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Brilliant, Daring Dancers

It seems churlish to criticise DanzAbierta from Cuba at all, a company that, due to political and bureaucratic hurdles, was terribly delayed and nearly did not make it here in time. But when they finally arrived, their energy and polish in “MalSon,” an hour-long piece, was undimmed, and while the choreography was confusing and sometimes hackneyed, the dancers were spectacular to watch and there were some breathtaking moments of daring and beauty. Billed as “a love letter to Havana,” “MalSon” is rooted less in the folkloric cultures of Cuba than the strong modern dance tradition that has its roots in the cultural explosion following the Cuban Revolution. The dancers were dressed in grey, black and white, as if to telegraph that this is not a colorful and fun tourist attraction, and the only prop was a gigantic grey block that was moved around the stage as a bed or a wall, or a building. Often it became part of the background images that were projected onto a screen, sometimes loops of crowded city streets, sometimes clouds, or images of the dancers themselves. In early scenes, the five dancers seemed to be couples in an urban setting. Mailyn Castillo, in a tight dress and high heels, was pursued by and then rejected by Abel Berenguer, who picked her up and flung her around. An abusive boyfriend? A flirtatious courtship dance? After a few minutes that pairing was dropped with no resolution. Saro Silva, a tall and elegant dancer, was robotic throughout almost the entire piece, face frozen, movements sometimes stiff and often repetitive. Other dancers cycled in and out of mechanistic or robotic movement, including a very long sequence where three dancers salsa danced with imaginary partners in an endless loop. The music, by X Alfonso, was a mix of hip hop, jazz, and Glass-like repeating phrases. For long sections the dancers just walked, striding purposefully this way and that, a la political theater circa 1970, perhaps to suggest the aimless business of daily life in the city. Most of the time, the projected backdrops were a distraction that added little. Scenes of the dancers getting in and out of a car, or writhing at the bottom of a long staircase, had little to do with what was happening on stage. The exception was when the view projected was of a stone wall overlooking the water, and the large block was lined up so that when Berenguer danced on it, he appeared to be moving with Castillo on the wall. At the end, they both leapt off the block as if leaping into the sea. The movement was fluid, athletic and very daring. There were dives and catches, complicated pairings with the gorgeous dancer Yoan Matos, who somehow walked up to Berenguer and over him, using his head as a stepping stone as Berenguer fell backward. (How did they do that?) Film and dance is an uneasy mix. And here, less film and more of the brilliant and beautiful dancing would have been welcome. For information on upcoming events and tickets, call 413-243-0745 or go to www.jacobspillow.org.

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