I had certain impressions of the MalPaso Dance Company of Cuba at the Joyce, but none was stronger than that the dancers had not been trained into their bodies but in them. They are so present in their physical selves that they must surely have been there always; they would need to be trained out of them, if there were any cause to do so, and of course none is remotely imaginable. Had they never thought to become professional dancers, they would move with equal grace in their daily lives; they are, as dancers, refreshingly unmannered.
Not that anything they do onstage is anything less than dance; it is, on the contrary, a vivifying blend of jazz, street, and modern; the clothing is street or athletic, but in good clean condition; they are dressed to perform, not to evoke class or urban grit. There is an arresting irony in their step, ironic because they are both deeply grounded and apparently weightless; they land from heights with a preternatural silence. It was not until well into the second of the two pieces that I even heard a footfall, and then only when when the sound of the steps was, along with handclaps, a part of the aural texture.
The second piece was “Por que sigues (Why You Follow),” a premiere from Ronald K. Brown, and it was danced with a collective verve so compelling that it didn’t actually end, but went on past the curtain call. The music was driving, propellant, and it was key to the dance that the impulses it prompted in the dancers’ bodies were not resisted. The previous piece, “24 horas y un perro,” was a choreographic collaboration led by Osnel Delgado; it seemed to me more innovative in its vocabulary than “Por que sigues” but less coherent in relation to the music, which is played live by the Afro-Latin jazz artist Arturo O’Farrill. The music is in seven parts, either original or in arrangement, and little of it invites dance; there are all sorts of levels to it; rhythms deeply buried; or a melody overhead; but rarely provoking a step, or a movement through space.
Which is not to say that the piece is bad, merely problematic. The music is almost too well performed – one listens to it without feeling compelled to watch the dancers, even though O’Farrill is visibly aware of the dance, and the visual cues it provides. This is a real issue but perhaps less a problem than I have made it sound. It was, after all, during “24 horas y un perro” that I was struck by light ironic falls of the feet and the dancers so in being with their bodies.
MalPaso Dance Company will perform again at the Joyce Theater March 10-12, 2016. For tickets and information click here.