Sunday, 19 February 2017

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry

Andrés Ascanio and Heriberto Meneses
in Reversible
Photo Johan Persson
Reproduced with kind permission of the Company 

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Triple Bill, The Lowry, 17 Feb 2017

"Every cloud has a silver lining" so they say.  Some compensation for missing Made in Amsterdam and Juniors Go Dutch (see Thinking of Amsterdam 18 Feb 2017) was the opportunity to see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry. We might well have missed them altogether had we not seen them this weekend for their tour takes them just about everywhere in the UK except where we live or can reach conveniently.  The circumstances that caused us to cancel our trip may actually have done us a favour.  The Netherlands are just across the North Sea and are as easy and often very much cheaper to reach as many parts of our own country. We can see the wonderful Dutch National Ballet more or less any time. Cuba, however, is several thousand miles away and quite a different country. We don't get a chance to see its national contemporary dance company quite so easily.

The company was quite different from any that I had ever seen before. They seemed to move quite differently. I couldn't put my finger on it until a question and answer session after the performance when Miguel Iglesias, the company's artistic director, explained that classical and classically trained dancers move from their solar plexuses whereas his dancers moved from their hips.  They were unbelievably daring, especially in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Reversible which explored gender differences and stereotypes and the relationships between the sexes with men wearing skirts and the women trousers and not all that much else.

The evening started with Reversible which was choreographed by Annabelle López Ochoa who had choreographed Scottish Ballet's Streetcar Named Desire (see Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015) and has contributed a new ballet called Little Red Riding Hood to Ballet Black which will be premiered at the Barbican nxt month (see Beautiful Ballet Black 14 Jan 2017). Reversible began with a man and a woman hoisted shoulder high with their supporters around. The man and woman try to dress but then discard their garments.  In a strange half lit scene, a sort of ritual is conducted between the two groups. It is a very short piece - barely 30 minutes - but a lot is squeezed into that time. The score consisting of music by the composers I listed in Double Latin.  Seventeen dancers performed that work. A great start to the show.

The Listening Room created by British dance maker Theo Clinkard had a score that was audible to the audience but each of the dancers heard very different ones through headphones.  I would not have guessed that had it not been for the Q and A which was chaired by Clinkard.  Asked by a member of the audience to explain his work, Clinkard replied that he wanted the dancers to communicate what they were hearing solely through the movements of their bodies. An interesting suggestion by Janet McNulty whom we sought out in the second interval was that it represented modern social life (or rather the lack of it) with people glaring into their 'phones and motioning incommunicado in their headphones. That interpretation worked for me just as well as Clinkard's. The music was Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings by Steve Reich who had composed Drumming III which had been used by Ballet Black (see Ballet Black made my Manchester Day 28 June 2016). The music that the artists heard was all sorts. There was a lot going in that piece - perhaps a little too much - but the work ended with a solitary figure moving ever closer to the front of the stage as the curtain descended and them lying on his side to give one last farewell.

In the questions and answers, a gentleman who introduced himself as a Cuban national and asked part of his question in Spanish asked why there was not more Cuban material.  "A fair point," I thought, given that the first two works had been contributed by an Amsterdam based and English choreographer. Having said that the dancers seemed to have naturalized both of those pieces and made them their own.  The Cuban contribution was Matria Etnocentra wby George Céspedes.  It started out rather with what appeared to be troops drilling on a parade ground with a red star on each of the dancer's uniform but it quickly transformed into a celebration.  A very exuberant work reminding me in its exuberance of Edward Lynch's NightLife at the Flamingo which I reviewed in There's a reason why Phoenix was my contemporary company of the year 11 Feb 2017. In the end, this was my favourite work though I liked the other two pieces very much too.

A lady in the audience who said she was Guatemalan told us how proud she was even though she was from another Latin American country. Several audience members expressed their appreciation of the work and asked for more Cuban content rather than less. This company has visited England twice before in the last 6 years but I had never seen them. I think the reason is that I could not quite associate contemporary dance with Cuba. That is because Cuba is a socialist and hence command society well suited to ballet but perhaps not quite so tolerant of a dance form that is inherently individualistic and self-expressive.

Yet this is a company that has existed since 1959, the year Dr Castro and his revolutionaries swept into Havana. One of the audience members, another Spanish speaker, asked Miguel Iglesias how he felt after the death of Castro. Visibly moved (so much that Laura Rios who was sitting next to him offered the director her support) Iglesias described Castro as the country's father figure who had underscored his parents' values. On Castro's death, I acknowledged the late president's contribution to ballet in his country (see Castro and Cuban Ballet 28 Nov 2016). It seemed he made a similar contribution to contemporary dance too. Before the Q & A I was going to ask whether there was an equivalent in contemporary dance of Alicia Alonso in ballet. Listening to Iglesias I realized that I had the answer to that question and he was talking to me. 

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