Choreographers: Annabelle López Ochoa, Theo Clinkard, George Céspedes
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Choreographer Annabelle López Ochoa describes the dancers of Danza Contemporanea De Cuba as “strong and abundant with energy…very generous and high powered dancers which is common for them – quite uncommon in the rest of the world…they dance like to last time they are going to dance”. All of that energy and exuberance is on show in the three, very different, pieces in the current tour programme. It opens with Reversible, choreographed by Annabelle López Ochoa for the company in which she draws on the passionate and sensuous nature that she finds in the Cuban people. Reversible explores ideas of sexuality and seduction, of rivalry and gender.
As the vast black box of the full stage is bathed in golden light, a mass of near-naked bodies form a flower-like shape, pulsing and rippling. A breathing entity, full of potency and life. As the shapes dissipate and the individual dancers emerge, we enjoy a glorious Adam and Eve moment of sexual discovery as two dancers clamber over and around each other, framed by the rest of the company, all dressed in grey trousers (the women) and skirts (the men) and little else. As the soundtrack chops and changes, a ticking clock, the rhythm of stamping feet, and singing, moves the piece along at a breath-taking pace. López Ochoa infuses the piece with Caribbean Intermezzo and the Latin American Bachata. She’s right. There is something uniquely Cuban about the serpentine hip movements of the women and the upper body thrusting of the men. And it’s glorious.
The Listening Room, which follows, could not be more different. In brightly coloured shorts and T-shirts, plugged into their headphones, twenty dancers fill the stage, silent and motionless. They’re all in private reverie, a gathering of strangers under a single, glaring fluorescent tube. Slowly they start to move to the music we cannot hear, each hearing something different, each haphazardly creating their personal interpretation. As they begin to move as one, Steve Reich’s Variations for Vibe, Piano and Strings creates an overall score, occasionally cutting back to reveal a silence in which the sound of feet slapping on the stage and exhaled breaths become the only accompaniment for the audience. This is an exercise class, a silent disco, they dance awkwardly like no-one’s watching – and we are the slightly uneasy voyeurs.
In the third part of the evening the mood shifts again. Matria Etnocentra is a celebration of national pride, a piece infused with Cuba’s history and culture. Choreographed by George Céspedes, the company’s resident choreographer, it begins with an astonishingly precise militaristic formation, which seems to combine the drill yard with a routine reminiscent of Madonna’s Vogue. It’s all performed in hefty boots, combat pants and t-shirts bearing the star and colours of the Cuban flag. Matria Etnocentra draws on Cuba’s conflicted politics, authority, restrictions and social change, while infusing everything with the joy of life. The same army drills from the beginning of the piece, but with the dancers now dressed in bright Cuban colours, repeats at the end, and somehow becomes a carnival.
Danza Contemporanea De Cuba are one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies and it is a treat to have them touring the UK. With plenty more tour venues on their punishing schedule, don’t miss the chance to see a company whose extraordinary work will stay with you for many years to come.
Runs until 18 February 2017 | Image: Johan Persson