Who ever told Osnel Delgado it would be a “misstep” or “malpaso” to form a new dance company in Havana underestimated the talents of this enterprising young choreographer/dancer and his dancing compatriots. While Malpaso Dance Company of Havana makes its Chicago debut this weekend at The Dance Center of Columbia College (Thursday-Friday-Saturday, 7:30 PM), it has plenty of American connections. Formed in 2012, Malpaso is an associate company of Joyce Theater Productions in New York and tours frequently in the U.S.
The Cuban-trained company of eleven dishes up a refreshing treat for Chicago audiences, drawing two strikingly different works from its international repertory, each created expressly for its dancers.
Astounding back flips, head-stands, and dive rolls flow effortlessly through a continuum of fascinating body isolations in Azure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz” (2016) for four men and four women. Golden silhouettes highlight an arm, a foot, a hand or leg, a shoulder twitch or seductive hip swivel, body parts glowing in off-beat impulses against lighting designer Nicole Pearce’s darkly-lit space. Leaps and aerial springs launch unexpectedly from primal second-position scuttering, sinewy hands flutter or mold the space, as solos, duets, and trios form, dissolve, and reform. Creeping, crawling, arms and legs groping for a hold on the space and each other suggest mating rituals of the preying mantis in insect-like moves that feel all the extremes a body can feel. Contrasting tempos, a wide range of texture from flowing to abrupt, and an ever-changing landscape of movement design unfold as the the dancers wend their way through the gongs, plucks, and melodic crescendos of composer Alexander Balanescu’s “Quartet” for strings, piano and percussion, and Michael Nyman’s “String Quartet.” Especially striking was a quartet of men evoking Picasso’s acrobats on the beach, a circus flavor infusing the piece with Barton’s hint at pantomimic gestures.
Malpaso artistic director Osnel Delgado’s “24 Hours And A Dog” (2013), comprising the second half of the evening, rotates the mood 180 degrees to a sunny, playful romp through the Latin Jazz rhythms of composers Arturro O’Farrill and Abelardo Valdes. An extended musical overture of chimes and piano hinted at the melody of “Three Blind Mice,” then devolved into Brubeck-like jazz before the black, up-stage curtains parted to reveal a bright, blue-lit cyclorama. Delgado is positively riveting in solo episodes throughout the piece, beginning with his opening moments, a hand gesture to the head motoring the rest of his body. A sigh, a thoughtful beat, and the rest of the company rushes in for a night on the town in 50’s Cuba. Social dance idioms mix with more abstract contemporary movement invention, with an abundance of exciting partnering. An element of calisthenics workout peppers the big band/big dance feel of the piece, the group in constant flux, with frequent shifts of brightly-colored costumes and lighting, showcasing the considerable individual strengths of these delightfully individualistic dancers.
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