Performance reviewed for londondance.com: 23rd February 2017, Barbican
I remember where I was when I first saw Danza Contemporánea de Cuba perform George Céspedes’ Matrio Etnocentra. I was sat at the front of the upper circle in Teatro Mella in Vedado, Havana. I was six months pregnant and my partner was wandering excitedly around with a camera. After the performance we agreed we had to see it again and rearranged our plans to see cabaret the next day. It was the right decision.
On Thursday evening at the Barbican, while my eighteen month old was safely tucked asleep at home, I watched Matrio Etnocentra for the third time and was there to witness the reaction of an audience who didn’t quite realise what they were getting for their money.
Annabelle Ochoa’s opening gift to this programme was a sensual piece showing tribalistic mating rituals as the dancers display to potential partners. There is an interesting use of sound in this piece, which further adds to the sensuous appeal of the dance. The clever choreography makes full use of the incredible physiques of the dancers as well their infinite energy. The dancers of both genders show equal strength and energy in the way that they tease each other. It is work that I feel I need to see again to completely appreciate.
The variation in the triple bill programme allows us to witness not only the incredible physical skills of the performers, but the versatility of performers who appear to relish the challenge of a more experimental dance piece. Theo Clinkard’s The Listening Room involves the dancers dancing to music on their headphones while the audience are provided with a score of Steve Reich’s Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings. This dislocation between the environments of the performers and the audience, is bridged by the charisma of performers whose personalities were allowed to come to life within the freedom of the structure of the piece.
The casual appearance of the dancers sitting crossed legged in the wings and dancing in coloured shorts and t-shirts with their mp3 players and headphones round their neck offered stark contrast to the tribalism of Annabelle Ochoa’s Reversible and the military precision of Matrio Etnocentra. This break in the intensity of the rest of the programme would have benefitted from being shorter in length so that the concept does not tire before the end. I did feel a sense of pride that it was this British piece that took real risks with what this company of precision specialists could do on stage.
In the 19 months since I last watched Matrio Etnocentra both Cuba and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba had undergone some significant changes that only serve to make the work more poignant. The death of Castro in November last year had seemed like such a symbolic moment in Cuba’s history that can’t help but impact on the re-watching of a piece about the uniformity of communism and loss of personal liberty for the benefit of the whole. The arrival of Acosta Danza in 2016 had snapped up a significant amount of this company’s dancers and forced a new intake of dance school graduates. The piece plays to the strengths of these dancers who have all been subject to the most rigorous Cuban dance education. Throughout Matrio Etnocentra the facial expressions of the dancers show such commitment to the vision of the piece, that it is completely captivating. When the dancers change to their coloured tunics and dance in a looser salsa style we get a glimpse of a Cuba finding its feet as it moves into the future. I hope that this piece stays in the company’s repertoire for many years as it is a masterclass in precise synchronised movement and it goes to the heart of what it means to be Cuban.
Reversible choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
The Listening Room choreographed by Theo Clinkard
Matria Etnocentra choreographed by George Cespedes
Rhiannon Brace is a physical theatre practitioner and choreographer with a specific interest in Cuban dance. Find her on Twitter:@Rhiannonbrace. www.rhiannonbrace.com
About Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (DCC)
About Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (DCC) – Directed by Miguel Iglesias, DCC was founded in 1959 by Ramiro Guerra under the name of Conjunto de Danza Moderna, created from the National Theater’s dance department. In 1962 it was renamed Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna, became Danza Nacional de Cuba in 1974 and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in 1987. As Cuba’s flag-ship contemporary dance company, the most prominent figures of the Cuban dance scene have started their illustrious careers with DCC. Whilst maintaining all the principles of its founder Ramiro Guerra, compelling and ground-breaking projects continue to thrive. This allows the company to remain open to developments in dance, without forgetting its heritage.
The company’s unique style is routed in the principles of Cuban modern dance technique and harmoniously blends with a mix of black and white cultural heritage influenced by Cuba’s African and Spanish ancestors, African-Caribbean rhythms, jazzy American modernism and classical European ballet.