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A new chapter in Cuban dance

Posted on October 4, 2017

Fourteen dancers, five dances, two hours. That’s what it took for Acosta Danza to make its UK debut at Sadler’s Wells, packing the house as it nailed its colours to the mast for all to see. Founded in 2015 to develop Cuba’s dance talent, supported by the Cuban government and international assistance, and now with its own school attached, the troupe embodies Carlos Acosta’s personal dream and practical determination. As if creating a brand-new company weren’t hard enough, he set out to challenge its dancers with a repertoire that would embrace ballet, contemporary dance and the influence on them of Cuban music and tradition.

His creative impulse and its encouraging result remind me of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem and Jacques d’Amboise’s National Dance Institute (NDI), both established by acclaimed ballet stars to guide the community from which they had come towards the art they treasured. Mitchell believed that African-Americans deserved the opportunity to become ballet dancers. Initially, D’Amboise wanted to engage boys in dancing; now NDI includes girls as well, and every class is free for every child.

To realise his goals for Cuban dancers, Acosta recruited professionals, trained in dance, gymnastics and at various vocational academies that also involve music and the visual arts. The appeal of his endeavour lies in those performers, who radiate personal warmth, physical fluency and a taut focus that strengthens the indifferent choreography they present.

Photograph one: Alejandro Silva and Carlos Luis Blanco in El cruce sobre el Niágara. Photograph two: Mario Sergio Elías (centre), with dancers of Acosta Danza in Belles-Lettres. Photograph three: Acosta Danza in Twelve.

Justin Peck’s lyrical Belles-Lettres puts the women in pointe shoes, in which they seemed perfectly at home as they wafted through a series of romantic pas de deux. Goyo Montero’s Imponderable buries the performers in black costumes and dim lighting and wreathes them in clouds of smoke. Jorge Crecis’ Twelve revolves around mathematics; tossing and catching plastic bottles, each containing a glowing green light, the running, jumping, constantly rearranged ensemble doesn’t have to dance at all while it keeps track of the choreography’s meticulous organisation.

Its speed and informal attack, however, comfortably fit their characteristic style, in which relaxed precision smoothes the potential edge from their emotional intensity. That intensity emerged at its best in Marianela Boán’s El cruce sobre el Niágara (The Crossing Over Niagara), a riveting duet inspired by a tightrope crossing over Niagara Falls. Totally exposed, nearly naked, Raul Reinoso advanced slowly in the opening solo along a long diagonal. Sliding one foot before him and stepping onto demi-plié, raising the other leg to the side or back, then rising slowly to hold each balance on demi-pointe, he defined the original heart-stopping spectacle and its held-breath atmosphere with every shift of weight. Initially curled on the floor, Julio Leon replaced him solo, then regained his company in passages that layered their bodies like interchangeable reflections. Eventually, when they moved as a single unit with one sitting atop the other’s shoulders, their four arms cautiously outstretched doubled the inescapable sense of danger.

In 1948 Alicia Alonso founded the first ballet company in Cuba, renamed the National Ballet of Cuba in 1955, which she still leads at the age of 96. At less than half her age, Acosta seems to have absorbed her conviction about performing, maybe without even knowing it; years ago she said to me, “I think everything you dance, every style of ballet you dance, contributes to enrich the other ones, each to the other. Because the more different things you dance, the more ballets you learn, the more you read, the more you search, the more you understand.”

Acosta Danza is on tour in the UK this month. Tour details can be found here.

Top: Acosta Danza in Imponderable.

All photographs: JOHAN PERSSON.

 

 

Barbara Newman is dance critic for Country Life, a frequent contributor to numerous periodicals and reference works, and the author of a number of books about ballet which include a volume of interviews, Striking a Balance; a children’s book, The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories; and Grace Under Pressure.

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