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In Cuba, Contemporary Dance is Bigger: Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (REVIEW)

by Bonnie Rosenstock
May 12, 2018
Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso
458 Paseo de Martí
Havana 10600, Cuba
+53 7 8613096
On a recent trip to Cuba, I was thrilled that Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (DCC) was having its run (May 11-20) at the spectacular 1838 Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso (reopened in 1915). My ticket cost 30 CUC (Cuban convertible peso), around $30, while Cubans paid a fraction of that price in CUP (Cuban peso), a bizarre two-currency system. Culture, like most things in Cuba, is subsidized, which was why the 1,500-seat García Lorca Auditorium seemed to be near capacity. Bring in da audience.

The present incarnation of DCC was established in 1987, under the direction of Miguel Iglesias for all of its 31 years. But its fundamental principals (through its various name changes) date back to 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution. Its repertory reflects the language of contemporary dance (with a solid base in ballet technique) in accord with the island’s African and European roots, what is termed “a black-white transcultural fusion.”

DCC bills itself as “the nutritious mother of modern dance.” Although state-supported, Fidel Castro, like his Russian counterparts dating back to Stalin, eschewed Modernism. Therefore, the “Contemporary” has always been a stepchild to the Classical, with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded by Alicia Alonso and her former husband Fernando in 1948, receiving very generous funding from the state and remittances from ballet dancers who are permitted to work abroad.

The program I saw on May 12 consisted of three lengthy works, two by the company’s resident choreographers, and a world premiere by two French choreographers as part of the month-long celebration of French culture in Cuba. Cuban dancers, who receive state-supported training from childhood, are remarkably skilled, strong, athletic and roll like a well-oiled machine in these large ensemble pieces. However much I admired their talent and the intricacies of choreographing for such large groups, after a while it was difficult to distinguish one massive piece from the other.

The 40-minute “R=V (el criterio del camello)” was choreographed by 39-year-old George Céspedes, for 25 dancers, music composed by Alexis de la O/Nacional Electrónica. There were many large tight-knit formations in different patterns, intermingling, separating, slow walking and splitting into more and more groups of different sizes. There were bouncy movements with hunched shoulders. Some dancers were carried on shoulders. Groups exited and reentered in different numbers. A woman dancer looked at another woman dancer and tried to lift her in imitation of the other dancers. She doesn’t succeed, then leaves. She returns and attempts again, gives up. Dancers roll/leap over each other. There is a well-done b-boy, hip-hop section, very popular in Cuba.

“Coil” is a 35-minute work for 16 dancers by Julio César Iglesias, son of founder Miguel Iglesias. It uses music from many different sources, including the fabulous Nina Simone, the Norwegian folk group Wardruna and the experimental Canadian rock duo Hangedup. It featured slaps, punches, shaking and holding of each other’s heads, pushes, leaps, a couple kissing who then struggle with each other. There’s a chorus of ohms. The dancers beat their sides. Another duet struggles, he lifts her; they are encircled by dancers and more ohms. Repeat. Writhing, arms thrust upwards. Dancers downstage slap themselves. Body rolls. Knuckle walking. Stamps turn into side slides. Three whirl like dervishes. A sliver of spotlight and some fine substance rains down. Some dancers put on dark glasses. It was kind of fun.

Christophe Beránger and Jonathan Pranias-Descours of the Company Sine Qua Non Art created the 35-minute “Consagración” (Consecration) for 25 dancers, set to Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” (1913), which was revolutionary in its time. The hundred-plus musicians of the Orquestra Sinfónica Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, conducted by Giovanni Duarte, accompanied the work. The dancers performed throughout the piece with a large yellow cloth draped down the fronts of their bodies, held in place on their heads, an astonishing feat of dexterity. The driving score gave impetus to the intricate choreography. Insistent stamping movements in a circle dance. Many tight group formations across the stage, as the dancers moved as one collective body. A nice visual was backsides swaying rhythmically. In one notable sequence, a dancer sits on his haunches; a front line moves forward, with the back line standing in anticipation. He lies on his back; he crawls into a child’s pose; the back line holds poses; the front line leaves him. The dancers’ lifts and leaps were perfection.

In recent years, as part of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms, Cubans are now permitted to own small businesses, resulting in the proliferation of dance companies averaging 10 dancers, both state supported or independently funded. Hopefully, these smaller companies will find opportunities to explore their creative juices and produce the experimental and experiential.
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in George Céspedes' “R=V (el criterio del camello).”

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in George Céspedes' “R=V (el criterio del camello).”

Photo © & courtesy of Danza Contemporánea De Cuba


Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Julio César Iglesias' 'Coil.'

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Julio César Iglesias' "Coil."

Photo © & courtesy of Danza Contemporánea De Cuba


Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Julio César Iglesias' 'Coil.'

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Julio César Iglesias' "Coil."

Photo © & courtesy of Danza Contemporánea De Cuba


Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Christophe Beránger and Jonathan Pranias-Descours' “Consagración.”

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Christophe Beránger and Jonathan Pranias-Descours' “Consagración.”

Photo © & courtesy of Danza Contemporánea De Cuba


Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Christophe Beránger and Jonathan Pranias-Descours' “Consagración.”

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Christophe Beránger and Jonathan Pranias-Descours' “Consagración.”

Photo © & courtesy of Danza Contemporánea De Cuba


Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso

Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

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