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Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company Returns to Cleveland with Program of Quiet Brilliance


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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Malpaso Dance Company
Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
August 10, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

With previous performances in Cleveland in 2016 and 2017, Malpaso Dance Company’s return this past Saturday to Playhouse Square and the Allen Theatre felt like seeing a dear friend again.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with American Dance Festival to close out the third annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland, the Cuban contemporary dance company this time offered up a triple bill of quiet yet emotionally riveting dance works.  

Their evening program began with choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s 2017 commissioned work, “Face The Torrent”.  Choreographed in part during a creative residency provided by DANCECleveland, the work , said Tayeh in a Facebook live interview, was inspired by her recent concerns over “the state of the world” and an urge to “unify, rally and gather.”

Best known for her choreography for Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical and her Emmy Award-nominated work on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, Tayeh brought some of that same rich emotional content that made her a darling of SYTYCD fans to “Face The Torrent”.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Sonya Tayeh’s “Face the Torrent”. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Danced to music by cellist/composer Colette Alexander with folk duo The Bengsons, the 20-minute piece for 8 dancers began with the cast in a horizontal line across the back of the stage moving in a slow cautious walk forward evoking a feeling of impending doom in their demeanor, one that Tayeh says she incorporated into the work after having intense dreams of a huge body of water coming at her.  

Led by dancer Abel Rojo who appeared particularly struck by whatever dark forces were descending on the dancers, Rojo often broke from the dancers’ unison walks in lines across the stage to sink into pained cowering with his arms shielding his face and head.

The dancers’ straight line walking then gave way to embracing and intertwining movement with the cast pairing off in male/female couples as Alexander’s haunting cello music became invaded by distorted whispers of a female voice saying “I wonder how to cope with this?” Tayeh’s velvety partnered movement in this section was the picture of beauty and melancholy and Malpaso’s dancers radiated both. Stark, dramatic and carefully-crafted, “Face The Torrent” left a lasting impression.

Next was company dancer Beatriz Garcia’s debut work for Malpaso, “Being (Ser)” (2018). The 12-minute trio set music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso was danced by Garcia, Dunia Acosta and Armando Gomez.

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(L-R) Malpaso Dance Company’s Armando Gomez, Dunia Acosta and Beatriz Garcia in Beatriz Garcia’s “Being (Ser)”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Costumed in all white and dancing in socks, the trio of performers spent the first part of the work repeatedly traversing the stage in idiosyncratic solo movement phrases that entered from one side of the stage and exited the other.  Those solo riffs then turned into duets and a trio as the work progressed. Garcia’s contemporary dance choreography favored movement that bent and twisted the dancers’ shoulders and torsos, and like “Face The Torrent”, had the trio bunching and intertwining their bodies in close-quartered movement phrases. The work was a fine effort for the promising choreographer that fit right in with the style and quality of the works in the company’s diverse repertory. One hopes to see more from Garcia as choreographer for the company in addition to her adroit dancing.

The program then closed with another thoughtful and atmospheric work, Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”, set to music of the same name by composer Arvo Pärt.

Created on nearby Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986 (and who inexplicably haven’t performed it in over 20 years), the over 30-year-old, 30-minute modern dance piece whose title means “clean slate”, felt like a newly-minted work on Malpaso’s 10 dancers who appeared to own the former Batsheva Dance Company director’s “gaga” movement language as if it were a part of their upbringing.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Naharin’s simply structured unison movement phrases for the work full of leans and sways was an adept counterpoint to Pärt’s passionate string music that tore at one’s soul with a desperate longing.  And while Naharin’s clever choreography did not parallel the music’s aching, the choreographer did incorporate into it a few heartbreaking moments. One such scene had the dancers pairing off with one dancer charging into the other’s arms in desperate embraces. Ms. Acosta made such a charge only to have her male partner turn his back on her at the last moment causing her to crash to the floor stunned and dejected.

“Tabula Rasa” is prime example of Naharin’s early genius as a choreographer. A precursor to his often performed masterwork “Minus 16” (1999), it is itself masterful and was a fitting closer to Malpaso’s program that wowed the Allen Theatre audience with its emotion and exquisite music and thoughtful dancing. A standing ovation was given from the appreciative audience signaling a hope that Malpaso will continue to make Cleveland a regular stop on future U.S. tours.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Caleb Teicher & Company program perfect summer fare to close out ‘ADF in CLE’ dance festival


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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Caleb Teicher & Company
Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
August 4, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Playful, may be the best way to describe New York-based Caleb Teicher & Company’s program, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater in Cleveland Heights. The trio of dance works choreographed by two and a half year old dance company’s namesake artistic director Caleb Teicher, mixed tap, jazz and swing dance styles and were all about having fun, showing out and entertaining the hell out of the assembled audience in the process.

