DanceReviewSouth West

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Artistic Director: Miguel Á Iglesias

Choreographers: Annabelle López Ochoa, Theo Clinkard, George Céspedes

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

Fusion. African – Latino; male – female; military – revolution; individualism- group mentality; soundtrack – dance; conformity – subversion: Havana’s shoestring company Danza Contemporánea de Cuba celebrates the intrinsic fusion of its homeland through works by the company’s own George Céspedes, Olivier award-winner Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Brighton boy Theo Clinkard.

And the eclectic, energetic programme is receiving enthusiastic responses throughout its UK tour.

Opening on a high is the much sought-after (English National Ballet’s Broken Wings and companies on four continents currently rehearsing or performing her work) Ochoa’s reversible.

Ritualistic confrontation of the sexes observed on the Havanan streets dissolves into mesmerising pas de deux with entwined sculptured bodies sensual and athletic by turns while chattering and giggling rival  gangs look on. Men in skirts, women wearing the trousers, and all barefooted and bare-chested, the piece explores equality and gender with swagger and sensuality.

The fusion soundtrack including Jean-Claude Kerinec, Scanner, Staff Elmeddah and Eric Vaarzon Morel is an apposite platform for an explosion of hip-popping, undulating limbs, shimmying and struts showcasing Cuba’s rich African and Spanish heritage.

Persistent tribal percussion lends visceral weight to gymnastic balance and postures while Spanish bells and bachata adds Caribbean-influenced Latino spice. Mesmerising and breath-taking, it’s worth the ticket price alone.

After a much-need break for the ensemble, is The Listening Room.

Brighton-based but Cornwall-born choreographer, stage designer and performer Clinkard presents an intense and perhaps over-thought treatise on the theme of everyone dancing to a different tune.

A frozen tableau of 21 dancers, each plugged into their individual earpieces, is carefully timed to be a beat too long to be comfortable before a whisper of sound starts to seep into the auditorium. But clearly it is not the same soundtrack the dancers are hearing as slowly each defrosts to move independently to their own music.

Stretching the boundaries of traditional understood rules of dance, Clinkard’s enigmatic and intense piece is visually dissonant.

Stated by Clinkard to be a celebration of expressive and instinctive movement, dancers are given some freedom in their solo moments but are intentionally lost in a crowd of similar but discordant jigging.

Shared music, from which the audience is excluded, allows pastel-clad duos and trios to engage, somewhat robotically, in a momentarily common rhythm while jettisoning earplugs from time to time brings welcome relief as the  company is at last translating, with outflung arms and loose legs,  US composer Steve Reich’s Variations for vibes piano and strings.

A clever concept but one which bravely sits on the premise of excluding the observer – and in consequence is rather dissatisfying.

The grand finale is homegrown Céspedesslightly overlong Matria Etnocentra.

With Matria translating as motherland and Etnocentra meaning a belief that their culture is the best in the world, Céspedes develops the themes of conformity, revolution and freedom in a driving ensemble dance with heavy military overtones.

Pulsating regimented marching, spot-on timing and synchronisation in hefty drill pieces with jackboots and combats de rigueur opens what would tritely seem to be a potted recent history of Cuba.

Nacional Electronica provides the persistent bass underlining the dynamic precision piece which segues, through slow but sure isolated movements, to revolution and liberty. There’s nothing subtle here with Céspedes’ costuming adding colour to complement the breakaway rebels whose staccato pace – including much urgent running about – melts into an exquisite solo with Cuban composers IIgnacio Villa’s emotive Bola de Nieve and Hermanos Expósito’s Vete de mi on point.

A buoyant regroup brings unity once more – fusing liberty with cohesion – but a lighter touch of restrictive patterns with a hint of salsa and a joie de vivre encapsulates a 21st-century Cuban spirit.

An inspiring evening fusing youthful energy and technical excellence.

Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Contirbuted


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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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