With a nuanced mix of looseness and precision, difficult struggle and explosive joy, Malpaso Dance Company brings a moving and electric program to Spoleto Festival USA.
The Cuban troupe, which focuses on collaborating with international choreographers and emerging Cuban artists, brought four pieces to Charleston. “Lullaby for Insomnia,” choreographed by company co-founder Daileidys Carrazana, begins the program as Heriberto Maneses takes the stage to a playful piano tune, striking a leonine pose. The graceful, sinuous lines of her body are smooth and flowing, the movement of her limbs elegant and eloquent. He attracted the audience with his nimble technique and sometimes repelled them by covering his face with his hands. The charismatic Maneses easily wears the solo number.
The second piece, “woman with water”, is a disturbing meditation on control. Created by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, it began with crew members dragging a lime green table and dancer Dunia Acosta gliding across the stage, alluring in a flowing orange dress. To the scratchy rhythm and resonant triangle of Fleshquartet music, Acosta snuck around the table, caressing her and dragging her across the stage.
When his duet partner, Malpaso artistic director Osnel Delgado, came out and poured him a glass of water, Acosta diffused the tension with his stiffened body. The music had an eerie tinge as Delgado lifted her rigid form, shaking her almost like a doll. He provided her with life-giving water, yet he treated her like an object. At one point, Acosta shrunk into a ball and crawled under the table as Delgado stalked her. It’s a disconcerting piece about love and care gone sour, which the dancers skilfully convey.
A long, confusing moment of silence followed, creating a sense of tension before the third piece, “Tabula Rasa,” an ensemble number that Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin originally produced as a ballet arrangement and reimagined for Malpaso. The prolonged silence was broken by the dancers swaying in unison like reeds in a field, gliding across the stage to the sound of the screeching strings. Their languorous movements were hypnotic, a commentary on the seduction of conformism. The dancers created a strange tableau of sameness.
The pairs separated, one lifting the other, grabbing and clinging to each other. A trio squeezed tightly, desperately, as the rest of the ensemble swayed in sync. The shimmering unit was shattered by a moment of frenzied energy, with dancers rushing into chaos, limbs spasming and frantic jumping. In the end, the group found a bewitching unity of movement while a member of the trio was prostrate on the ground.
After intermission, the company returned with “Why You Follow,” a joyful, kinetic celebration of Afro-Cuban identity choreographed by Ronald K. Brown. It featured a mix of rhythmic African songs such as “Look at Africa” by Zap Mama and “Yoruba Road” by the Allenko Brotherhood, and Latin dance influences such as salsa. The beats were throbbing and punchy, sounding like a heartbeat.
The dancers jumped and frolicked on the stage and struck poses with flexed biceps, a vibrant celebration of strength. Their movement, swinging hips and bursting shoulders punctuated by dry handclaps, was crisp and fresh. The company danced to patterns, with one phalanx of dancers taking the stage to perform one sequence followed by another and another performing the same sequence. They used repetition to odd effect in “Tabula Rasa” and to create a sense of exultant community here. Performances throughout, technically masterful and emotionally charged or overflowing with joy, created a dynamic and sensational programme.
Ellen E. Mintzer is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.
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