Teicher, 24, hails from Mahopac, New York and made a name for himself right out of high school. Only 17 he garnered a 2011 Bessie Award for Outstanding Individual Performance while dancing with Dorrance Dance (who appeared as part of DANCECleveland’s 2015-16 season). He was also chosen for Dance Magazine’s prestigious “25 to Watch” list in 2012 and was the winner of Dance Magazine’s “Best Emerging Choreographer” Reader’s Choice Award in 2016.

For Teicher & Company’s program, which closed out the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, the comedic work “Small & Tall” led things off.

The vaudevillian duet, performed by Lindsey Jones (the tall one) and Macy Sullivan (the small one), pitted the two vertically opposed dancers in stereotypical, but humorous, dance banter centered on the disparity in their heights.

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(L-R) Lindsey Jones and Macy Sullivan in “Small & Tall”. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Set to songs from the 1920s and 30s including Fats Waller’s “We The People” recorded by former Squirrel Nut Zippers vocalist Tamar Korn and pianist Peter Mintun, Teicher brought a freshness to the age-old bit with some novel choreographic moments that were executed wonderfully by Jones and Sullivan.

The work began with the pair barrel-rolling inward from opposite sides of the stage which initially disguised the dancers’ heights and set up the inevitable laugh-getting reveal when Jones stood up to tower over Sullivan. The two then began a series of visual gags with the shorter Sullivan peeking out from under and around Jones, attempting to lift and move Jones about, and the pair competitively messing with one another such as tossing the other’s costume pieces into the Amphitheater’s empty orchestra pit.  “Small & Tall’s” finest dancing came when the pair began to one-up each other in physical choreography that included several acrobatic lifts and jumps as well as some tap dancing sans the tap shoes.  The work set the tone for the carefree and competitive dancing that would permeate the rest of the enjoyable program.

Next came Teicher’s group work “Variations,” danced to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations BWV 988” and “Fugue in E, BWV 878”.  It was the audience’s first look at the talented Teicher as dancer. In a tap solo to begin the work, he started slowly and then in time with the music, gradually built up the solo’s pace and technical difficulty. Soon he was joined by dancers Brittany DeStefano and Gabriel Winns Ortiz and as in “Small & Tall,” the three of them engaged in playful dance banter teasing one another, trying to outdo the other, and revealing that their goofing was actually some quality dancing by some really talented dancers.

Fast footwork, dazzling tricks and solid comedic timing enriched each series of dance phrases and vignette in the work. In one such moment, the dancers along a horizontal line appeared to chase one another as a unit back and forth in rapid-fire tapping and sliding steps. In other phrases, the trio appeared to move side-to-side like slalom skiers and chugged along making the sound of a passing train.

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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Joining the work halfway in was dancer Byron Tittle who performed a measured tap solo with his back to the audience for most of it.  Then, in perhaps the work’s best comedic moment, one by one DeStefano, Ortiz and Tittle with balletic grace swooned to the floor as if passing out while Teicher continued to dance. Unable to rouse them, Teicher, as if in an episode of sitcom “I Love Lucy,” decided to join them.  Moments later, to the giggles of audience members, he popped his head up to see if the others were awake and returned to fake slumber. Finally giving up on his ruse, Teicher began another adroit solo which by its end saw the others suddenly awaken to applaud him.

The program then concluded with the dynamic “Meet Ella”.  Performed to classic tunes by Ella Fitzgerald from a 1958 live concert in Rome and a 1960 concert in Berlin, the piece was a tour de force of jazz, silent tap and swing dancing delivered by Teicher and co-choreographer Nathan Bugh.  With the grace and moxie of Gene Kelly and the zinger attitude of a Bing Crosby, Bob Hope “Road” movie, Teicher and Bugh were at times best buddies and friendly adversaries in the finely-crafted duet born out of improvisation.

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Nathan Bugh and Caleb Teicher in “Meet Ella”. Photo by Em Watson.

Dancing to Fitzgerald singing “That Old Black Magic,” the pair hit the ground running in the work with a zippy swing duet that saw Teicher get flipped around. Then, taking their cue from Fitzgerald singing “Love is Here to Stay,” the pair held hands and refused to let go.

The duet was a lark wrapped up in clever choreography that validated the recent acclaim that Teicher & Company have been receiving.

Most memorable was a section to the song “Midnight Sun” in which the pair spun dreamily in circles as if the two were on an invisible turntable.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Hubbard Street Masterful in National Dance Day Performance at ADF in CLE


 

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s hotly anticipated performance at the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival in Cleveland was a family affair of sorts. All five of the works on the program, Saturday, July 28, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, were by choreographers from within the Hubbard Street family including three by former company dancer and current resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

The program, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, led off with Cerrudo’s latest work and perhaps his best to date, “Out of Your Mind” (2018). Created for the company’s 40th anniversary season, the “sock” work was inspired by and titled after, a lecture by 20th century British philosopher Alan Watts. A recording of Watts reading excerpts from his thought-provoking lecture about the nature of the self, was incorporated into the work’s soundtrack that also included music by Canadian DJ duo Blond:ish, American composer Keith Kenniff (a.k.a Goldmund), and English composer Greg Haines. It is the first time Cerrudo has used text in one of his creations.

