Dance with flair: Danza Contemporánea de Cuba

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
March 14, 2017

Róisín O’Brien

Bringing a self-proclaimed mix of dance styles to the UK, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba are a group you can happily raise your hopes for. They deliver an astounding performance of physical dexterity and raw energy across a diverse triple bill in this penultimate stop on their UK tour.

Annabelle López Ochoa’s Reversible is a potent offering of gender, a churning, vibrating hymn of archetypes. Women and men carve out territories, meeting in the middle in erotic pas de deux. These duets are hypnotic, so smoothly and curvaceously do the dancers move between linked arms, dizzying head spins and low shifts in weight. They live in the extremes, and move between them uncomprehendingly and suddenly.

It is a testament to the exactitude of the corps that I often forget they are at the side, diligently marking out their precise formations. Ochoa’s ballet training is evident in Balanchine-esque turns and a Kylian-like love of beauty. A piece of demanding, seductive technicality.

Andrés Ascanio and Heriberto Meneses in ReversiblePhoto Johan Persson
Andrés Ascanio and Heriberto Meneses in Reversible
Photo Johan Persson

Theo Clinkard’s The Listening Room is hard to nail down from an interpretive point of view. While the dancers execute it capably, the piece’s drop in energy compared to the first act sits oddly on such powerful dancers. The Listening Room is a dance of the thinking body, an almost postmodern performance that cerebrally marks out the space and evokes the art galleries such pieces are often found in. At times this is successful, surprisingly so when Steve Reich’s score (the stalwart of such abstract pieces) is actually muted: the sound of the dancers’ feet brushing the floor provides a calming, intimate soundscape. At other times, the work gets lost in the distance between audience members and the stage, and can feel flat on the gaping expanse of the big stage. Its quietness does grow on you, however, and there are pleasing moments of lightness.

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Matria Etnocentra Photo Johan Persson
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in Matria Etnocentra
Photo Johan Persson

The finale comes from Cuban choreographer George Céspedes, a former dancer of the company who has choreographed for them numerous times. Matria Ethnocentra journeys through Cuba’s history and culture, opening with stomping, rigid military formations, the dancers emblazoned with red and blue stars. Their angular arms are mixed with shimmying hips; paired with the insistent pound of the soundtrack, the opening is kitsch in its nationalism, defiance layered with a thin film of pastiche.

A middle section of once again impressive contact work emphasizes the company’s consistent strength in working with one another; trust and risk transform into arching dives and throws from across the stage into each others’ arms. The end finishes in contemporary Cuba, with an uncertain message: is the fist thump to the chest berating or affronting? Is there an impassive fidelity or a deadened stare? Nonetheless, this is stadium dance, a work of magnitude and impressive scale.

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba are an extremely strong company, with a flair for close, exciting encounters. The stage is bare throughout; they need no decoration.