Interview: Danza de Contemporánea de Cuba

I know as much about dance as I do about Pokemon Go (that’s not a lot).  Unless you want to include a stint on the hip hop team at university, then we can agree that I have very little experience in the world of a dance.  Nevertheless, as much as I am no Darcey Bussell, I love watching dance productions.  So, you’ll probably be able to guess my expression as I sat interviewing the cast of Danza de Contemporánea de Cuba last week. Happy times my friends, happy times!

‘For me, England is like a second family’, said Norge Cedeño Raffo, one of 24 dancers on tour with the company.  ‘Every visit is like a new experience but each experience is better.  Every time the audience is really close to us, they’re really warm and they look like a family.’  As I listened to Norge Cedeño Raffo, Laura Rios Curbelo and Claudia Rodriguez Pozo beautifully discuss the tour in their second language, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed at my awful GCSE language skills.  I need to get back in the classroom.  Laura continued, ’It’s very interesting for me because the English has a big culture about dance and classical ballet and it’s awesome when people saw us and they have a good idea about the company and the dancers.  It’s really nice.”

Danza de Conteporánea de Cuba is a contemporary dance company, based in Havana, a place where the sun shines almost every day.  However, the company are currently touring their latest production around the UK, a place where the sun shines sporadically before getting bored.  The show consists of three contrasting pieces created by three international leaders in dance: Annabelle López Ochoa, Theo Clinkard and the company’s resident choreographer Georges Céspedes.  The choreographies collectively form a joyful, complex and visceral show with an energy that is unbelievably infectious.

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To perform in a show this size with equally demanding pieces is no easy task.  Yet the company seem to take it in their stride as described by Claudia, ’At 10 am, we take a contemporary or ballet class, that depends on the day, and then we start rehearsing [the three choreographies] from 11am to 6pm.’  Norge went on to explain the complexities of bringing each show to a different audience and Laura discussed the personal challenges of performing, ‘I know that, for example, it’s my work but the idea is for the choreographer.  So how can I find my way to express myself and the choreographer’s idea?’  If you get the chance to watch the show, know that every tiny detail has been considered with you, the audience, in mind.

Clinkard’s ‘The Listening Room’ is described as a celebration of instinctive dancing whilst Céspedes has choreographed a piece reflecting the regimented nature of life in Cuba.  The first of the three choreographies is ‘Reversible’ by Annabelle López Ochoa.  This choreography explores the power, the games and the complexities between the sexes and it’s been described as a captivating comment on gender.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the show, I left the theatre wanting to know how the dancers interpreted ‘Reversible’.  Unsurprisingly, they had differing opinions as Claudia explained, ‘For me, it’s a contradiction because she speaks about human beings but she notices the sensuality of the woman and the strength of the man.’ Where as, Norge believed the piece was based on equality of power, ‘We don’t have so many differences, every person in the piece can do everything. The men can take the women but the girls can take the men too.’  As always, the beautiful thing about art is that it’s subjective.

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It might not be for everyone but the company truly delivers in providing an evening full of energetic performances and I can’t imagine anyone describing their performance as dull.  This is arguably down to the vivacity of the Cuban dancers, which Clinkard and López Ochoa have described as unique and I had to wonder why?  What makes Cuban dancers so special?  Good job I had a spare couple of Cubans I could ask, isn’t it?  Laura suggested cultural differences, ’‘He [Theo Clinkard] always looked at Europeans and we are totally different, we are very expressive when we talk, we express that when we dance.’  Claudia agreed, ‘When choreographers arrive they realise that we can do different things, we have salsa, but at the same time we are able to do classical things.’  It could be cultural differences in training but one thing is certain: Cuban dancers have a unique quality which has earned them an impressive reputation.

I think the company would agree that the key to their success doesn’t lie in their training but in their unity. They’re a family.  Family.  A word I’ve never heard so frequently in a half hour interview.  Seriously, not even Sister Sledge could compete.  Most international dance companies consist of dancers from numerous countries but Danza de Contemporánea de Cuba is made entirely of Cuban dancers and the experience they share brings them together.  Although I was slightly dubious at first (No company drama at all?) the unity that they speak of bursts off the stage and envelopes you like a big hug.  And I like hugs.

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