While the work’s title can imply a loss of one’s sanity, Cerrudo says he sees the title as meaning “thinking outside of your mind.” It was apparent from watching it that his thought process was without restraint and truly inspired.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Connie Shiau in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Abstract and darkly atmospheric, the contemporary dance work for fifteen dancers began with group unison dancing in a series of ever-changing body positions with shifting hand and arm movements; some having the dancers’ arms swarm about their heads. Watching the precision dancing was spellbinding and Hubbard Street’s adroit dancers were exquisite in it.

As the piece progressed, group dancing gave way to various smaller dancer configurations. A duet between dancers Rena Butler and David Schultz fascinated as did a male trio in which two dancers held up and rotated in place a third in a headstand; the upside down dancer frozen in a pose looking as if he were trying to flee. The work’s many dazzling movement phrases came at you as if looking into a kaleidoscope.

The work’s final section then returned the full cast onstage, this time with the dancers entwined arm-in-arm in a line executing cascading and wave-like movements along that line that sometimes resembled a centipede in motion.

Sure to take its place as a signature work of Cerrudo’s, “Out of Your Mind” was far and away the best piece on a program filled with worthy runners-up.

Next, the curtain opened on a brief but visually startling ballooning of a large piece of parachute-like fabric that was quickly yanked into a stage wing revealing a dancer pair with a female dancer lifted over her male partner’s head and positioned in front of another large swath of similar fabric hung as a backdrop. The opening theatrics were part of former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ 2017 dance work for the company, “Cloudline”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Set to a varied soundscape by Sufjan Stevens, Olafur Arnalds and others, the work, after its dramatic opening, slipped into a dreamlike haze conjuring up the hypnotic and surreal mood of the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks.

Delivered in a series of delicious moving tableaux that drifted across the stage like a line of clouds, each tableau hinted at the joys and heartache associated with being in a romantic relationship or at the longing felt by one who is not. In one such tableau, a male dancer stood still staring into the wings at a back corner of the stage while dancers Alice Klock and Schultz engaged in sweeping and enveloping movement at its center, and a male/female couple sat pressed together at the front left of the stage watching them.

Over the course of “Cloudline” the fabric backdrop slowly sank to the floor like a setting sun and the dancers then used it to make it appear as if a few of them were dancing among the clouds. The piece then ended as dramatically as it began with a male/female couple in an embrace and tented by the billowing fabric, this time magically disappearing in the whoosh of fabric bring yanked off stage and replaced by a forlorn Jacqueline Burnett standing staring after them.

After a brief intermission, the other two Cerrudo’s works were shown beginning with his often performed, “Lickety-Split” (2006).  Danced to the folksy music of Venezuelan American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, “Lickety-Split” had a small town, back roads breeziness to it.  In it, you could see the early craft of a choreographic mind that would twelve years later be ready to birth a gem like “Out of Your Mind”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Alicia Delgadillo and Elliot Hammans in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Sprinkled with carefree play and a touch of humor, the work’s bendy, elongated contemporary dance movement proved as delightfully quirky as the music it was danced to. In one section to Banhart’s tune “This Beard is for Siobhan” a dancer is seen banging their nose on another’s butt cheek while we hear Banhart sing “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out dancing and show them a real good time.”

A last minute replacement for choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine” due to lighting requirements that couldn’t be met, Cerrudo’s “PACOPEPEPLUTO” (2011) was another piece of choreographic kitsch wrapped in some serious solo male dancing by Schultz and dancers Kevin J. Shannon and Michael Gross. Set to classic songs by Dean Martin including “Memories Are Made of This” and “That’s Amore,” the work, usually performed wearing nothing but a “dance belt” (jockstrap), had the performers here opting for a more full coverage bottoms. In those, keisters wiggled, hips gyrated and the men leaped and bounded about the stage to the approving shouts of audience members.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Florian Lochner, above) in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard’s program concluded with a signature work from its repertory Stone Age prior to the company becoming the global contemporary dance juggernaut audiences have come to know and love. Choreographed by company founder Lou Conte in 1978, “The 40s” was nonetheless a beauty of a jazz dance piece performed to big band music by Sy Oliver. Fast, light-footed and full of Broadway  “cool cat” spunk, the work unfolded like a grand Gene Kelly movie production number. It was a joyous end to a monster evening of dance capped by a rousing standing ovation from the audience.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

The ADF in CLE summer dance festival concludes with Caleb Teicher & Company (Tap), 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater. For information and tickets visit ADFinCLE.org

 

 

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Filed under Dance Reviews 2018, DANCECleveland