Barbican Theatre, London
February 23, 2017
The Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s debut at the Barbican Centre featured a triple bill of work by leading international choreographers including the company’s own George Céspedes, Olivier award-winner Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Theo Clinkard. The eclectic mix was met with an enthusiastic response.
Ochoa’s Reversible is filled with never-ending momentum and a distinct (both literal and figurative) male-female divide. Differentiating the dancers is their apparel, skirts for the men and trousers for the women, their muscle definition detracting from the fact the group eventually all became topless. Constant drumming adds to the intensity as the piece begins to take on more erratic lifts, dancers joining and separating as they move in and out of the floor, and towards and away from each other, again emphasising the gender divide.
The earthy feel seems ritualistic, the dancers are grounded and strong; a clear nod to their Cuban dancing upbringing. Despite a certain wildness at times, they maintain extreme control, using weight and their balance to add a superior edge to their movement. A constant is the dancers’ sensuality. Shifting from sensual to flirtatious, a series of duets demonstrates a power struggle, first fighting the movement, then succumbing to it.
Clinkard’s The Listening Room is an intriguing affair. The silence and stillness from the dancers – each wired up to their own set of headphones and MP3 player – hints at something entirely opposite to what transpires, a personal journey perhaps. The work premiered in Havana’s Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso in May 2016 as an experimental piece in which the dancers responded to the music they hear in their headphones while the audience listen to an alternative score.
It’s an unusual mash up, certainly, and one that results in a stage busy with different movements and interactions, each dancer’s personality peeping through in their own interpretation of what they could hear. Rather than dance serving the music the two are disconnected, each dance having its own weight and emphasis. The theatrical fourth wall disappears in place of a sonic wall between audience and the dancers, encouraging the former to work to decipher the individual movement on stage. With an emphasis on rhythm, it is sound that creates imagery here, rather than the bodies themselves. The work – parts in unison, parts reflective, parts free and easy – is expansive.
A distinct military feel is present in Georges Cespedes’ Matria Etnocentra, a slick, regimented work that shows off the company as one unit although, again, each dancer displayed individual charm. The simple synchronisation is a hit, the tight formation hugely effective in demonstrating power in lines, boxes and tight knit groups. The attack of the work resonates all the more as it continues, the Cuban spirit glimpsing through in the high-energy dynamic. An ongoing bass intensifies the dance still further.
As the dancers break away and the movement became even more staccato, the mood shifts, still sharp and precise but now with an added grounded feeling. The dancers run in and out of the stage, throwing themselves at the choreography, the sense of urgency unbounded. In contrast is a solitary dance to an emotive piano melody, its beauty demonstrating the futility of regimented life. As the dancers regroup it becomes clear that, even in the military sections they are just a group of individuals working as one; of course with some added Cuban spirit.