Malpaso Dance Company

I have, on occasion, gone to dance concerts that I thought might not be so great but that had really good accompaniment with the idea that if I wasn’t enjoying the dance performance, I might be able to just close my eyes and enjoy the musical performance. Unfortunately, this has never worked for me. This evening, I had the opposite wish — that I could close my ears and just enjoy the dance performance — while watching the first of three pieces that Malpaso Dance Company had programmed for the evening.

The evening began with Under Fire, a piece choreographed by Trey McIntyre. The company was able to show off their enormous talent as they performed the very athletic and aesthetically pleasing choreography. Unfortunately, I had a hard time really getting into it because the music was so awful. It was some kind of pop-folk by someone called Grandma Kelsey, who the internet tells me is from Boise, Idaho and occasionally plays the autoharp. Her guitar was facile and her voice sounded like an educated English person pretending to be from Tennessee, with no real voice control and a particularly gross vocal fry that made me cringe. The selection of songs included the worst cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene that I’ve ever heard. McIntyre’s choreography had nothing to do with the music in either meaning or rhythm, which made it that much worse since it really seemed like my ears could have been spared so that my eyes could have enjoyed the dancing. For that matter, the choreography seemed to have little to do with the blurb that McIntyre wrote to go with it: the piece seemed substantially vapid despite any pretensions to the contrary. Why do people have to ruin a perfectly good spectacle by pretending that it’s more meaningful than it really is? All I can really say about the dancing is that it was incredibly well performed; very little else stuck with me.

The rest of the evening was, fortunately, remarkably good. The second piece was choreographed by company co-founder and dancer Osnel Delgado Wambrug. This was the only one of the three pieces on the program not choreographed by an American, which is a shame because there are few opportunities for us to see work by Cuban choreographers, whereas the Trey McIntyre Project has toured through Atlanta and just last weekend I saw work by Ronald K. Brown — who choreographed the third piece on the program.

Wambrug’s Despedida was absolutely amazing. If it is indicative of what’s going on in Cuban dance then I can’t wait for our government to completely lift the embargo and travel restrictions so that we can see even more. The piece centered around the sea. I was so engrossed in this piece that it’s hard for me to really remember what was going on in a way that I can put into words. The music was some great Afro Latin Jazz by Arturo O’Farrill that grabbed on to my bones and tried to insist that I move with it. The choreography employed a seamless blend of so many different styles of dance, including ballet, a variety of modern techniques, capoeira, and even some Russian folk dancing. The piece began with the company on the ground, moving in syncronicity in a manner that evoked the sea with soloists coming out of it. The second movement showed a rather intrusive and unctuous man trying to steal the female half of several hetero couples. The use of capoeira here was absolutely amazing: the way that the dancer flipped and tumbled around each other was even more gorgeous and graceful than it was athletic. The final three movements won’t quite separate cleanly in my memory, but there were duets in the water, with the rest of the company forming the water, a great tangle that seemed to produce a great churning of the sea, and individuals leaving the water.

The symbolism in the piece was easy to follow and there wasn’t a moment in it that wasn’t beautiful. I might say that the choreography depicting the sea ranks up there with the sea interludes from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes for depictions of the sea that are both beautiful and effective. I could probably have written a pretty lengthy essay describing it and my reaction to it had I taken notes during the performance, but doing so would have taken me out of the moment and made me analyze the piece rather than be engrossed in it. I do, at times, write notes during intermission and I did do so this evening but I still couldn’t quite piece it all together in my mind; it just wasn’t an experience to be described so much as an encounter to be relished.

In my review of the Evidence performance last week, I mentioned that I’d not be upset to see Brown’s Por Que Sigues (Why You Follow) performed by Malpaso. I can now verify that I was, indeed, neither upset nor disappointed. I often like seeing different companies perform the same piece: it gives me more perspective on the piece and also provides a little more insight into what makes a company unique. Malpaso’s costuming and lighting were different. The costuming was mostly dark clothes: black and gray with splashes of red mixed in. The lighting was darker and much warmer than it was for Evidence, which, along with the black backdrop, reduced the contrast of the dancers with their setting and made the rather exuberant movements somewhat more subdued. With that said, the performance was great. It was a different experience seeing this choreography performed by this company. Malpaso has a more varied set of body types than Evidence, which sort of created a different accent for the movement, if that makes sense. I would say that Evidence does a slightly better job of bringing out the expressiveness of the African folk-dance elements of the piece, but that’s to be expected from Brown’s own company, which works heavily with that vernacular.

When the piece began, I was mildly disappointed to be ending the program with it rather than Wambrug’s since I was so taken with it. At the end, though, I noticed that the curtain call looked a lot like the one that Evidence took and that the same music was playing. After their bows, there was the same post-performance dancing that Evidence did. I knew that it wasn’t spontaneous the first time that I saw it, but I didn’t realize that it had been choreographed into the piece since its original commission for Malpaso.

All in all, I really hope to see more from this company and Wambrug. Hopefully there will be reason for them to come through Atlanta again but, if not, I’d be perfectly happy to vacation in Cuba and see them there, if my government will let me.

Leave a Reply