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Cuba’s Malpaso Dances Its Way Into Cleveland Audiences’ Hearts Again


Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

While Cuba may only be 103 miles from the United States at its closest point, for many it is worlds away in its mystery as a land seemingly caught in time. So when Cuban contemporary dance company Malpaso returned to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre (they previously performed there in 2016) for two free performances, that immense curiosity once again translated into packed houses to see them.

Sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation as part of their Creative Fusion: Cuba Edition, and presented by DANCECleveland as a launch to their 2017-18 season, Malpaso proved once again they are more than mere curiosity, they are a world-class dance troupe with a unique fusion of influences and styles.

Their program on June 3, began as their previous Cleveland one did with company artistic director Osnel Delgado’s 13-minute duet “Ocaso” (Sunset), set to music by Kronos Quartet, Max Richter and English electronic music duo Autechre.

As the stage lights came up on dancers Daile Carrazana and Abel Rojo they had their backs to the audience. Side-by-side, arms wrapped around each other they then walked toward the back of the stage like lovers out on a stroll.  At times, each dropped and dipped their body at the other’s side; perhaps a metaphor for the ups and downs common in a romantic relationship. This vision of a couple’s intimate bond played out throughout the duet manifesting itself in changes in the mood of the work, and in the emotions conveyed by the two dancers who were intently expressive in their happiness as well as in their strife in Delgado’s illustrative choreography.

Never straying far from each other’s touch, the dancers swirled around each other like milkweed seeds floating on a breeze. They embraced, leaned on each other and occasionally pushed themselves apart from the other at an energetic pace. From time-to-time that pace was broken by a dancer reclining on the stage floor such as when the tall, but surprisingly nimble Rojo, tenderly lowered mighty mite Carrazana to floor as if she had fallen into slumber.


Malpaso dancers in Osnel Delgado’s “Ocaso.” Photo by Robert Torres.

Of the handful of works Delgado has choreographed for the troupe he co-founded in 2012, “Ocaso” is perhaps his most complete. With its engaging choreography, compelling narrative of a couple’s life together and adroit dancing, it was a wonderful lead in to the brilliance that was to follow.

Inspired by a transitional moment in choreographer/filmmaker Trey McIntyre’s life when he was burning stacks of old papers from his recently defunct Trey McIntyre Project, “Under Fire” created on Malpaso in 2015, had a cathartic feel to it to go along with McIntyre’s signature ease of movement.  A somewhat folksy mood pervaded the piece and like in choreographer Nacho Duato’s works, McIntyre’s innovative, contemporary dance-styled choreography seemed to glide atop a cultural foundation that felt much older in spirit.

The 22-minute work for 8-dancers, set to five songs by Boise, Idaho-based singer/songwriter Kelsey Swope (a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey) had Malpaso’s dancers moving about the stage interweaving with one another in patterns a la country-western dance.


Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.


Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

In the opening section of the work, all eight of its dancers clustered into a group only to have several of them suddenly dart off the stage, leaving behind a smaller group of dancers to carry out a finely-crafted movement phrase. This pattern continued on with delightful invention several more times before a song change sent the dancers off in another equally delightful direction.  Most memorable were an athletic solo by Rojo and a powerfully moving duet performed by Delgado and dancer Dunia Acosta to an emotionally searing cover of Dolly Parton’s 1973 ballad “Jolene.”

The program closed with choreographer Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz” (2016), an exploration of the soul under extreme emotional circumstances. Set to an eclectic mix of music from composers Alexander Balanescu, Michael Nyman and Nils Frahm, the 26-minute gem was co-commissioned by DANCECleveland and the Cleveland Foundation.

Enchanted by what she saw as the beauty in the decay of Havana’s architecture, Barton created choreography for the dancers to reflect that. Broken ankle-like steps revealed a kind of ugly beauty.  Arms wriggled about, dancers hunched like apes traversed the stage in unison, rocking back and forth to the music in a dreamlike waltz and partnered group dances ended with half the dancers being caught in backward falls by their partners who cradled the back of their necks.


Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Throughout the work you got the sense of seeing images related to the dancers’ personal lives and of life in Cuba. Childlike playfulness, solemnness, and an overcoming of obstacles were all filtered through Barton’s quirky movement lens.

In the end, as with many of her works, one is left to marvel at Barton’s choreographic peculiarities. With “Indomitable Waltz” that sensation also came with a poignancy that touched the soul as well.

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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Jones’ ‘Analogy/Dora: Tramontane’ is Pure Theatrical Magic


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Analogy/Dora: Tramontane
EJ Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 9, 2016

By Steve Sucato

Dancer I-Ling Liu stood with her back pressed to a wall, slowly and deliberately moving her stiffly pointed index finger from above toward the outstretched palm of her other hand like a dagger. Steps away on the stage of The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, fellow dancer Jenna Riegel achingly voiced the words of Dora Amelan, recounting the death of her 20-year-old sister from an infection caused by a botched abortion during World War II. Lu embodied the cold anguish felt in Amelan’s words, her dark eyes a window into a woman who had seen untold horrors, perhaps none as haunting as the memory of this moment.

The heartbreaking scene was one of many played out in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Analogy/Dora: Tramontane (2015), performed by the company Oct. 9 in Akron, Ohio.

