Dallas — Geographically not far from mainland U.S., Cuba is light-years away in culture. Giving us a little taste of that culture, Malpaso Dance Company made a striking debut Nov. 10 at Moody Performance Hall, presented by TITAS.
“Malpaso” means “misstep,” a title both whimsical and telling, and especially so for the opening work, Indomitable Waltz. Inspired by the decaying beauty of Havana’s architecture, Canadian Aszure Barron’s Waltz emphasized movement deliberately off kilter, even awkward, with ape-like hunches, ankles that seem ready to buckle, arms swinging on hinges barely held together, and pretzel-like contortions.
Set to a variety of haunting waltzes and driving, impetuous violins, eight dancers in black shorts and tops cover ground while gulping air, coming to random stops with perhaps just an elbow hooked out at an angle. At times, they suggest some strange species, alert and highly conscious of each other. Whether the movement is large or small, fast or slow, whether it is backward falls or rolling over each other, everything has a tense, urgent strain, a purpose, a drive.
Even more edgy was Trey McIntyre’s Bad Winter. Composed of two short vignettes, the moment is angular and taut, every action defined. The first piece, set to the Arthur Tracy’s plaintive rendition of Pennies from Heaven opens with Dunia Alcosta Arias in white tails and plain dance garb simply lifting her arms. She slowly walks forward, dropping her arms. Staying pretty much in a small orbit, her action takes on a more feverish tone, the sign of a woman in distress. Her face expresses quick swings of emotion, expressed in only the most abstract way by movement: swivels, sideways leaps, pivots and rolls to the ground. In agitation, she grabs the edge of her tailcoat, creating a great, arching wave.
The duet between Daileidys Carrazana and Manuel Duran is both somber and tender, two people desperate for each other and just as desperate to break away. Set to the haunting music of Cinematic Orchestra’s That’s Home and To Build a Home, it begins with Mr. Duran standing alone, arms akimbo. He lets his legs spit wide apart, closes them together, hops in place. Suddenly he looks away and discovers Ms. Carrazana, and slides over her.
He regards her with caution before tentatively putting a hand on her shoulder. Soon they are embarking on complicated lifts and falls, building up in emotional intensity when at one point, Ms. Carrazana pushes her head into the back of his shirt, finding security or hiding from the unknown. She pulls the shirt onto her own body, leaving him vulnerable. When he lies splayed out, she offers the shirt back only for him to fling it away. And there he lies, she hovering over him, arms spread out like wings.
After that powerful dose of pent-up emotion, Ronald K. Brown’s Why You Follow was one long surge of energy. A mix of African, Latin and contemporary dance styles and mostly African-inspired music, the movement was low to the ground, loose and free. Arms swing wide building momentum, their backs ripple like wheat, they shuffle and jump with no preparation. For the most part, they move in tandem, in lines, circles and S patterns.
Their bare feet and outfits of brown, tan and rust contribute to the earthy, tribal atmosphere while at the same time the stylized movement placed the dance in the present.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.