Tag Archives: Trey McIntyre

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


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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet Joint Production a Delectable Treat


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BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet – Inspired
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, OH
March 11-13, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Extoling the latest joint production of BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet is like lauding the pleasures of chocolate; everyone knows them. But for those who sadly missed Inspired, March 11-13 at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre, let me unwrap some of its velvety goodness for you.

Opening night’s performance on March 11 began with BalletMet performing artistic director Edwaard Liang’s signature ballet “Age of Innocence.” Set to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, the ballet, originally created on Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet in 2008, was inspired by the late 18th century and early 19th century romantic fiction of English novelist Jane Austin.

The ballet for eight women and eight men had the pedigree of one created for an elite troupe like the Joffrey.  The understated, yet rich looking backdrop of crimson drapes along with costume designer Maria Pinto’s modern take on period formalwear (both courtesy of Joffrey Ballet), presented the viewer with a contemporary vision of a bygone era of formal balls, arranged marriages and women as second class citizens.

As if taking part in one such ball, BalletMet’s dancers streamed onto the stage, males to one side, females to the other, lined up across from and facing one another in preparation to dance. The men bowed and the women curtsied.

With “Age of Innocence” Liang captured the prim and proper demeanor of those depicted in Austin’s novels. The regimented group choreography had a geometric beauty and grace to it. Male and female rows of dancers crossed lines, came together to hold hands and then moved apart in an elegant courtship ritual. Dancers’ sweeping arms and scooped hands wrapped around their heads, bodies cocked to one side at odd angles and legs shot out into arabesques. As intricate as Liang’s group choreography was, the ballet shone brightest in several scrumptious pas de deuxs contained within it.

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BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

The first, danced by Karen Wing and Michael Sayre, built in momentum like the music to which it was danced.  Dense with partnered lifts, Wing was wrapped around Sayre’s waist like a fanny pack and then dipped into a “Fish” pose.  The second, and the ballet’s finest, came in its penultimate 4th movement. Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and David Ward dazzled in a breathtaking display of grace, power and daring.  Valentine-Ellis appeared to float on air in Liang’s spellbinding choreography that produced a wow lift where she executed an arabesque penché at Ward’s side and was grabbed by her extended leg from behind Ward who pulled her upside down and over him as he bent forward to land seated on his now flattened back. The clever move elicited gasps from the delighted audience that resonated throughout the theater.

“Age of Innocence” drove home once again how fortunate Columbus dance audiences are to have a world-class choreographer leading BalletMet. The level of ballets and dancer talent Liang has assembled since his arrival in 2013 far exceeds the company’s mid-size budget.

Next it was Cincinnati Ballet’s turn to shine in choreographer Trey McIntyre’s brilliant and funny “Wild Sweet Love.” Originally created for Sacramento Ballet in 2007, “Wild Sweet Love” was a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by The Zombies, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn and others, and featured principal dancer Sarah Hairston as a downtrodden woman unlucky in love. Looking like a depressed Mary Katherine Gallagher, the fictional Saturday Night Live character portrayed by comedienne Molly Shannon, Hairston wonderfully sulked around the stage creating sad, but endearingly humorous moments throughout the ballet.

Delivered as a series of adroitly danced vignettes that included multiple costume changes, “Wild Sweet Love” explored the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring.

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Cincinnati Ballet’s Sarah Hairston in Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

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Cincinnati Ballet’s Sirui Liu and Romel Frometa in Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Highlighting the ballet was the effervescent and spunky performances of corps de ballet dancer Jaqueline Damico and principal dancer Cervilio Miguel Amador in a duet danced to The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You.” All smiles, Damico and Amador blazed through playful choreography that had them darting about, twisting and turning in an infectious groove that the viewer couldn’t help but be swept up in.

Also of note was a trio in which an envious, somewhat vengeful Hairston looked on as soloist Sirui Liu and senior soloist Romel Frometa engaged in a bizarre pas de deux in which Liu took swings at Frometa with clenched fists in-between fondly embracing him.

After another depressingly funny solo by Hairston, who pulled her shirt over her face, the ballet concluded with the cast (including a few BalletMet 2 dancers as extras) coming together in a rollicking group dance to Queen’s 1976 anthem “Somebody to Love.”  In it, Hairston, encircled by the others was triumphantly lifted skyward like a cheerleader only to come back down to earth literally and figuratively disappearing into the middle of the crowd of dancers, her tutu having been pulled up over her face.

The stellar program ended with a joint performance of George Balanchine’s 1970 masterwork “Who Cares?.”

Set to seventeen Broadway musical songs by George Gershwin, orchestrated by Hershy Kay, including “Strike Up The Band!,” “‘S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm,” the high-stepping, high-energy neo-classical ballet was Balanchine at his Broadway-esque best.

The two companies meshed perfectly in it, and unlike their last collaboration in Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” in 2014, the much improved BalletMet was every bit the equal of Cincinnati Ballet in classical technique and artistry.

