Malpaso Dance Company swung into The Soraya on the notes of Jazz great Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble. These intrepid dancers, waylaid in Florida by Hurricane Ian, still made their way to the beautiful Northridge theater ready, willing and oh so able to, dance. For one night only Oct., 13th,  Malpaso dazzled with technical prowess. Though not all the choreography hit the mark, the dancers never faltered.

Co-commissioned by the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at Cal State Northridge, “Stillness In Bloom” by hot, contemporary choreographer, Aszure Barton, was the evening’s first offering. In silence the dancers contract inwardly as if hit in the gut by a strong breeze, which moves them gently backwards, while holding their hands in loose fists. Slowly, maybe too slowly, this builds, as more dancers join and the backward movement intensifies into compelling patterns. With the intro of the piano and a Chet Baker style trumpet, by noted musician, Ambrose Akinmusire, the movement follows with long languid, lunges, extensions and gorgeous reaches. Though together, each dancer is working in solitude. Ms. Barton is successful in her commitment to the intricacies of the music, sounds and rhythm and it is possible to see the movement bloom from the stillness, but the deeper connection is missing. This becomes an intellectual exercise and loses its visceral connection to the audience and the dancers to each other. They, however, make the most of every move and are so good one felt almost seduced into the moment, but not quite. A distraction was the use of unattractive rehearsal clothes when something as simple as color coordination would have helped. The moody lighting is by Nicole Pearce. Music composition is by Ambrose Akinmusire and the dancers credited as, The Company are, Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aquilar, Osvaldo Cardero, Daileidys Carrazana, Osnel Delgado, Leonardo Dominguez, Leyna Gonzales, Heriberto Menseses, Daniela Mirellis, Danny Rodriquez Quintana, and Diego Donald Tapanes Valdes.

Malpaso Dance Company in Aszure Barton's Stillness in Bloom" - Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Malpaso Dance Company in Aszure Barton’s
Stillness in Bloom” – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Swedish choreographer Mats Ek brought “woman with water” to the stage. Skillfully danced by Dunia Acosta and Osenel Delgado this goes nowhere. There is a woman in an orange dress, a green table, a man in a suit, a glass and a pitcher of water. Is she in an institution, having a nervous breakdown or trying to kill herself? Is he the evil doctor, a lost lover or a murderer? Ek’s work is clearly influenced by Martha Graham but he is without her magical touch. He never allows us to understand the motivation or the emotion behind the movement leaving one in a vacuum of emptiness. Well danced, yes, but a hint of clarity would bring insight and perhaps elevate this piece to another level.The soundscape/music is by Fleshquartet. Lighting design is by Ellen Ruge.

Malpaso Dance Company in "woman with water" by Mats Ek - Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Malpaso Dance Company in “woman with water” by Mats Ek – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

After the intermission, the curtain rises and Arturo O’Farrill’s live eight-piece band is waiting and ready to go. Having a live band onstage is a treat for both the dancers and the audience and having a band of this caliber makes it even better. When the horn section hits us with the first hot licks of the overture to O’Farrill’s “24 Hours and a Dog Suite” we know we are in good hands. The next four sections with choreography by Artistic Director, Osenel Delgado, in collaboration with the dancers, should allow for everyone to cut loose and groove to the fantastic band but though more lighthearted the serious undertone is never lost. The references to “Walking The Dog” or “Chased By a Dog,” etc., are heeded only in the most superficial ways. As always the company executes every step to perfection but more fun would have been welcome and appropriate, especially given the energy of the live music. The final piece of the suite was “Tanguano/G Street,” based on music by the one and only Astor Piazzolla. Because there is a melody and a pulse that wraps around the listener, this piece drew the room together with visceral energy. The dancers responded with wonderful heartfelt choreography that finally allowed their passion and joy to shine through. This was the penultimate moment of the night, with the band, the dancers and the audience locked as one. More work like this will bring Malpaso Dance Company the recognition they so deserve.

Malpaso Dance Company in "24 Hours and a Dog" by Osenel Delgado - Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Malpaso Dance Company in “24 Hours and a Dog” by Osenel Delgado – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

Malpaso is a young company having been established in 2012. They have come a long way in ten years and are already “one of the most sought after Cuban dance companies with an international profile.”  Technically capable of anything put before them, the company would benefit from seeking out work that challenges their vision of themselves. More joy, more real sensuality/sexuality and more attention to their very unique roots, might move this company from most sought after “Cuban Dance Company” to most sought after “Dance Company,” period. They have what it takes; let’s see what happens next.

The top-notch band members of The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble were Arturo O’Farrill, piano and Artistic Director; Ivan Renta, Saxophone; Jim Seely, Trumpet; Remee Ashley, Trombone; Vince Cherico, Bass; Carly Maldonado, Percussion; Keisel Jimenez, Congas; and Liany Mateo, Bass.

Lighting Design for “24 Hours and a Dog Suite,” was by Al Crawford and Costume Design was by Eric Glass.

To learn more about the Malpaso Dance Company, please visit their website.

To see the entire performance season at Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, please visit their website.

Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Malpaso Dance Company in Aszure Barton’s “Stilless in Bloom” – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography