Review: Danza Contemporanea de Cuba

“I use all sorts of gestures as driving elements to get closer to the truth … using the language of movement, the expression of one’s inner self.”

– Miguel Iglesias Ferrer, Director of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba.

My first introduction to this contemporary dance company was the video interview with Miguel featured on the Havana Cultura website, where the above quote came from. When I heard him say that … at that moment I knew. I felt an immediate connection, and an understanding; I would be enthralled by their performance. I also knew how significant this show at the Sandler Center would be; it was the company’s first stop on its first United States tour.

The dancers, dressed in simple white undergarments, pushed and pulled in front of the black backdrop. The opening piece, Demo-N/Crazy, was full of a tremendous range of emotions: anger, frustration, tenderness, and peace. Choreographed by Rafael Bonachela, this extensive piece had multiple sections with varying numbers of dancers. For me, this piece was a representation of individuality: the struggle for simultaneous independence and companionship; nonconformity and acceptance. The dancers would shove and fling each other, and then embrace with kindness and calm. But then the angst would rise, and the dance would again become turbulent. In the final section, I was overwhelmed by the tension emanating from the stage and from the grating melody of the string insturments … but then the tone shifted. The music calmed. The dancers scattered around the stage, and one by one, lifted into the yoga pose sirsasana, and held it for several minutes. I took a deep breath and felt the tension in the air dissipate as it was replaced with balance.

The second of the three pieces on the program, Horizonte by Pedro Ruiz, was bright, colorful and lively – quite a contrast from the opening piece. It began with waves, both in sound and in movement; the male dancers in the piece leaped over each other and rolled across the stage as the sound of the ocean filled the theater. This piece was joyous and radiant; the dancers’ faces were open and bright.  The ladies flowing skirts accentuated the buoyant jumps, and the transitions through formations and lifts were amazingly smooth, further emphasizing fluidity. This piece was simply lovely.

Mambo 3XXI (Photo, Virginia Arts Festival)

The show closed with Mambo 3XXI, an urban style dance that was a blend of jazz isolations and high-energy aerobics, interjected with sections of slow, almost lethargic moments. The dancers wore street clothes: tank tops and shorts or khakis, and tennis shoes. The majority of the dance had a full stage of twenty-one dancers. Between the dance sections, the dancers would pair off (men with women, men with men, women with women) and pose as if they were to begin the mambo or another ballroom/Latin style dance; but they all changed partners several times … searching for the right one. The dance finished with a repeat of the isolations in the opening sequence; this time, however, the tempo was almost twice as fast, and the serious expressions from earlier in the dance were replaced with beaming smiles. Despite the tempo, the lines of dancers didn’t lose a bit of crispness or synchrony in their movements.

Although the three selections on the program were remarkably different, there were elements that never varied throughout the performance. The dancers’ astounding technique showed evidence of training in ballet, contemporary, yoga, jazz, Folk dance, street dance, acrobatics and more. Their strength and stamina were unbelievable. There was also such a sense of solidarity and trust among the dancers; there was never a moment of hesitation or uncertainty as they flew through demanding and risky partnering.  Perhaps most striking was that the immense passion and expression of the dancers never waned – even in the most robotic of sections. Not one movement was performed without feeling. The dancers poured themselves into this performance.

Dance is so much more than just moving arms and legs, or an exercise of steps in succession. What makes it dance is the feeling behind it – the expression coming from within the person executing the movements. It’s not just the movement itself. Dance with no emotion is hollow; it needs more than the energy of the body, it needs energy from the spirit as well.

I also believe, as many dancers do, that dance is a language of movement; it is a powerful one. The monumental performance this company brought to our area last Friday night, their first performance ever in the United States (and I hope the first of many to come), said more to me than a volume of words could have. These dancers confirmed that words are not necessary in order to speak.

This article was originally published on AltDaily in May of 2011.

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