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Lugano, OT (Switzerland)
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"Sonlar—La Luce dei Caraibi" with the Dance Company of the National Theater of Cuba

by Renee E. D'Aoust
January 21, 2009
Palazzo dei Congressi
Piazza Indipendenza 4
Lugano, OT (Switzerland) 6900
+41 91 911 04 04
One of the presenting organizations:

Dicastero Attività Culturali della Città di Lugano
Telefono: +41 (0)58 866 72 01
E-Mail: cultura@lugano.ch

Web-site for Rene de Cardenas, choreographer of "Sonlar":
http://www.renedecardenas.com/rc_content/sonlar.asp?lang=en

Renée E. D'Aoust's most recent publication is an essay in Robert Gottlieb's anthology "Reading Dance" (Pantheon Books).
Advertised as "100% Cubano," "Sonlar" is performed with dancers one would not readily see in the United States. (Indulge my note that for the inauguration Michelle Obama wore a dress designed by Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo.)

The Dance Company of the National Theater of Cuba performed the evening-length "Sonlar—La Luce dei Caraibi" in Lugano, Switzerland on January 21st. The company was also advertised as "Compagnia René de Cárdenas." Cárdenas is the director and choreographer.

"Sonlar" creates a Caribbean atmosphere through song (melodic call and response) and rhythm (driving and intense and created using anything at hand, including plastic buckets, aluminum pots, wooden flip-flops, and poker chips on a table). Yet in dance terms, I saw primarily a pastiche: there were obvious references to "Stomp" (the musical); and I also recognized the use of Afro-Caribbean syncopated footwork and undulations (with less rib cage isolation than one might expect), the use of Lester Horton's hinge (a backward bend with the Horton suspension that makes the human body look like a table), and even an allusion to the famous "Chorus Line" of dancers stretched flat across the front of the stage. Highlights of major shows and recognizable moves had been borrowed and set to a Caribbean theme, making "Sonlar" a collage of predictability.

The audience didn't seem to apply such judgments as there were frequent and sustained ovations. And there was much to admire in the superbly trained dancers who stood out for their clarity and precision. Their ability to switch from dance to drum to song should be applauded. But am I wrong to ask for more substance and less wham-bam? The story felt loosely centered on what might be called a day in the life of a barrio. Couldn't the performers expect to be given more than a stereotypically gendered approach to men and women—or to props?

I found myself wondering, why is the broom a musical instrument when used by the women but only a broom when held by the men? Sure, the men tried to transform it into an air guitar or a barbell, but I wasn't convinced. When the four women of the twelve-member company held those brooms, I watched them stamp and shuffle. I heard song. Too bad the production didn't capitalize on its strength in rhythm rather than aiming for a cheap, gendered joke about housework.

I was probably lost to celebration when the joke about blind people dancing and dropping their canes repeated three too many times. I just don't find it funny for a man to pretend to be blind, see a woman's perky butt, lift his tinted sunglasses, and raise his eyebrows: Wink, wink.

I know a cane can make music; I want to see the dance of integrity, too. Give me more of the man moving only his legs in fantastically complicated ways while balancing a lit candle on his head while holding his torso perfectly still. Or the guy who actually was blindfolded and who stepped faster and faster, with syncopation, around three bottles less than a foot apart from the other. Both were surrounded by dancers providing soundtrack with voice and drum (on a can, on the floor). These parts of "Sonlar" were terrific.
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