Fantastically Varied Fusion

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Brighton Dome, 7 March 2017

A mixed evening of virtuosity, gender, play and politics. 

If you like virtuosic dance, want a fun night out and are interested in seeing the fantastically varied fusion that is Cuban Contemporary Dance technique, then this is the triple bill for you. If you’re looking for socially minded and humanistic dance, then look elsewhere. Leaving your socio-political hat at the door, don’t miss this company as the dancers are truly phenomenal.

Reversible, by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

We are greeted by a flock of female dancers in trousers and a flock of male dancers opposite in skirts framing a male-female couple center-stage wearing nothing but white briefs. So this is a piece about the Reversibl-ity of gender roles, perhaps? The topless duet center-stage is entwined, powerful and athletic until, struck by a sudden pang of shame, the boobs retreat to a skin coloured crop, and the duet dissipates. Throughout we are treated to dynamic technique, acrobatic partnering and the kind of torso and hip articulation that you only get from professional fusion dancers. 

A familiar set of gender stereotypes are played out throughout the work with little variation on a binary hetero-normative theme; disappointing given the title of the work. A sexually charged dance battle between the genders plays out, with men dishing out hungry sexual advances and controlling partner-work with the female dancers, sadly the roles do not appear reversed at any point, solely that the women take on the roles dished out. There was a single fleeting male-male duet but this definitely did not hint at anything other than platonic engagement between men. There was a moment (refreshing given the context) where a gaggle of male dancers displayed a sense of joy in male unity, without aggression or ego, and I wanted more of this. It was a shame not to see similar moments dedicated solely to female unity.

The Listening Room, by Theo Clinkard

Against the actual back wall of the theatre (including loading doors), the dancers started on stage eyes closed, listening to headphones in a slow motion silent disco. In small choruses they start and stop together, improvising in this simple game of idiosyncratic togetherness. This is play time for dancers - professional, exceptionally skilled dancers - whose personalities have been drawn out in their movement styles, which is a delight to watch. 

The piece reminded me of the Ultima Vez work from 1980s – What The Body Does Not Remember (WTBDNR) – that, at the time, caused controversy as Wim Vanderkeybus had ‘put theatre games on stage and called it dance theatre’ (though it stands the test of time and is still a relevant and engaging work). Many creative tasks commonly used in dance were recognizable here, almost in their game form, and though the work did develop and move forward, this verged on self-indulgent and detached at times. Quick and complex formations moved the work into a different phase, dancers crossing pathways so closely that it gave a similar sense of aliveness as WTBDNR’s breeze block scene (though perhaps without the social commentary). There were other interesting choices in how the movement of solos or duets were framed behind the rest of the cast, which added depth. If you’re comfortable watching dance for the sake of dance, you’ll love this piece. 

Matria Etnocentra, by George Cespedes

An unspecific political theme is instantly rammed down our throats from the start with a long section of marching, faces full of attitude and the angular gesturing you would expect to see in a military display, not to mention the army boots, khaki combat trousers and white t-shirts with a single red/blue star on the chest, oh and the machine gun music. The movement developed almost into a parody of tutting or voguing, with a cheesy 90s-esque hip-hop soundtrack, but without any further development, this felt out of place. The choreographic devises throughout felt basic – for example after a few rounds of combat dances – first solo dancers running on, doing their bit and running off, we have duets, then a few rounds of trios, then… quartets. And, after an interlude of more marching… a sextet and octet. 

Toward the end, the mood changes suddenly, the machine gun music switches to something more carnivalesque. Some of the movements we saw in the rigid military gesturing now became softened and recognizable as folk/social dances, and we are prompted to perhaps think about how soldiers during war were actually just normal everyday people otherwise. The dancers' faces were not celebratory or proud to match the soundtrack; they are as stone cold as at the beginning, which is clearly a deliberate decision. Was the choreographer hinting that the Cuban Revolution leaves its mark even today? Or are the dancers the face of a new wave of revolution, bringing their culture and unity to make a stand? After so much posturing about a political theme (the costuming, marching, machine gun music, etc.), the content and message were lacking.

Once again, I reiterate, if you like virtuosic dance, want a fun night out and are interested in seeing the fantastically varied fusion that is Cuban Contemporary Dance technique, then this is the triple bill for you. If you’re looking for socio-political dance, look elsewhere. Don’t miss this company, as the dancers are truly phenomenal.

Elise Phillips