Danza Contemporánea de Cuba
Sombrisa, Carmen?!, Mambo 3XXI
London, Sadler’s Wells
29 May 2012
The dancers of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba are a fabulously talented bunch and it’s a pleasure to see them back at Sadler’s Wells. It would be even more of a pleasure if all the choreography in their programme was the same quality as the dancing. But nevertheless you should go to see them if you can get the chance (their UK tour continues in June to Milton Keynes and Salford) and enjoy their charisma, commitment and casual virtuosity.
The programme opened with a new work, Sombrisa by Itzik Galili. He is very much the choreographer of the moment – Rambert presented a new work by him at Sadler’s last week. Earlier work such as A Linha Curva would suggest he would be a good fit for the sheer physical relish that the Cubans bring to their dancing. But Sombrisa did not really sustain its initial impact.
The work is set to Steve Reich’s Drumming no 1. (All the music for the programme is recorded, but the sound quality of the amplification is not ideal). Galili deploys eighteen dancers dressed in white shirts and black shorts or skirts – and all wearing boxing gloves. The gloves rather surprisingly don’t prevent partnering. There are moments where dancers pose as if squaring up in the ring but these are few. The dancers all have such strong individual identities: it seemed a pity that the choreography didn’t exploit this more. There’s a lot of unison work, picked out by excellent lighting from Yaron Abulafia. The dancers begin with quite cool expressions but gradually warmth breaks through. A line of women advancing out of the gloom grinning broadly and demonstrating that they know exactly what to do with their hips was a great moment. Much of the work though seemed to repeat the same ideas without developing them.
Kenneth Kvarnström is a Finnish choreographer: his work Carmen?! gives us seven male dancers appearing to the Shchredrin arrangement of the Carmen Suite. This is an oddity: it’s a playful and at times endearing gloss on the characters and events in Carmen where the men get to play all the characters. Hence we have bulls and a bullfight: the fluttering hands of the men are women’s fans. There’s no attempt at any clear narrative line and the work does effectively expect the audience to know the Carmen story. (And people say ballet is confusing…). It is both a homage to Carmen and a send-up at the same time. It certainly does exploit the versatility of the dancers: they aren’t afraid to be feminine when asked to be. There are some memorable moments: all seven men in a line hopping across the stage, each holding the leg of the dancer in front of him. There were plenty of audience giggles and the dancers’ commitment to the material is exemplary, but there is a nagging sense that the work itself is a slight vehicle for so much talent.
It was the final work in which the dancers really got their teeth into something more substantial. George Céspedes is a dancer with the company and it’s heartening to see that the best work on the programme comes from within the company rather than from an external choreographer. Mambo 3XXI was a hit in its previous visit here in 2010 and proves very popular with the audience again. It is set to happily-danceable Cuban music. The dancers begin in simple black and white costumes, in neat lines making simple, almost robotic movements. But from there we move via a series of duets and costume changes to end in what looks like one of the world’s best parties. The dancers look completely at home in this and their individual qualities emerge most clearly. They look like they are having a fabulous time and so are we.