The first part in Bill T. Jones’ Analogy trilogy, the production, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, is based on a riveting oral history that artistic director/choreographer Bill T. Jones conducted with his now 96-year-old French-Jewish mother-in-law in 2002. In Amelan’s own words and those of Jones, the 90-minute intermissionless dance-theater work told of Amelan’s harrowing experiences escaping the Nazis and serving as a nurse/social worker in occupied France.


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Set to a masterfully crafted original score sung and performed live by its composer, Nick Hallett, and pianist Emily Manzo, the piece, in 25 chapters, fully embraced the “theater” in dance-theater. The combination of the dancers skillfully voicing dialogue (often while dancing), Hallett’s powerful score and Jones’ abstract yet illustrative choreography made for a deeply moving experience that drilled into the core of our humanity, producing swells of disparate emotions and entrancing us with marvelous storytelling.

Perhaps the production’s only shortcoming was that the music and dialogue sometimes overshadowed the dancing in dramatic impact. When all the elements did come together — such as in a scene when Amelan recalled a female co-worker saying goodbye to her husband who was being sent to a concentration camp, and a happier one depicting a visit from her entertainer cousin Marcel Marceau — it was pure theatrical magic.


(foreground) Dancers Antonio Brown and I-Ling Liu in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Overall, the entire cast of nine dancer/actors performed with aplomb. Of particular note were the performances of Riegel and Cain Coleman who handed the bulk of the emotionally potent dialogue with calming vocal control, dancers Liu and Rena Butler who expertly illustrated the trauma and heartache contained in Amelan’s words, and Cleveland-native Antonio Brown, in his last season with the company, who lent a quiet strength to Jones’ words.

A modified version of this review first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on October 19, 2016.

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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Childhood Memories Spark Brown’s ‘BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play’

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

By Steve Sucato

The adage “you don’t know what you’re missing until you find it” could describe the early stages of choreographer Camille A. Brown’s creative process in developing her latest work BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.

Commissioned by DANCECleveland through a 2014 Joyce Award from the Joyce Foundation, Brown says she had the idea to make a work about black women. And like many choreographers that initial jumping off point led to something more. Through conversations with women at The Northeast Reintegration Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and with other Black women over the past 16-months or so, Brown discovered her own story as a black female, focusing on what she says she was not necessarily hearing from the black women she talked to and from the media ─ the story of Black female childhood; its joys as well as its heartaches.

Directed and choreographed by Brown in conjunction with her New York–based Camille A. Brown & Dancers, the hourlong BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play set to live original music by Scott Paterson and Tracy Wormworth along with nursery rhyme melodies and presented by DANCECleveland, will be performed by Brown and company this Saturday, November 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre. Says Brown, it “celebrates the unspoken rhythm and language that Black girls have through Double Dutch, social dances, and hand-clapping games such as ‘Miss Suzie had a Steamboat’ and ‘Miss Mary Mack’ that are contemporary and ancestral.”

“We are not conditioned to think of social dances as anything more than something we do at a party or social,” says Brown by phone from her New York City home. “These were actually steps that provided, and still provide, people with the opportunity to express how they are feeling, to heal, to protest, and that is what I wanted to do with the piece.”

Dancers Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Brown, 35, a former dancer with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, has recently become a choreographer of prominence. In the past known more for her adroit skills as a dancer, Brown as a dancemaker has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, Complexions, Urban Bush Women, Ballet Memphis and Hubbard Street II as well as for her own decade old company. Honors include: a 2015 Doris Duke Artist Award Recipient, a 2014 Bessie Award for her production Mr. TOL E. RAncE, two Princess Grace Awards and twice recipient of New England Foundation for the Arts grants.

Unlike past works, Brown says she has felt more of a level of expectation from others in the creation of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Because she visited with women at The Northeast Reintegration Center, some expected the work to be about them or when she showcased a portion of the work this past January in Cleveland as part of the International Association of Blacks in Dance’s 27th Annual Conference and Festival, some expected the movement language shown then to carry throughout the entire piece.

“People sometimes create the story for you unconsciously in their minds, so when you show it they say ‘that says that is not what I was expecting,’” says Brown. “It is about the women I talked to in Cleveland; it is also about black women, black girls, all over. It is not about talking their stories and creating a work I don’t know. It’s taking their stories and my stories and putting them all together through my eyes in a way that is universal.”

Brown also took inspiration from literature in developing BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play’s themes including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Melissa V. Harris-Perry’s “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” and others. In addition, she enlisted the aid of dramaturges Daniel Banks, Kamilah Forbes and Talvin Wilks to help flesh out the piece.

Dancers Mora-Amina Parker and Yusha-Marie Sorzano in

Dancers Mora-Amina Parker and Yusha-Marie Sorzano in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Whatever its inspirations, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play is ultimately Brown’s personal journey as a Black female.

“What was rewarding for me about this work was doing something I knew was a risk,” says Brown. “You are taking things that people may consider trivial and not art and claiming it as art. You are doing it for you. Not to present or teach, just be. I want black girls, black women and everyone to connect to this piece.

Part of DANCECleveland’s 60th Anniversary Season, Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, 8 p.m., Saturday, November 14. Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Downtown. $15-35. DANCECleveland.org or (216) 241-6000.

Click here to hear an interview with Camille A. Brown on ideastream-WVIZ

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