The Verse’s Dominique Fennell spent an evening with the Cuban contemporary dance company at Brighton’s Dome theatre on the 8th March.
Having enchanted its audiences in 2010, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba returned to Brighton Dome this March as part of their 2017 tour.
Founded in 1959, the Havana-based company has flourished as Cuba’s fore-running contemporary dance troupe, combining an illustrious ménage-a-trois of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, American modernism and flavours of European ballet.
This time around, the tour comprises of three different contemporary pieces, including Reversible by Colombian-Belgian choreographer; Annabelle López Ochoa, The Listening Room by Brighton-based choreographer, performer and stage designer; Theo Clinkard, and Matria Etnocentra by the company’s own George Céspedes.
Their second evening here in Brighton (Wednesday 8th March) was comprised of Reversible and The Listening Room. In Reversible, López Ochoa challenges notions of gender and sexual power between men and women, inspired by the streets of Havana. The four-part work speaks about what it means to be free of binary preconceptions of man or woman, exploring how the genders cross over.
The show opens with a raw percussion sound and the dancers divided by gendered groups. One man and one woman are raised high under brooding spotlights. A tribal interaction transpires between the two groups, whilst the couple dance a ritualistic, primordial duet – the meeting of Adam and Eve. The stage is then ablaze in a power play between genders, with proud struts and puffed out chests, met with swaying hips and sensual swagger. The dancers switch skirts and trousers, as couples break off into sensual bachata sequences to a slow, evocative riff. The perimeters of each gender become confused; reversed.
In the final sequence, the dancers unite in the same movements, to the sound of bells and Spanish guitar, free of their gendered markers, any kind of binary dissolved. Much like gender, this piece is performative, but engages our thinking of a gender dichotomy. The soundtrack and varied choreographic style pay a delicious homage to the rich origins and myriad of cultures that have made up the Cuban spirit. As an opener, López Ochoa sets an impeccably high precedent and shows why she is so sought after worldwide.
In the second interval, Clinkard’s The Listening Room takes the company in a more conceptual direction. The piece opens with the dancers lining the front of the stage, in complete silence; they move slowly, to seemingly different rhythms as they wear headphones. Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings by American minimal composer Steve Reich plays overhead. The structure of the piece seems to be fleeting, as at times the dancers move in clusters, asynchronous to those around them. The choreography is diverse and loose, reflecting the sonic multitude of the performance. At other times, dancers disconnect into individual movement, or remove their headphones, dancing in unison to the variation playing over them. Sporadically, the audience are met with silence again, whilst the dancers perform to what is heard through their headphones, reminiscent of a silent disco.
At first glance, it may seem that Clinkard is critiquing our relationship with technology, as if nowadays we are often obliviously consumed in our own bubble, failing to be interactive with the surrounding world. Clinkard himself expresses that The Listening Room celebrates intuitive and spontaneous dancing. The communiqué of the piece is not immediately apparent to the audience, which could be problematic and perhaps exhaustive for some, if viewers are trying to extract an explication via the dance. That said, what makes this work charismatic is its thought-provoking invitation for the audience to decipher meaning themselves. The underlying message does not need to be rigid, but it can be left to the fluidity of the audience members’ own interpretation.
As a first-time viewer of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, it is immediately clear that this company and these dancers are a force to be reckoned with. Their repertoire of performances and collaborators are so diverse that this company can only push boundaries. Throughout the piece, the dancers exude passion and enigmatic sensuality, with flawless technique and professionalism. Whether audience members are learned dance lovers or watching with fresh eyes, they can watch safe in the knowledge that they will receive a red-hot performance, of the highest calibre.
For a chance to see the company in action, click here for a full breakdown of tour dates and venues.