Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cuba's Malpaso Dance Company returns to the Joyce

Scene from Trey McIntyre's Under Fire,
performed by Dunia Acosta, Maria Karla Arujo and Tahimy Miranda
(photo: Yi-Chun Wu) 

Besides the new thaw in relations between Washington and Havana, there's another big Cuban story in the news--the return of Malpaso Dance Company to eager US hosts at The Joyce Theater. Last year, the Joyce helped the company make its first trip out of Cuba and first landing in the states. New York was charmed especially by the combination of this young but tremendously capable ensemble and the choreography of our own Ronald K. Brown.

This season, New York premieres of Under Fire by another US dancemaker, Trey McIntyre, and Despedida/Farewell by Malpaso's artistic director Osnel Delgado offer a telling contrast. Both works are fresh to the troupe, premiered just this year, but only one appears to have already taken firm root in muscles and bones.

Osnel Delgado (standing rear) with his company in Under Fire
(photo: Yi-Chun Wu)

Set to unvarnished country folk by Idaho singer-songwriter Kelsey Swope (aka Grandma Kelsey or, now on Facebook, Bijoux), Under Fire commands the stage, re-imagining every molecule of space on and above it. The air seems a thick-ish, malleable, animated substance immediately surrounding the dancers' bodies. Not just transitioning from step to step, dancers acknowledge space as partner and platform. Legs hitching up, arms hooking over, using superb flexibility and facility throughout their bodies, they pair up or group up, swirling or twisting around one another in remarkable chain reactions. McIntyre's flow across the stage seems endless and endlessly inventive.

Under Fire's interesting backstory concerns McIntyre's decision to disband his own Boise-based company to pursue independent projects within and outside of dance. One night, he made a bonfire of his old documents. Clearing away the charred paper, he discovered untouched materials beneath. The sight of those remains--he called them "pristine"--recalled his own search for authenticity. In Swope's ragged voice--especially her chilling delivery of Dolly Parton's "Jolene"--I hear another sign of longing for what's true, what's essential, even when it scares you.

Under Fire fits so handsomely on Malpaso's bodies that I can only hope McIntyre, as he moves on in life and artistry, will maintain strong ties with these Cuban dancers--and with dancemaking.

For the score for Despedida/Farewell, Delgado partners again with Arturo O'Farrill, Mexico-born son of Cuban jazz legend Chico O'Farrill. O'Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble perform live, a feast in itself. In fact, their music is such a tasty feast that one wonders why Delgado did not turn his dancers loose to feed on it.

Make no mistake, they dance this thing. They're good but muted and blunted while O'Farrill's music struts out and busts out all around them, confident in its energy. As in Under Fire, pliable Joan Rodriguez, forceful Dunia Acosta and Delgado himself make the looking rewarding, but Under Fire provides the more persuasive introduction to every one of Malpaso's dancers.

Dancers: Osnel Delgado Wambrug, Daile Carrazana Gonzalez, Taimy Miranda Ruiz de Villa, Randy Cívico Rivas, Maria Karla Araújo, Joan Rodriguez Hernandez, Dunia Acosta Arias, Manuel Durán Calzado, Isvel Bello Rodriguez, Beatriz García Díaz

Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: Arturo O'Farrill (piano), Vince Cherico (drums), Carlo de Rosa (bass), Carly Maldonado (percussion, bongos), Rafi Malkiel (trombone), Ivan Renta (tenor sax), Tony Rosa (congas), Adam O'Farrill (trumpet, replacing Jim Seeley)

Malpaso Dance Company continues at the Joyce through Sunday, March 8. For the complete schedule and ticket information, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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