Donald Hutera, The Times
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba was founded in 1959 — the same year as Fidel Castro’s revolution. Despite its long history the company is mainly known in this country for having performed with Carlos Acosta in his autobiographical production Tocororo. All that should change now that this group of sexy, vital dancers from Havana is taking centre stage on its first major UK tour.
The majority of venues are hosting the same triple bill that launched the tour in Newcastle this week. Two of the works rank among the most distinctive pieces of contemporary dance I expect to see all year. Each choreographer uses a unique and visceral movement vocabulary to probe and pluck at social unease.
Mark Monahan, Daily Telegraph
Facially and physically, they are as drop-dead gorgeous a clutch of people as you are ever likely to see in any one place at any one time. But, above all, it is the quality of their movement – a seamless and urgent fusion of Afro-Caribbean, Latin and modern-American – that holds the attention like glue.
The piece that showed them to best advantage is also, in many ways, the simplest. Set to heady Latin house music, much of Mambo 3XXI – by their gifted resident choreographer George Céspedes – has the air of a souped-up aerobics class: a step forward, then back; a shoulder raised, then lowered; a bounce to one side, then back again. Hardly earth-shattering stuff, you might think, yet these passages are performed in such perfect synch, and with such sexy intensity, that you can’t tear your eyes away.
This piece also contains several gorgeous little solos and duets in which dancers are let completely off the leash, and displays clever use of the stage, with five-strong clusters of performers darting between each other at extreme corners of it. There are also brief moments of uneasy stillness between sections, hinting perhaps at the escapist nature of dance.
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
In Demo-N/Crazy, Rafael Bonachela glories in the burnish of the company’s physicality. Like most of his work, this is a piece built around duets – men and women inventing ways of accommodating each other, using every part of their bodies for seduction and display, from wide swaggering jumps to the thoughtful nuzzling of a foot. There is a Spanish surrealist cast to some of Bonachela’s imagery; he has definite kinship with Buñuel. But his choreography operates through an implacable physical logic: it can be awesome watching these dancers push themselves through the work’s linear thrusts, flaring stretches and wrestling partnerwork.
In Folia (Carnival), the Dutch choreographer Jan Linkens addresses the company’s heritage more directly. Grazing across a range of Renaissance and modern music, including the famous La Folia theme, he creates a non-time-specific party mood, embracing courtly swaying duets, the delicate sashaying walk of a plantation belle and hip-swivelling salsa. You can sense a long Cuban history here, but at times it’s more portentous than fun. Linkens likes to punctuate his choreography with abrupt pauses that are possibly meant to be pregnant with meaning, but actually limit his options for elaborating more interesting phrases of movement.
Resident DCC choreographer George Céspedes also takes Cuban-ness as his subject. But Mamba 3XXI approaches it from a more satirical, knowing slant. The work opens with 21 dancers in strict formation, executing rigid little dance moves as if they were a military drill, and maintaining an obedient comic deafness to the seductive beat of the accompanying Latin music.
Neil Norman, The Express
If nothing else Cuba’s most prestigious modern dance company knows how to grab attention from the start.
When the 10 girls and 10 boys dressed in only white underwear come on to the stage there is a collective gasp from the audience. While it may not be entirely correct to allow our admiring gaze to roam over the lean, limber, dusky bodies it is an entirely appropriate response.
Formed in 1959 the group’s artistic identity is a perfect reflection of the spirit of the Revolution. This is a genuine collective: organic in the sweep of its movement, egalitarian in its refusal to allow star turns. All dancers are equal and none are more equal than others.
Jenny Gilbert, The Independent
Cubania – say it with the accent on the “i” and you’re halfway there – is the word Cubans use to describe their particular sunny-island outlook, their Cuban-ness.
More than a hybrid of Spanish and African, Cubania bespeaks a certain spontaneity, energy, and cheerful stoicism. So you expect some of that to inform the work of Cuba’s flagship contemporary dance company, which dates its existence from the very year of Castro’s revolution.
With such a rich stew of indigenous dance cultures to draw on, why look elsewhere for ideas? I admit to a small pang of disappointment on seeing that, of the four pieces the company is offering in various combinations on its first ever UK tour, three are commissions from European choreographers, one of whom is humourless, tin-eared flavour-of-the-moment Rafael Bonachela. While Bonachela’s name may be suitably Hispanic and his current trading value high, his credo has always seemed to me the opposite of energy and fun, his dances wilfully obscure, determinedly sour.