The Malpaso Dance Company was founded just six years ago and with the aid of Joyce Theater Productions, it has already drawn the attention of world renown choreographers and become one of the most sought-after Cuban dance companies in the U.S. and abroad. The company is presently touring with the 1980 work Fielding Sixes choreographed by Merce Cunningham, and the March 20, 2019 program at the Irvine Barclay Theatre included works by Artist Director/Choreographer Osnel Delgado, and choreographers Aszure Barton and Sonya Tayeh. It is a company with a cast of 11 brilliant dancer artists who brought the Irvine Barclay Theatre audience to the feet with their stage presence, technical prowess, acting abilities, and their grace.

Choreographed in 2016 by Aszure Barton, Indomitable Waltz was a stunning work filled with incredible musicality; duets, trios and group sections that melted together and separated seamlessly. A quality of movement that I am compelled to describe as an awkward sensuality. Created to waltzes by Alexander Balanescu, Michael Nyman, and Nils Frahm, the dancers move in and out of Barton’s movement with a taste of the samba. It was a delicious mind twisting experience to hear waltz music and see couples performing duets with a samba flair.

Indomitable Waltz was also a work that expressed the title’s definition of indomitable. It emitted a sense of strength and invulnerability. I was easily moved to thinking about the political situation in Cuba and the fortitude of its people. The dance spoke to their impregnable spirit and refusal to be entirely conquered.  There were groupings in Barton’s work where the dancers met, welcomed each other, and separated into smaller but stronger numbers. One duet divided into two which morphed again into trios and again into the full cast of eight, all directed by the effortless genius of Barton’s choreographic vision. The movement drifted by as if the dancers were creating the dance right then and there.

The work ended with a powerful solo performed by the amazingly talented Dunia Acosta. Because of Acosta’s brilliance, the solo was heartbreakingly innocent and moving.

Indomitable Waltz was not a work that “blew our socks off”, but one that drew the audience in and held them close until it was time to go.  We saw and felt the chemistry between the performers, heard their nonverbal conversations, and wished to be included in their samba waltz.

The truly amazing cast of Indomitable Waltz included Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aguilar, Maria Karla Araujo, Fernando Benet, Daileidys Carrazana, Manuel Durán, Abel Rojo, and Lisbeth Saad. The costumes were designed by Fritz Masten and the beautiful lighting that encased and brought the dancers so clearly to the observers was designed by Nicole Pearce.

Ocaso was choreographed by the company’s Founder, Artistic Director and Choreographer Osnel Delgado in 2013. Ocaso translates into English as sunset or sundown. Ocaso was yet another relationship duet that sadly brought little new to the familiar theme. Its uniqueness, however, was in how Delgado managed to state the couple’s shifting emotions of love, disagreement, reconciliation, and longevity into a dance that traversed along a single path.

The dance was disappointing as an artistic work but saved by the beautiful performances of Osnel Delgado and Beatriz Garcia. It had the feel of a couple walking together at dusk aided by the lighting design by Matt Miller. Costumes by Delgado reflected those of other creatures in nature. He was dressed in bright floral shirt and salmon hued trousers, while she was presented in all black.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Face the Torrent, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh - Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

The final work on the program was a haunting piece by New York based choreographer Sonya Tayeh. Face the Torrent (2017) began with the sounds of fog horns in the distance and the cast of eight dancers lined across the stage and walking defiantly toward us. While the line continued to travel downstage and then upstage, faces turning to look back at us with suspicion or distrust, the center male (Abel Rojo) began slowly to unravel. A single woman (Daileidys Carrazana) tried to comfort him. The line continued their defiant walk until Rojo’s collapse.

A woman’s voice was heard within the music score Seed/Stem/Calix by Colette Alexander with The Bengsons, that was not always understandable, but which evoked the sense of urgency and questioning. Single lightbulbs were hung along the back curtain at different levels that came on separately and in groups to enhance the already stark lighting by Nicole Pearce.

The choreography was not as seamless as the first work by Aszure Barton, but I came away with a clear sense of suppression and repression of a people. It did not matter who exactly these people were, but only whatever the torrent of words or actions facing us, that we gather strength through their defiance in order to overcome the obstacles before us. At times, Tayeh’s movement was gnarled, awkward and heavy, but she expertly combined it all together with the company’s beautiful technique to create a compelling statement of survival.

The cast consisted of Dunia Acosta, Esteban Aguilar, Maria Karla Araujo, Daileidys Carrazana, Fernando Benet Manuel Durán, Beatriz Garcia, and Abel Rojo. The striking costumes were designed by Karen Young.

If you missed this performance, the Malpaso Dance Company is performing this weekend, March 28-30, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Next for the company is a new creation from Robyn Mineko Williams (of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) as well as the acquisition of a specially extended version of Mats Ek’s solo Woman with Water.

For information on the Malpaso Dance Company, click here.

For information on the Irvine Barclay Theatre, click here.

For more information and tickets to see the Malpaso Dance Company at the Wallis, click here.

Featured image: Malpaso Dance Company in Face the Torrent by Sonya Tayeh – Photo: Rose Eichenbaum.