Aug. 5, 2015 performance reviewed by Iler McGrath.
Malpaso Dance Company took the stage at the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow Aug. 5, 2015 for their United States premier, presenting works by the internationally renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre and Malpaso artistic director Osnel Delgado Wambrug. The alleged “misstep” made by this three year old Cuban troupe was to eschew state sponsorship to pursue artistic freedom, and they have brought the fruits of their endeavor to the world.
Trey McIntyre’s work “Under Fire,” set to the breathy music of folk artist Kelsey Swope, aka “Grandma Kelsey,” was not by any means groundbreaking but certainly compositionally sound and danced with precision and heart by an ensemble of eight. His style is both musical and pure-hearted, and this piece delivers overlapping sections of accessible and enjoyable movement. McIntyre does not make demands of the audience or go out of his way to challenge the status quo, instead allowing the beauty of the human for moving in space to speak for itself.
Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble accompany dance program
The second half of the program was a piece by Osnel Delgado Wambrug, Malpaso’s resident choreographer and artistic director. Despedida (“farewell”) is based on an eponymous poem by Jorge Luis Borges and is set to music composed by the legendary Arturo O’Farrill, who also directed The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble in a live accompaniment to the work. The movement was dynamic and flowing, with a good deal more variation found than in McIntyre’s more understated work, possibly because Wambrug collaborated with the dancers to create this piece. The highlights of Despedida were sections of non-stop partnering and a motif of rolling waves of floorwork, evoking images of ships, seafaring, and island life. However, despite strong use of canon as a predominant choreographic tool, this piece struggled to keep up with the richness and complexity of the music until one multilayered portion at the end. Up until that section It often seemed like the musicians and the dancers existed in parallel universes, inhabiting the same space and time but not thoroughly enmeshed. It is unclear whether this Cunningham-like relationship was an intentional choice or not. Luckily, this discord did not detract substantially from the merits of the piece, which was lively and high energy, featuring crowd-pleasing acrobatics from one soloist and solid dancing throughout.
My main concern is that while they are the fresh Cuban face of contemporary dance, Malpaso simply didn’t come off as what I expect from Cuban dancers. Instead, they seek to replicate an American or European aesthetic, and while they accomplished this comfortably enough this choice renders the company into simply another boat in already crowded waters. I was surprised to see in the program that the company has performed work by Ronald K. Brown, as they seem much more influenced by ballet and modern dance rather than afro-caribbean styles. Though this fledgeling company presented an enjoyable evening of contemporary dance, in the future it would be exciting to see them investigate more deeply into the unique political and cultural heritage of Cuba and to experience that exploration brought to the stage.
Jacob’s Pillow tickets and directions
- Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
- 358 George Carter Road
- Becket, MA 01223
- Phone: 413.243.9919
- Web: jacobspillow.org