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Malpaso Dance Company's return to The Joyce Theater held no missteps

by Bonnie Rosenstock
January 17, 2019
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
Malpaso Dance Company returned for a repeat run at the Joyce Theater, January 9-13, one of three companies from Havana that comprised the Cuba Festival, from January 9-20. Malpaso was created in 2012 by Osnel Delgado and Daileidys Carrazana, two dancers from the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, along with actor Fernando Sáez. The timing of this was right on the money, despite their company’s name, which translates to “Misstep.” In 2011, then President Raúl Castro (post Fidel) announced economic reforms, which included encouraging private initiative. DCC is a first-rate, well-oiled 25-member ensemble dancing machine that I saw in Havana in May 2018. The intimate 11-member Malpaso ensemble (including the two co-founding dancers) has the small is beautiful advantage, allowing it to collaborate closely with international choreographers, while also developing new voices in Cuban choreography, including within their ranks.

The company presented four works on January 11, two from old masters and two from their own. Merce Cunningham’s “Fielding Sixes” (Event Arrangement) (1980) was originally choreographed for 13 dancers and lasted 28 minutes. For Merce Cunningham Dance Company events, the music and design varied, but in the late 1990s, a new arrangement was made of the last 11 minutes. Malpaso performed this version with 8 dancers, staged by Jamie Scott and John Cage’s original music, “Improvisation IV,” three sets of 12 identical cassettes, all consisting of traditional Irish music on flute and fiddle. The group piece was very much in Cunningham’s distinct cool and abstract style, and featured recurring leaps forward, to the side and with a turn, which the classically trained ensemble executed with precision. Cage’s oft-dissonant music was sometimes overwhelming, but during times of silence or low volume, the dance was the thing.

Abel Rojo, one of Malpaso’s dancers, performed his first choreographic work, an engaging solo, “Carrying Floor” (2018), accompanied by Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1.” It explored the relationship between the dancer and his primary center of gravity, the stage floor. Rojo’s floor consisted of four discrete pieces, which he shifted into different configurations within a small area of the stage while dancing on them. Rojo has a strong physical presence, and his movements were graceful as a gazelle, slow, springy, fluid and effortless.

“Being” (Ser) (2018) was also company member Beatriz Garcia’s first effort. It was a trio in which she appeared with Dunia Acosta and Fernando Benet. Two women seemed to be fighting for the affections of the same man, or rather it was the odd woman out, who kept on inserting herself into the couple’s intimate movement space. She intertwined and enfolded herself within the pair. She was rejected, sometimes accepted and never far from them. The melancholy theme provided movement opportunities for great lifts, partnering variations and dramatic expression.

Israeli-born choreographer Ohad Naharin, who served as artistic director of the renowned Batsheva Dance Company until 2017, traveled to Cuba to restage his rarely performed “Tabula Rasa” (1986) for Malpaso, which the company premiered in Havana in May 2018, with ten dancers. The physically demanding piece contained a world of hurt, loss, rejection and sadness, expressed with Naharin’s hallmark foray into contrasts and extremes, breakneck movements and moments of stillness. In several duets, the couples struggled against each other. An interesting sequence was where one woman approached her partner, and another woman took him. She kept going to the other men and the pattern repeated until the last lone man rejected her. A belly crawling sequence, initiated a range of driving movements. Towards the end, the line of dancers moved/leaned/rocked so slowly onstage from audience right to left offstage, as if we could hear our breath slowing down as well. At the end of the piece, there was a lifeless body to mourn over, but also indifference. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s composition with the same name as the work, written in 1977, provided melancholy violins, which heightened the emotional ride.
Malpaso Dance Company in 'Tabula Rasa'.

Malpaso Dance Company in "Tabula Rasa".

Photo © & courtesy of Nir Arieli


Malpaso Dance Company in 'Tabula Rasa'.

Malpaso Dance Company in "Tabula Rasa".

Photo © & courtesy of Nir Arieli


Malpaso Dance Company in 'Tabula Rasa'.

Malpaso Dance Company in "Tabula Rasa".

Photo © & courtesy of Nir Arieli


Malpaso Dance Company in Merce Cunningham’s “Fielding Sixes” (Event Arrangement) (1980).

Malpaso Dance Company in Merce Cunningham’s “Fielding Sixes” (Event Arrangement) (1980).

Photo © & courtesy of Nir Arieli


Malpaso Dance Company in Merce Cunningham’s “Fielding Sixes” (Event Arrangement) (1980).

Malpaso Dance Company in Merce Cunningham’s “Fielding Sixes” (Event Arrangement) (1980).

Photo © & courtesy of Nir Arieli

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