Sunday, September 5, 2010

Compañia de Danza Contemporánea

september 5

Today we went to a dance concert at the Gran Teatro de la Habana. Magnificent, imposing building right next to the capitol building. Huge, fifteen foot doors in the entryway, almost a foot thick. Gorgeous inside with four or five rings of seats upwards, newer red velvet seats that were pretty comfortable. We got complementary tickets from a friend of Maya's who is very involved in cultural programming. But for Cubans it cost 25 cuban pesos (about 1 CUC = a little more than 1 US dollar). For tourists or foreigners like us it would have cost 25 CUC. To put that amount of money in perspective, my friend Alejandro makes about 18CUC a month working as an accountant for an architectural firm.

The dance company that performed is, I think, the premier modern dance company in Havana. It's called Compañia de Danza Contemporánea, and we heard it consists of about fifty men and women.

The program we saw contained three pieces, and there was one other piece on the program that was performed a different day. What we saw was a collection of works by two guest artists, and a Cuban who is a principal dancer at the company.

The first work was a large cast: 10 women and 10 men. It began in somber silence, with a few male/female couples; the men were shirtless and wearing underwear, the women topless. It was an impressive opening, simply because of the beautiful bodies and my own surprise at seeing nudity at the very beginning of the program. But I soon realized that this exposure of the self seemed to be a very Cuban theme that the piece embodied.

What developed next was a ménage-a-trois that ended as the man chose one of the women and left the other one languishing on the ground. As the pair dissolved into the wings, the lone woman, still semi-nude, began a beautiful and sorrowful song in Spanish. She was joined by a different couple, who she watched dance a beautiful duet.

After the song was over, a new sound score with dissonant strings developed and amped up the energy. We saw more members of the cast than ever before, this time with a percussive energy that they passed back and forth between each partner. In incredibly virtuostic and complex ways, they manipulated each other--lifting, throwing, swinging, and pulling. With each moment I was more impressed with that aspect of the choreography. Their rapid changes in level and the way they often defied gravity were fantastic; but more surprising was the physical violence that punctuated the excellently rehearsed and complex trajectories through space: they slapped, tugged, and shook each other--both women and men equally.

This human quality of the work was both exciting and a little boring. While I was mesmerized by the acrobatic nature of the partnering and the immense technique of the dancers, the themes were tiresome for me. We saw men and women dancing together--passionately and violently. We saw trios--with their romantic implications fully developed. We saw men dancing with men, and women dancing with women--which I felt was a deliberate attempt to give the work some edge. These relationships were intermittently tumultuous and tender, all very human. But not terribly innovative or unique.

I suppose that the only resolution came at the end with a stillness that stood in stark contrast with the constant kinetic energy of the piece: the entire cast, all of humanity, doing headstands--all equally vulnerable, all quivering slightly to maintain their balance, all at rest.

It left me wondering what I could expect from dancers of such high quality...Something more profound? More irony? (The last dance I saw, after all, was by Mark Morris) I guess it reminded me how much I appreciate his work for its simplicity and beauty--and his supreme understanding and representation of all that is human.

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