By Sharon Hoyer
This month, Chicagoans have their first opportunity to see Malpaso, the world-class Havana-based contemporary dance company, in motion. Malpaso visits the Dance Center of Columbia College March 9-11, performing two works from their repertory: Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz” and “24 hours and a dog” by the company’s founder and artistic director, Osnel Delgado. Delgado discussed the program and his five-year-old company in an email interview.
Why did you select these particular pieces for the program at the Dance Center of Columbia College?
The presenters have the freedom to select from our repertoire the choreographies that they consider would work best for their audiences. I guess that usually there are expectations on the new works and projects. Aszure’s work, our most recent collaboration with a guest choreographer, is very beautiful. “24 hours and a dog” conformed the program performed at the Joyce Theatre [New York] in our international debut; it has been in our repertory for two years. It is a work that we love very much and clearly expresses both Malpaso’s and my own choreographic features.
Can you tell me a little about the creation of “24 hours and a dog;” how the development of music and movement came together to evoke the streets of Havana?
At the time this choreography was developed, we didn’t have in our repertoire any collective work involving all the dancers of the company. It was a great opportunity for those dancers that were starting with us at the time to join the creative process. The piece is an abstract rendering of a day in the life of our dancers in Havana. Somehow, through the improvisation process, we reached the point in which the dancers turned out to be the characters of the story, which included an imaginary dog—a beautiful idea as most of us have pets, and dogs in particular. The work is structured in sections that resemble the routine of our daily existence—Walking the dog, Working in the studio, Lunch time, Chased by a dog, Daydream (duet), G street (Finale)—a gathering place where young, diverse people meet and interact mostly at night, mostly on weekends. It’s a site very close to our headquarters.
At first the idea was that Arturo [O’Farrill, Afro-Latin jazz composer and collaborator] would compose the music. However, he was so pleased when he saw the result of what we considered at the time a provisional work developed with existing music that he didn’t want to change it. He composed, though, an overture that was a dramaturgic necessity to the work, that he named “24 hours in a dog’s life.”
Our collaboration with Arturo has gone through three creative processes. Our last work is “Dreaming of Lions.” He created the score to this piece.
You’ve worked with several prominent American choreographers, including Aszure Barton, whose “Indomitable Waltz” is on the program at the Dance Center. How did these relationships develop?
Aszure, as well as all the guest choreographers we have worked with, have traveled to Havana to meet the company. Aszure and Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry (Jojo) spent around four weeks and the process was in two stages. The first to create the choreography and the second to premiere the work in Havana—that happened last September. Aszure arrived in the studio without pre-established choreographic material. She set specific patterns to the dancers to work in a process that showed positive and hidden aspects of each individual. It was a very interesting path. It was about quietness, patience, resistance and some light and darkness coming from our inner beings. “Indomitable Waltz” is a turning point in the company’s journey and reveals the relevance of learning from collaborations. Aszure faces the piece as a work in progress, deconstructing the material and remaking it over and over in constant change and evolution.
Your company is hailed as versatile and virtuosic. What is your philosophy on the training and development of dance artists in Malpaso?
Our dancers are all graduated from the Cuban National either ballet or modern dance schools. Some dancers had previous experiences in established dance ensembles. They are all different and very talented.
Ballet is the daily basic training of the company. We think that it is important to have a unifying technique without suffocating individualities. Of course, every choreographer working with us is welcome to teach; it is a way of approaching their singular styles and the work that they would develop. We usually train rigorously on a daily basis to keep and improve our standards.
We come from a dancing island; we manage movements quite easily. The challenge is to create interesting material to convey concrete and precise ideas. We prioritize the physicality and do not depend very much on scenography or props, granting to our bodies total relevance as the main tool to transmit those ideas.
Now that travel between Cuba and the United States is easier, how do you see dance making in Cuba (and the U.S.) evolving?
It’s true that during the last months we have seen some changes, a fruitful approach to both sides as we have much in common. It is also worthy to encourage the enjoyment of the differences. That is a right that both Americans and Cubans have. On top of that, the Cuban artistic dance is tightly connected to the American dance legacy, and there is much charm and sensuality that we might share throughout dance, music and other art expressions.
As a dance company we have been collaborating with American artists before the establishments of diplomatic relations, and we are committed to working to continue under any circumstance.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
We will enjoy and love Chicago despite the cold weather…! We have very good new and old friends there and colleagues that shared the stage with us in dance companies we worked with years ago. It will be wonderful to be with them. That engagement will close this leg of the tour through six cities. We hope that the audiences enjoy what we have to offer.
And to finish, I want to acknowledge that Malpaso is an associate company of the Joyce Theater Productions, that has been instrumental to our expansion and artistic development.
At the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, (312)369-8330. Thursday-Saturday, March 9-11 at 7:30. $30. For more info visit colum.edu/dancecenterpresents.