NextMove Dance presents Malpaso Dance Company

From Cuba with love

Castro is dead, Cuba is opening up, and Havana’s Malpaso Dance Company made a big splash on the Prince Theater stage in NextMove Dance’s second offering of its winter/spring season. It showed us a very precious, desirable contraband.

The company takes a leap in Osnel Delgado's '24 Hours and a Dog.' (Photo by Bill Hebert)

This is the second Cuban company Randy Swartz, director of NextMove, has brought to Philly. In NextMove's previous incarnation as Dance Affiliates, he brought in Danza Contemporanea in association with the Kimmel Center in 2011.

Love, doggie style

If you want to learn more about love, this Valentine week gives you the perfect schooling. To see this kind of visceral choreography danced full-out by Malpaso’s 16-member troupe is to know love more deeply. Malpaso is here through Sunday, so bring your babe or go meet one there.

24 Hours and a Dog opened to Grammy Award-winning jazz composer Arturo O’Farrill’s theatrically evocative music. Malpaso’s artistic director and co-founder, Osnel Delgado, backed out from the wings in a backbend as sinuous as molten gold poured by some ghostly necromancer. He danced the overture to the work’s seven sections, beginning with “24 Hours in a Dog’s Life,” at times simulating canine behaviors. He looped and folded his arms, legs, and torso through themselves in unimaginably sudden and subtle shifts.

When you see thousands of great dancers over a lifetime, Delgado's uniqueness is almost unthinkable. This is the moment when, as a dance critic, I feel most lucky to to witness and try to evoke for you what a dancer like this does.

Other, more percolating dancers joined Delgado in various groupings. He wove among them, sometimes isolated, sometimes partnering, through the rest of the sections. There were many downward-dog moves from yoga teased out into lifts, or dancers floored, heads resting on bent elbows, lifting one leg to form a “V”. Some sections of the music were more syncopated, but my ears pricked when a mournful, solo violin sounded Appalachian for a few beats until other instruments joined in bringing it back to island life. Though the music and movement had a Latin luminosity, there were only moments of overt Latin dancing. My favorites were the few restrained pelvic thrusts that said, "Oh, you expect this of us? Well, here, we can do it."

Wild and free

Not having seen Ronald K. Brown’s work in far too long, I forgot what a great American choreographer he is. The Philadelphia premiere of “Why You Follow, made for Malpaso, delivered. Of the women in this joyful ensemble work, Dunia Acosta, Daile Carrazana, Lizbeth Saad, and Claudia Molinet caught my attention, most with their rib-pumping sexiness and daredevil leaps into the men’s arms.

Polyrhythmic music by Zap Mama and “Yoruba Road” by The Allenko Brotherhood drove the dancers into what looked to me like galloping herds of feral horses with their arms flung up behind them like manes flying in the wind. But the blaze in this joyous dance was Manuel Durán's incandescent knee-twisting solo in a black T-shirt with a sparkly red V-neck. He was like a flame burning in an open window that couldn’t be extinguished.

When people ask what kind of dance I review, I tell them everything from hip-hop to ballet. With Malpaso, I had to be on alert for those forms and everything in between. Both works had global geography and dance lexicons stretching from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas.

Our readers respond

Jon Sherman

of Fairmount/ Philadelphia , PA on February 17, 2017

Wonderful review, Merilyn. Now I must go and see this marvelous company perform. Thanks so much for the "heads up."

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.