Founded in 1959, Cuba’s leading contemporary dance company has had a profound influence on Cuban dance and dancers. Over the past 53 years Danza Contemporánea de Cuba has evolved into an ‘an exotic hybrid of contemporary, classical and Caribbean styles…an exquisite physical instrument…They move with an old-fashioned juiciness, reminiscent of the Martha Graham Company, burning up the choreography’.*
Returning to Cuba, after a tour of performances in Europe, the company performed Compás at the Teatro Mella (March 1-3, 2013)
The persistent rain and the Cuban “winter” were of little matter to those who filled the Mella Theater this March, to attend the rerun of one of Danza Contemporánea’s most liked works. And there was no shortage of reasons. The first one: the undisputed values of Compás, especially created especially for the company by the Dutch choreographer Jan Linkens and written by his fellow countryman Marc Jonkers for the Cuban company. The second reason: more than a rerun, it was a revival, for only four of the original thirty dancers of its premiere in 2003 participated now. The third reason: it is an all-night show, which departs from the usual concert programs, but that the public is always grateful for.
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, directed by Miguel Iglesias is one of the most solid dance companies in Cuba–and I dare say in the international dance scene. The young dancers undertook the challenge posed by the choreographer with joy, energy and virtuosity.
The first part, in which Linkens exploits the recognized sense of rhythm of Cuban dancers, put the polished technique, the rigorous training and the physical abilities of the company’s members to the test. This was evident in both the soloists and the choruses in an intelligent counterpoint, which sometimes worked as a whole, and other times established an antiphonal solo-chorus dialogue, always in keeping with the rhythmic variations imposed by the music. The ingenious fusion of modern and contemporary dance, and Cuban folklore was led with energy, vitality and subtlety. The dancers conveyed feeling and emotion to an abstract choreographic score with no visible plot, skillfully solving complexities, both from a technical and dramatic perspective, and accomplishing clever transitions between climatic and more “relaxing” moments with a precise dosage of energy.
The second part, which is very much a dance show and even music hall, gave room for the participation of the audience–much too long and repetitive, in my opinion–who led by the lively Gabriela Burdsall ventured with a few dance steps that were graphically indicated in the program. Here, Linkens sought to emphasize the clichéd sensuality of Cubans by turning the scene into a grand ballroom. Using contrasts, he differentiated both sides, which ranged from the conceptual–at times minimalist–austerity of the first act to the exultant joy of the second one (credit bobby). Here, he confronted the grandiloquence of Shostakovich’s music with the nostalgic Cubanness of José White’s La bella cubana, with Elena Kats-Chemin’s concise modernity or with Duke Ellington’s swing, seconded by a ductile company who undertook the somewhat ironic bias suggested by the choreographer with ease.
While the 26 newcomers and four veteran dancers in Compás lived up to all expectations, one cannot but especially mention the virtuosic performance of Yosmell Calderón; the precision and elegance of Gabriela Burdsall, granddaughter of Lorna Burdsall, American founding dancer and choreographer of the company; and the exciting presence of Isidro Rolando, former dancer and current choreographer and regisseur of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, who made a tremendous display of stage presence, authority and charisma.
Compás left the audience with the hope that Danza Contemporánea de Cuba will become a more regular presence in Havana theaters.
Note on the Vella Theater in Vedado: Refurbished in 2000, this 1,500-seat theatre has a Gaudi-esque feel. The balcony wraps around the auditorium with long fingers down both sides. Ideally you want to be on the ground floor up near the front. This is a little rough and ready but definitely amongst the best of Cuban theatres with a nice garden terrace to get a drink at intermission. It’s used for dance, folklore (home to the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba), circus and variety shows, and for seasons for comedy and dance.
*Judith Mackrell, the Guardian.