A jubilant Cuban dance company returns to Britain—as The Economist reports.
OUT of context, the boxing glove looks peculiar. It lengthens the arm, yet brings it to an abrupt stump. It conveys a threat, but otherwise muffles the expressive powers of the hand. Boxing gloves hardly seem suited to the nuanced art of modern dance. So it is remarkable that “Sombrisa”, choreographed by Itzik Galili for the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (DCC), works so beautifully. Clad in boxing gloves, 18 male and female dancers move with a fluidity that defies the staccato feint and thrust of the sport. They flow with a sexual charge against the percussive music of Steve Reich. In this environment, their bulbous mitts look a little inept—instead of promising violence, they seem to be a metaphor for the challenges of ever getting close to someone. Mr Galili says he finds boxing painful to watch, but he is interested in the way “people sneak away from someone else’s punch.”
“Sombrisa” was commissioned by the Theatre Royal in Newcastle to celebrate both the theatre’s 175th anniversary and the Cultural Olympiad. Teresa Threadgall at the theatre conceived of the idea, seeing boxing as a theme that could link dance with sport, and Newcastle with Cuba. Following its premiere on May 3rd, the piece is part of an effervescent three-dance programme which the DCC is touring through Britain until June 9th.
Though technically impressive, these young, Havana-based dancers are seductive for their enthusiasm. There is a weightlessness to their movement, which mixes ballet, Latin and Afro-Caribbean styles and even some breakdancing. Their smiles on stage appear unusually authentic.
Founded in 1959 and now headed by Miguel Iglesias, the DCC rarely travels. Their first British tour in 2010 introduced wider audiences to the insouciant choreography of George Céspedes, a 32-year-old dancer in the company. The current show includes his Olivier-nominated “Mambo 3XXI”, in which dancers morph from synchronised callisthenics to joyful self-discovery in solos and duets. Set to Latin house music and classic Cuban crooning, this piece has a gender-bending freshness that flouts the country’s macho stereotype. A similar wit imbues “Carmen?!”, the third dance, choreographed by Kenneth Kvarnström. A play on Bizet’s opera performed by seven men, the piece seems to mock gestures of seduction.
“It is part of our culture to move,” says Mr Céspedes. Europe may have the most sophisticated art, but most people are not a part of it, he observes. The culture in Cuba may be less refined, but “we all do it.”
This tour, like the previous one, is supported by the Dance Consortium, a group of theatres that brings international acts to British stages beyond London. Taking a Cuban company on tour is not a simple business. In a country where few have telephones and e-mail is limited, international collaborations take on a different quality. After spending four months trying to track down the DCC in 2008, Ms Threadgall was in the odd position of discussing a project years in advance “in a culture where they don’t think longer than a day ahead”. But she seems thoroughly charmed by her Cuban collaborators, who traffic in eagerness. She adds that the dancers were delighted to learn that they would not be loading the trucks themselves.
For Mr Galili, a much in-demand Israeli choreographer, creating “Sombrisa” in Cuba was not without culture shock. He describes the unexpected beauty of hearing only birdsong and domino stones, but also the challenges of working with performers who kept dropping out for mysterious reasons (“I don’t ask why”). At the last moment one dancer was unable to get a visa, forcing Mr Galili to rearrange the piece days before its debut. He describes the experience as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done”, because of the time it takes to understand how things work in Cuba. But he would happily do it again—“the dancers are angels.”
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is now touring venues across Britain, including Sadler’s Wells in London, until June 9th
For the original report go to http://www.economist.com/node/21554487