that stirred, their gorgeous arabesques — showing their classical training — caught up in a mesmerizingly unique movement vocabulary.

The second piece, Bad Winter, choreographed by Trey McIntyre — commissioned by Joyce Theater, but a gift to the company — included an incredibly moving, modern pas de deux, interpreted by one of their star male dancers, Manuel Duran, and one of the group’s founders, Daileidys Carranza. The intimacy in beautiful balance and counter-balance offers an exploration of attachment and dependency, played out in isometric movements. Splits on the floor were part of a deeply grounded choreography that was human, vulnerable, and full of emotion — hallmarks of McIntyre’s career as a luminous current choreographer with a company based in Boise, ID.

Why You Follow, a 2014 piece by Ronald K. Brown, rounded out a program that showed Malpaso dancers’ versatility. Here, Brown, who is known for his work with Latin American, Caribbean, and African dance forms, threaded the scooping motions of Yoruba dance, among others, into a rich tapestry. The piece placed in tandem taut mastery of pace and beat with a looseness in joints, wrists, elbows, hips, knees. Here, perhaps most, we felt the dancers’ explosive energy.

The dancers left the stage. The house lights went up. Already, the audience was on its feet for a standing ovation.  Malpaso underscores Cuba’s identity as a “dancing island.” But Carranza, along with her co-founders Fernando Saez and resident choreographer Osnel Delgado have a pressing mission. During the Q&A after Friday’s performance, this resonated, as the founders spoke of their work to support emerging choreographers in a dance scene where often the choreography rises to the dancers’ level of education. They open their morning master classes to any dancer who would like to attend. The goal is to raise the standard of dance in Cuba. They are going a long way to forge collaborations, which I hope will bring them to Dallas next season. I want to see more.

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