Arts Reviews

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba @ Royal Concert Hall

Cuba’s flagship contemporary dance troupe performed in Nottingham for their first stop on their 2017 UK tour, and what an amazing start to their shows it was! A compelling blend of Afro Caribbean rhythms, jazzy American modernism and accents from European ballet, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s fusion style most definitely evoked the sensual heart of Cuban spirit.

Split into three separate performances, each with their own potent blend of dance styles, we saw this electrifying group of performers breathe life into their captivating routines, bringing to the stage a new vision of Cuban dance.

The dance company was founded in 1959, the year Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries overthrew Batista, and the performance at the Royal Concert Hall incorporated a political statement, particularly in the final performance choreographed by the fames George Céspedes. The entire performance showed the troops strength and physicality in an exquisite way that captivated the entire audience. Every movement and every step was embedded with meaning and symbolism, showcasing the dancers’ and choreographers’ love for, not only the art of dance, but also their immense pride in their culture.

“The female dancers wore trousers whilst the male dancers wore skirts”

Reversible was the first performance of the show, choreographed by the Colombian Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and was instantly a piece that grabbed the attention of everyone in the hall. The piece began without music allowing the artistry of their bodies to evoke many feelings. The female dancers wore trousers whilst the male dancers wore skirts and I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was intentional. Is there something to be said about the way gender was explored on the stage? It seemed to be an incredibly potent aspect of the performance, more relevant and heightened considering the global discussion of women’s rights today.

“The quietness allowed for the precision in each arch to be at the forefront of the viewer’s mind”

The two leads in this performance, one male and one female, were both topless which only added to this topic of gender and increased the beauty in their movements. As the soft Latin music began, the shapes created became much more lyrical, with each dancer using every part of their body for seduction and physicality. The quietness allowed for the precision in each arch to be at the forefront of the viewer’s mind generating a powerful depiction of contemporary Cuban dance. Ochoa’s dance education at the Royal Ballet School of Flanders in Belgium was inserted wonderfully, with balletic artistry being at the centre of this piece.

“It was technical, whilst perfectly demonstrating the versatility of the dancers”

Theo Clinkard, one of the UK’s most celebrated dance-makers created the second performance The Listening Room. This piece had a modern feel with the use of earphones as props, and it was more difficult to dissect the meaning behind the almost robotic movements. This only made it more compelling, however, which is something that Clinkard does best. It was technical, whilst perfectly demonstrating the versatility of the dancers considering its vast difference from the dynamic and lyrical piece by Ochoa.

“I found the dance to be more mechanical”

What was most interesting about the style was the comical qualities added that certainly provided some laughter into the theatre hall, almost reflecting the vibrancy and fun that is found on the streets of Havana and beyond. I found the dance to be more mechanical but this did not lesson its expressiveness. Clinkard deserved credit for his work which directly addressed the audience towards the end – with dancer Victor M. Varela even communicating, through bizarre movements, as the curtains were closing! It was a fun, modern and interactive twist to the stereotypical salsa-style that Cuba is largely known for.

“The strong beat made the finale extremely powerful”

The third and final piece of the night was my personal favourite. Matria Etnocentra, by the company’s very own wunderkind George Céspedes, had everything that you could hope for from a contemporary dance whilst still being rife with the culture and politics that is the Caribbean nation.

The work opens with all dancers in strict formation like a military drill and synchronised movements that were rigid and felt delegated by an authoritarian leader. The strong beat made the finale extremely powerful and the united action of each dancer beating their chests with their fists in harmony felt painful, perhaps a political comment on the suffering within Cuba’s history.

In the middle of the set the dancer Iosmaly Ordoñez has a solo, which broke up the drill-formation, which was extremely potent. From this moment onwards the dancers gradually loosened into bursts of salsa, casino, and jive in hip-swivelling duets. The stark contrast to the precision of the kicking legs was absolutely brilliant and placed each member of the audience right in the heart of Cuba, which is why I highly recommend watching the brilliance of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba.

9/10 – Unmissable, almost perfect

Shanai Momi

Image credit: Shanai Momi

‘Danza Contemporanea de Cuba’ is running at the Royal Concert Hall until Wednesday 15th February. For more information and where to find tickets see here.

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