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Jack Anderson

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba


Danza Contemporánea de Cuba
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
May 10-22, 2011
(212) 242-0800,
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, May 19, 2011

Much was made of the fact that when Danza Contemporánea de Cuba came to the Joyce Theater, this troupe, though founded in 1959, was only now making its New York debut as part of its first United States tour. Quite rightly, political tensions between the two nations were blamed for the long delay. Yet what was seldom mentioned was the fact that although Cuban politics can be complicated, American policies must take much of the blame for this situation. Danza Contemporánea may have been unknown here for decades, yet it has not been locked inside Cuba, for the company's program notes speak of visits to France, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, and England. Danza Contemporánea has been dancing around, and its performers and Miguel A. Iglesias Ferrer, their director, appear to have looked inquisitively at every dance center they have visited.

Danza Contemporánea is both proudly Cuban and eagerly internationalist, and is similar to other companies that call themselves "contemporary," without being a cookie-cutter imitation of any of them. Like many such groups, it is technically eclectic, in this case showing the influence of modern dance and ballet, but also current street dance trends and its own Afro-Cuban traditions. Its dancers tend to be almost unrelentingly forceful, the men favoring a brawny manner. They are compelling to watch, even when their repertory is not which, unfortunately, was much of the time.

The season's tone was set with the first dance on opening night, George Céspedes's "Mambo 3XXI," which began when languid dancers suddenly popped into action, jumping up and down, gathering into lines with vigorously thrusting arms and setting off on manic chases. Duets in quieter moments included some for two men and some for two women. Since Cuba has occasionally been considered puritanical in its official moral attitudes, "Mambo" has sociological interest. Otherwise, it is an all too familiar display of unrelenting energy.

The dancers consistently adopt a "hard-sell" approach in everything they do. In the works chosen for the Joyce, by Cuban and foreign choreographers alike, there were few roles allowing anyone to reveal a distinctively individual stage personality, but lots of opportunities for ensemble oomph, all of which were seized.

Pedro Ruiz, the first Cuban-American invited to choreograph for the company, contributed "Horizonte," which his program note said was inspired by "waves of tropical breezes, and the earth bathed in exhilarating light and refreshed by the rhythms of the ocean." Such words seemed to promise relaxed or even lush choreography, and there certainly are many curving motions. But almost everything is done with such high intensity that watching "Horizonte" is like staring into sun glare.

Even more annoying is "Demo-N/Crazy" by Rafael Bonachela, the Spanish choreographer who now directs the Sydney Dance Company in Australia. This is a dance of endless struggles between men and women, all of them bare-breasted in the opening scenes, after which they go from semi-nudity to don fancy white shirts while movements become increasingly robotic. Who knows why.

Eduardo Rivero's "Sulkary," combines ritualism with eroticism as men and women, their bodies undulating, progress solemnly across the stage, the men carrying long poles, their phallic significance never in doubt.

Many scenes in "Casi-Casa," by the globe-trotting Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, are murky, but the work's overall significance seems clear. This is a commentary on domestic drudgery, and its most vivid figures are a bored husband, a battalion of toiling cleaning ladies and a baby doll (or is this supposed to represent an actual baby?) pulled from a smoking oven. Ek could have sharpened his satire considerably, yet in a season dominated by energetic vagueness it was good to find him trying to make specific points.

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