Saturday, September 19, 2015.
Ferst Center for the Arts, Atlanta, GA.
Cuba-based Malpaso Dance Company is currently on a U.S. tour, and recently stopped by Atlanta for a one-night-only performance in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival and Georgia Tech Office of the Arts. The night consisted of three main works, Under Fire, Despedida (Farewell) and Por Que Sigues (Why You Follow).
The first piece, Under Fire, choreographed by Trey McIntyre, was a co-commissioned piece by The Joyce Theater Foundation and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The score was intriguing, set to a cluster of songs by Grandma Kelsey, with lighting design by Al Crawford and costume design by Reid Bartelme.
This first work was, of course, my first look at Malpaso Dance Company, as I had never seen them perform. Under Fire was, overall, pleasing, but lacked a certain finesse. The movement vocabulary seemed mild and safe. I felt as if the dancers could do so much more than what they were given.
The best part about Under Fire was the duet to the song “Jolene.” The female dancer for “Jolene”, Dunia Acosta Arias, especially caught my eye as having the most emotion and a more fluid movement quality. The first piece was very clean, and the dancers were technically poised, but I felt a disconnect, as the movement was linear and there was not much personality.
I came to this realization especially after viewing the second work, Despedida. This piece blew me away from the second it began. With gorgeous lighting and the sounds of the sea and music by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, Despedida, or Farewell, had out-of-this-world, Laban-esque floor work, and beautiful partnering pictures and moments. With choreography from the dancers and Osnel Delgado Wambrug, one of the company’s founders and the lead soloist of the piece, I thought I was watching a boat drift through a sea of crashing waves.
As the piece evolved from a group section, to a trio section where one dancer, Wambrug, stayed on stage and sets of two people danced on and off stage with him, to a third section that was incredibly athletic, I felt like I was transported to a different world. The aspect I appreciated most was even though there were acrobatics and jaw-dropping floor work, I did not once hear a dancer land on the floor with any kind of sound. Everyone in the audience felt the same way I did about Despedida, as the company immediately received a standing ovation once completed.
The third and final piece, Por Que Sigues (Why You Follow), was commissioned by The Joyce Theater Foundation, and was the most fun and energizing piece of the night. With choreography by Ronald K. Brown set to music by Zap Mama, Gordheaven & Juliano, The Allenko Brotherhood, and The Heavy Quarterz, Por Que Sigues was in the style of African dance and made me want to get out of my seat and dance with the company. The piece had undulating spines, incredible travelling transitions, and a certain air of happy.
My favorite aspect of Por Que Sigues was the fact that it was very repetitive, but I did not mind. I wanted the dancers to keep repeating the given phrases and choreography because they were so great at it! And the piece seemed to grow every time a movement or phrase was repeated. I could tell the dancers loved this piece and it had its own vibe of sexy, but not obviously sexy – more happy and self-confident.
The night was a treat, and Malpaso Dance Company comes highly recommended by me. In the program, Malpaso’s mission statement explains, “Malpaso Dance Company is committed to bringing Cuban contemporary dance into the 21st century by collaborating with top international choreographers and nurturing new voices in Cuban choreography.” Malpaso Dance Company, you are on the right track.
For more information and tour dates on Malpaso Dance Company, visit www.malpasodance.com.
By Allison Gupton of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Malpaso Dance Company in Under Fire. Photo courtesy of Malpaso.