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Malpaso Dance Company: Cuban dance comes to Brooklyn

Char | 3/23/2017, 11:39 a.m.
Together Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company and Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble’s “Dreaming of Lions” (March 1-4) were ...
Malpaso Dance Company Contributed

Together Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company and Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble’s “Dreaming of Lions” (March 1-4) were a hit! For this debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, co-founder, artistic director and dancer, Osnel Delgado of Malpaso, and director, pianist, composer O’Farrill, the Mexican-born, informal ambassador to Cuban musicians, melded dance and music seamlessly.

“Dreaming” is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s classic, “The Old Man and the Sea,” and like the fisherman Santiago, Hemingway’s lone and aging Cuban protagonist, the spry Osnel begins this tale alone, with just his box (his boat) at “sea.” O’Farrill’s nine-member ensemble, softly lit by Al Crawford, line the back wall and complement with blissful sounds. Osnel’s silky arms swim through the air. They reach. He stands in his boat, taps his forehead or sits like Rodin’s “The Thinker,” pondering the next move. The company, an ever-growing school of “fish,” soon join “the old man,” and the stage becomes a continuous sea of bodies weaving circles and repeating phrases. Later, in a rush, full-bodied duets move in and out of the space, one after the other, with signature swirls and twists that end with long legs extended through to the toe nearly hitting the backs of their heads.

A particularly lovely phrase comes when all 11 dancers creep in from one side, pulled by one unbending arm at a time, chest high, palms and pelvis pressed into the floor, thrusting and moving forward as their legs trail behind. The more the dancers demanded, the more the music gave, and vice versa—it was hot! O’Farrill dances, too, when here and there he mouths, “pa dap” (or something like that), and a section of the ensemble would kick in, layering with the right sounds and riffs.

Toward the end, O’Farrill and the ensemble get the stage to themselves. Collaborations are a strange animal, but when they work, they really work. “Dreaming” is a fine example. Although not the ensemble’s first trip to the U.S., this hour of Cuba in Brooklyn was a satisfying exchange of soulful movement, music with a bit of literature as guide.

The dancers are Dunia Acosta, Maria Karla Araujo, Michel Avalo, Fernando Benet, Daile Carrazana, Delgado, Manuel Durán, Beatriz García, Claudia Molinet, Abel Rojo and Lisbeth Saad. The musicians are Vince Cherico, Carlo DeRosa, Travis Reuter, Reinaldo De Jesus, Rafi Malkiel, Alejandro Avíles, Adam O’Farrill, Alon Yavnai and Carly Maldonado.