A night of enthusiastic promise

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba

Birmingham Hippodrome

***

THE Caribbean island of Cuba is certainly providing plenty of material for International Dance Festival Birmingham.

With previous festivals having featured National Ballet of Cuba and Havana-born Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta, this year it is the turn of contemporary dance.

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba is slowly but surely gaining itself an international reputation, not least because of the athleticism and pure enthusiasm of its dancers.

This programme is a mix of old and new, taking in influences from across the globe.

It begins with a new piece by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili called Sombrisa. Inspired by boxing, it sees dancers racing around the stage, coming together, pulling apart and brandishing boxing gloves in the air in a mix of triumph and confrontation.

Set to incessant drumming, it has plenty of energy but does become a bit repetitive. Furthermore in the performance I watched it was really poorly synchronised with dancers out of time with each other. Maybe this is the intention but it just looks messy.

Similarly Kenneth Kvarnstrom's Carmen?! which aims to be a sideways look at Bizet's famous opera was also suffering from a lack of cohesion. Its all male cast are certainly adept at the humour and the power but again their timing was out.

In many ways Carmen?! is a missed opportunity. It takes a wonderfully dramatic score, plays around with a well-known story resonant with symbolism and delivers a group of guys running around like bulls. There are so many directions this could have taken and so many more layers it could have developed that watching a guy taking on the role of a mating bull is just a little simplistic.

Finally in Mambo 3XXI, created by DCC choreographer and dancer George C├ęspedes, the group came together as one. In a new take on the traditional mambo dance, the action shifts from a stage full of almost automaton-like dancers breaking out into sudden movement to tender duets.

This triple bill programme certainly shows the versatility of a company who are prepared to take on new challenges but it would have benefited from much tighter presentation.

Diane Parkes

 Meanwhile on the other foot . . .

***

THERE was tremendous energy and skill on display in the three very different dance pieces staged by this Cuban company as part of the Birmingham International Dance Festival.

Winners of the Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in dance three years ago, they left the stage to cheers from the audience after the first of two performances.

The enthusiasm and variety in their dancing was impressive, but the lack of colourful costumes disappointed. Wearing what might have been rehearsal casuals, the cast looked sombre rather than bristling with Cuban charisma.

An extraordinary opening number, called Sombrisa, saw the men and woman dancers in vests and shorts....and boxing gloves, performing some amazing twists, turns and leaps to the constant throb of tom-toms. Even Muhammad Ali in his pomp - floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee - couldn't have matched it.

That was followed by 'Carmen?!', with a bullfighting atmosphere, and finally 'Mambo 3XXI' in which some couples of the same sex danced together with obvious affection.

Paul Marston 

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