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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Malpaso Dance Company Embraces Cultural Hybridity in Cuban Art

Malpaso Dance Company in Dreaming of Lions. Photo: TM Rives
By Carmela Muzio Dormani

Members of Malpaso Dance Company will perform its new piece Dreaming of Lions at the BAM Harvey Theater this March. Osnel Delgado Wamburg and Daileidys Carranza Gonzalez, formerly of Contempor√°nea de Cuba, the island nation’s largest contemporary dance company, founded Malpaso with Fernando Saez in December 2012. Within two years of its founding, the company began touring internationally, pursuing collaborations with Brooklyn-based choreographer Ronald K. Brown and Cuban-American musician Arturo O’Farrill, among others. Several years later the company continues to successfully share a creative vision grounded in plurality and collaboration.

Delgado’s choreography incorporates elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms and movements, Cuban ballet, and a strong tradition of modern dance movement. Malpaso’s blending of various styles and influences builds on a long history of cultural hybridity and reflects the nuances of life and art in Cuba today. Malpaso’s upcoming work with Brown—which references the Yoruba deity Elegu√°—reflects the company’s ability to expand its reach internationally and its commitment to collaboration across physical and metaphoric boundaries.

Malpaso Dance Company. Photo: Nir Arieli
Cuban social theorists have long studied the many dualities in Cuban reality as well as its heterogeneity of peoples, languages, and social influences. Meanwhile scholars of the politics of culture and art in Cuba draw attention to the vitality of Cuba’s arts scene along with the tensions along lines of generation, race, and gender.Large-scale social, economic, and political exchanges that have taken place across centuries in Cuba play out in the development of popular culture, including music and dance styles. In 1947, Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz coined the term transculturation— “extremely complex transmutations of culture”—as a theoretical and linguistic tool for interpreting the cultural exchanges that have shaped Cuba’s social, political, and cultural landscape. Malpaso’s stylistic blending and efforts toward collaboration articulate this reality at home and across borders in an important historical moment involving the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

In a year that saw the normalization of US-Cuba relations and the passing of Fidel Castro, the revolution of Cuban arts and culture has also taken center stage. Today, Cuba is at a crossroads with regard to the potential economic ramifications of normalizing relations with the US, tourism, questions of digital access, and ongoing social inequality around race and class. Amidst these national realities and the dilemma of US intervention, Cuban artists have thrived across genres.

In keeping with these trends, Malpaso Dance Company—an independent non-profit organization—is the first dance troupe on the island to rely exclusively on extra-governmental funding. The company has been supported by American and Canadian organizations and actively seeks collaboration with international artists and choreographers; however, its work is clearly grounded in the Cuban experience, now more vibrant and visible than ever before.

Dreaming of Lions features an original score composed and conducted by Arturo O'Farrill, performed by the Afro Latin jazz Ensemble. The piece will have its New York debut March 1—5 at the BAM Harvey Theater.

Carmela Muzio Dormani is a marketing intern at BAM and a PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center.

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