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Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagűey

The ¡Cuba Aquí! Festival brought this exciting, young Cuban dance troupe back to New York City to show off its dancers and its director’s eclectic choreography.

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Marco Delgado, Siuchién Avila and Fernando Garcia Lezcano in Pedro Ruiz’ “Beyond the Sea” (Photo credit: Steven Pisano)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Under the auspices of the ¡Cuba Aquí! Festival, the Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagűey from Cuba made its American debut at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse on March 13th bringing a joyful, exuberant program of three dances by their Cuban-American artistic director Pedro Ruiz (long a star of New York’s Ballet Hispánico).

“Guajira,” a work originally staged for the Ballet Hispánico in 1999, opened the program with its combination of folksy charm and sexually-charged atmosphere sharpened by Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes which kept the men bare-chested and the women in simple blue dresses.  The sound of the sea fading into drumbeats aptly opened the work which dealt with the working, common folk of the eponymous small Cuban town.  The music of Los Activos, Grupo Céspedes and José Maria Vitier, ranging from unaffected folk tunes and rhythms to more sophisticated pop tunes.

The opening tableau—‘Trabajos’ (‘Work’)—of this five-part ballet, was an impressive silhouette of the dancers spread across the Kaye stage, which devolved into a group dance, a fiesta of swinging-hipped women and muscularly flirting men.  A new tune announced a sassy duet—‘Guajira’—danced by  Lisandra Gómez and Jesús Arias, backed by a flowing constantly changing retinue of dancers which made this love duet seem just part of the village life.  In ‘Lavanderas’ (‘Laundresses’), Mariam Romero, Jorge Luis Lyon, Ms. Gómez and Lilianne Laguna carried baskets and dance/mimed the cleaning of clothes, all the while appearing to gossip with each other in dance.  A romantic duet, fittingly called ‘Romanza,’ featured Siuchién Avila and Fernando García Lezcano in softly swaying steps and simple lifts leading to the final section, ‘Guateque,’ in which the entire company of dancers were put through their paces.

Jeff Segal’s excellent, colorful lighting—recreated by Milton Ramos—included bright projections suggestive of countryside and the ocean.

“Más Allá del Mar” (“Beyond the Sea”) was a United States premiere staged to traditional Sardinian folk songs sung by Elena Ledda.   Another multi-part work, “Mar,” inspired by Ruiz’s visits to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, was a tribute to the ocean breezes and country life he witnessed.

It began with the full company, dressed in Ruiz’s colorful costumes dancing an easygoing ‘Pastoral’ in which the troupe again took on the guise of a village.  “Mar” then featured three duets, the first, a mysterious, quiet episode danced by Ms. Laguna and Leandro Antonio Leguen Pulsan.  Each succeeding duo warmed up until the more passionate third danced by Ms. Gómez and Jesús Arias Pagés.  The moody lighting was created by Milton Ramos.

The final work, Ruiz’s stimulating “Paseando Mi Alma” (“Taking My Soul for a Walk”), another United States premiere, was the definite audience favorite, a storm of sensuality from beginning to end.  Its last ten minutes of unabashed showing off of Latin dance charisma, including tightly clinched rumbas, big leaps, quick steps with hip action, pulled out all the stops to entertain the gala audience.

Only Ramos’ lighting failed to please in “Paseando.”  For some reason he chose to under-light the hyperactivity of these generous dancers who nevertheless nearly tore themselves apart showing off their wares.

The Camagűey troupe danced Ruiz’s work as if born to his vigorously eclectic style.  His choreography is an amalgam of ballet, modern dance, break-dancing, folk dancing and Latin ballroom.  He seems to be influenced by the work of Nacho Duato (himself a Jiri Kylian protégé) with his complex, body-interlocking lifts, bent torsos and a step-to-every-note.

The Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagűey is still a young, naïve company seeking its identity, but the dancers are certainly worth watching develop in what, it is hoped, will be more visits to the Big Apple.

Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagűey (March 13, 2019)

¡Cuba Aquí! Festival

Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 680 Park Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-772-4448 or visit http://www.hunter.cuny/kayeplayhouse/calendar

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including two intermissions

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (358 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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