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BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Standouts included BalletMet’s Grace-Anne Powers and Attila Bongar dashing back and forth across the stage to Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good!,” and Valentine-Ellis with Miguel Anaya performing flawlessly in an emotionally dramatic pas de deux to “The Man I Love.”  The pas, first performed by New York City Ballet stars Patricia McBride and Jacques d’Amboise, had the feel of an old Hollywood movie production number and proved a real gem.

Also of note was the performance of Anaya, as a debonair ladies’ man, in several other pas de deuxs with different partners including he and BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz twirling to “Embraceable You,” and with Jessica Brown in a leisurely game of tag to the song “Who Cares?.”

The carefree ballet was a fitting end to a deliciously decadent evening of dance teeming with tasty performances to satisfy any ballet lover’s sweet tooth.

 

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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Cuban troupe Malpaso makes its Pittsburgh debut


Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

By Steve Sucato

The members of Havana’s Malpaso Dance Company were still decades from being born when, 54 years ago, the U.S. enacted a trade embargo with Cuba. But the effects of that embargo have overshadowed their lives and the lives of other Cuban artists ever since. But while the two nations, separated by 90 miles of water, have been politically at odds for more than half a century, their arts communities have been more tolerant. Even before the recent news that the Obama administration was in talks with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, artists from both countries — including Malpaso just last year — had managed to overcome bureaucratic barriers to create cultural exchanges.

Malpaso’s performances this weekend, for the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s World Stage Series, are part of those efforts.

The non-state-sponsored Malpaso was founded in 2012 by Fernando Sáez Carvajal, Dailedys Carrazana and former Danza Contemporanea de Cuba dancer Osnel Delgado. The 10-member contemporary-dance troupe’s name means “misstep” in English. The ironic name was inspired by naysayers who told Delgado it was a mistake to leave his popular former company to start his own. On the contrary, Malpaso shortly burst onto the world stage and attracted the attention of such international choreographers as Ronald K. Brown and Trey McIntyre.

Kelly-Strayhorn executive director Janera Solomon says that the company’s Pittsburgh debut arose from a casual conversation she had last summer at an event in Chicago with Martin Wechsler, director of programming at New York’s Joyce Theater. “The idea of bringing a contemporary-dance company from Cuba to Pittsburgh just seemed like an immediate yes,” says Solomon.
Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

The challenge, she says, was financial. “We are not the Joyce,” says Solomon. But even for the Joyce Theater, finding partners to help defray the cost of bringing in international artists is critical. Embargo laws have kept Cuban artists from touring here by prohibiting American presenters from paying fees to them, instead allowing them to pay only a small per diem and travel expenses. Ironically, those same laws helped the Kelly-Strayhorn afford to bring in Malpaso. The theater still needed additional help, however, from area donors and from the Joyce, which handled much of the logistical legwork.

Malpaso has been well received so far in the U.S. Reviewing the troupe’s May 2014 show at the Joyce, for instance, New York Times critic Siobahn Burke wrote: “They have the pristine technique but none of the rigidity that comes with [ballet] training. … They’re both humble and sparklingly present.”

Pittsburgh will host the U.S. premieres of the two works Malpaso will later perform in Washington, D.C., the Joyce and the Jacob’s Pillow Festival. The first work on the program will be the latest by Malpaso artistic director Delgado, entitled “Despedida” (“Farewell”). The 28-minute piece, says Malpaso executive director Carvajal via email, was inspired by the short poem of the same name by Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges. Malpaso’s dancers will perform a mix of contemporary ballet, modern dance and capoeira movement styles. Set to an original score by Grammy-winning Cuban-American musician Arturo O’Farrill, the poem speaks of intense longing, and having to say goodbye to a loved one. Carvajal writes the “personal circumstances of the choreographer and other members of the company” played into its creation.

The other premiere on the program is choreographer/filmmaker McIntyre’s 21-minute “Under Fire,” set to five songs by Boise, Idaho-based singer/songwriter Kelsey Swope, a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey.

The work, says McIntyre by phone from Durham, N.C., was inspired by the recent demise of his Boise-based Trey McIntyre Project. McIntyre burned stacks of old papers from the company in a bonfire in his backyard. He found that when he stirred the fire, it had burned only the outer edges of the papers and compacted them, “making them more perfect as a source of fuel,” says McIntyre.

Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

Malpaso Dance Company. Photo by Roberto Leon.

“I thought it was a really interesting metaphor for human life,” say McIntyre. “That in the process of trying to change our exteriors in some ways, it makes us more of who we are essentially in the ways that we are formed.”

For Malpaso and the Kelly-Strayhorn, the timing of this tour couldn’t have been better, with the recent and well-publicized thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

“The opportunity of revisiting one of the main sources of the Cuban modern-dance and ballet tradition, and continuing a conversation that was interrupted between cultures that are deeply interconnected, is important,” writes Carvajal.

Forming artistic relationships and reaching out to new audiences is something artists and presenters from both countries hope will be a lot easier in the years to come.

Malpaso Dance Company performs 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 27, and 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 28., Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $10-25. 412-363-3000 or kelly-strayhorn.org.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on February 25, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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