Danza Contemporánea de Cuba’s recent run at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh was a powerful consideration of culture and identity, brought to life by a superbly talented cast of dancers. Its three sections represented widely differing concepts and influences but each was explored with the same intensity, vibrancy and charisma that has been associated with the company for the over half a century of its existence.
The first, ‘Reversible’, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, was a striking and elegant piece concerned with the representation and re-imagining of gender roles, expectations and stereotypes. It opened with two figures, one male and one female, each naked except for a pair of black briefs, carried at shoulder height by their fellow dancers around the stage. What began as surprising with the unconventional nudity became natural and unremarkable as the piece progressed, with the body losing its social connotations and the male and female forms becoming interchangeable. The dancing itself reflected the same themes of natural, unrestricted power and unity, with the dancers taking it in turns to perform duets filled with sensuality, relying mutually on their partners’ strength throughout. The raw strength and precision of the dancers made the piece a celebration of the power of both sexes and gave a compelling impression of sensuality, sexuality, and passion.
The second of the three dances, ‘The Listening Room’, provided a stark contrast to Ochoa’s elegant, fluid choreography. It was an interesting commentary on the technological age’s merging of individuality, and following on from the raw beauty of the human interaction in ‘Reversible’ it highlighted the loss of this connection in the modern world. Choreographed by Theo Clinkard, its dancing was choppy, the dancers moving independently and without relation to each other. This technique grew slightly monotonous and hard to follow after a while, but was saved from losing the audience’s attention altogether by the intriguing urgency and impulsivity of the movements. The dancers wore over-stimulatingly bright clothes (perhaps compensating for their solitude), though they were in a limited palate of colours which gave the aesthetic a contrived and surreal appearance. Throughout the piece each dancer was ‘listening’ to a set of earphones, separated from both audience and each other, which detracted from the expected interaction of dance. Compared to the first piece, Clinkard’s had less synchronicity and was less visually appealing which tested the audience’s attention: a shorter piece would perhaps have done more justice to the concept.
The final performance, created by the company’s in-house choreographer, George Céspedes, progressed from the disengaged individualism of Clinkard’s piece to the dancers moving in precise and absolute unison. The dance, ‘Matria Etnocentra’ explored militaristic influences and was evidently proudly Cuban in style and story. To an accompaniment of metallic drumming, the company folded and unfurled into military formations with inhuman exactness, becoming machinery at first and then dissolving into energetic duets and solos and breaking passionately from the mould of mechanical synchronicity. Rhythm and energy abounded and the dance seemed to represent both the communal strength of the company and their countrymen, and an individual freedom within their collective culture. It collated the ideas of both previous pieces and transformed them into something larger – a reflection on human connections, nature and belonging. While the piece had a clear political undertone, it was interesting to see the choreography explore expressions of individual liberation within this framework of community strength.
In all, this was a vibrant and diverse evening of dance and a dynamic celebration of collective and individual identity. With the exception of the perhaps excessive length of the second dance, the performances were exciting and energetic and the interjection of Cuban exuberance and style was a welcome stimulant on a windy Edinburgh night.
Reviewer: Jess Cowie