From Cuba to Becket: DanzAbierta’s U.S. Debut at Jacob’s Pillow
Dance review by Bess J.M. Hochstein
Photos by Carlos Furman
In DanzAbierta’s hour-long work, MalSon, the dancers wear gray and black and the sole scenic prop is a gray block, about the size of an super-deep mattress. All color comes from video intermittently projected on the back of the stage, and through the choreography, which is is vivid and firmly rooted in the modern vein.
The video segments create a profound contrast between the “real world” of interactions among the five dancers, whose life seems alternately passionate and bleak, and that of the “fantasy” world of the projections, where these same dancers wear jewel-toned clothes of brilliant red and green, and drive bright-hued, gleaming-chromed 1950s American cars, which are famously common in Havana, where DanzAbierta is based. And there’s the paradox; the video segments include scenes of real life in Cuba: skylines, seascapes, and bustling streets, plus a seemingly endless staircase that the video versions of the dancers climb and descend in calibrated rhythm. There’s also a claustrophobic elevator in which they thrash around, providing another contrast to the cool, controlled movements they present on stage, which occur in a sort of netherworld.
With this performance, the Cuban company’s first-ever U.S. appearance, the audience gets a rare treat: to experience a dance with no expectations. That’s not to say you wouldn’t expect to see some Latin social dance, and MalSon does offer up a bit of rumba and salsa, but it is stylized, a bit distant, and eventually gets deconstructed. In sync with the soundtrack of a skipping record, three dancers get stuck in a groove, leaving one of the two men to manipulate their limbs and move them around like Barbie dolls, while one dancer remains frozen across the stage. The three are eventually set in motion, robotically executing two hip-swaying dance steps—back to the audience, arms akimbo as if holding a partner—for an intentionally uncomfortably long time.
Some of the most striking moments of the dance involve that gray block. Set upright, it blends into a video of a seawall on which the real life Abel Berenguer performs a lilting duet with the projected image of Yaima Cruz, in a bright red dress, as the corporeal Cruz, drained of color, skulks below. Through the magic of perception, Berenguer and the filmic Cruz seem to jump into the sea together.
The block gets more play as the dance reaches its climax, manipulated to stand in for one of those ’50s cars – an object of desire and jealousy – and demarcating a ledge of a building from which one dancer appears to jump to her death. In many clever sequences it serves as a mobile wall which, when moved, hides dancers and then reveals them in unexpected configurations, and as a rotating platform that alternately lifts and deposits dancers in surprising, innovative ways.
MalSon does not rely on flashy moves to draw the viewer’s attention. There’s a narrative in the piece that is a bit mysterious or foreign, just out of reach, but with enough universal emotion—love, passion, hate, despair— to reel in the audience’s attention.
Part of that draw is the astute coordination of movement with sound and image, thanks to original music and video by X Alfonso, which shifts from rhythmically jarring to calm and ambient, often in a heartbeat. The images come fast and furious toward the end, when the block briefly becomes a life raft adrift on the ocean, and then resolves, with finality (spoiler alert), as a seawall, upon which the dancers sit in a line, backs to the audience, looking out over the water, their arms around each other. It’s a satisfying final image for a dance that opens the door into a world that seems to slip between the realistic and the fantastic.
DanzAbierta in the Ted Shawn Theatre
Now through July 17
Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA