Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Demo-N/Crazy; Folia; Mambo 3XXI

Choreography by Rafael Bonachela, Jan Linkens and George Céspedes
Danza Contemporánea de Cuba
Theater Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2010)

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For its first visit to the UK, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, under the umbrella of the Dance Consortium, brings a programme of four pieces, three of which will be presented at each venue. The programme at Newcastle's Theatre Royal, the first appearance of the company in the UK, is Programme A: Programme B replaces Demo-N/Crazy and Folia with Mats Ek's Casi-Casa.

The most noticeable thing about the three pieces performed in Newcastle was the strong Afro-Caribbean influence, a rather different physicality and technique to what we normally see in contemporary dance performance, and this in spite of the fact that two of the choreographers, Bonachela and Linkens, are very much part of the European tradition.

In the first piece in the programme Demo-N/Crazy - a play on the title of the music of Julia Wolfe Arsenal of Democracy, some of which is used in the piece - Bonachela has created a piece which is both acrobatic and tactile and includes vocal contributions from the dancers. It is fast moving and high energy, with various groupings of the twenty dancers coming together in often complex combinations. There is much touching, occasionally caressing, but there is always an undertone of suppressed revulsion, even a sense of lurking violence.

It makes for an exciting, even thrilling piece of dance, made more so by the unexpected movement language. Bonachela's choreography is always eclectic and here he has clearly found inspiration in the Cuban style, fusing it with the more familiar European elements.

I confess I found Jan Linkens' Folia something of a disappointment after the Bonachela fireworks. Folia is, we are told, is an old carnival dance and it means "joyful abandon" but there was no abandon here. There was, indeed, tightly controlled energy but nothing which was out of the ordinary. To me, it lacked fire.

Which was not the case with the final piece of the evening, George Céspedes' Mambo 3XXI, a commission from Sadler's Wells, DanceEast and the Dance Consortium. Cuban himself, Céspedes has performed in eighteen works with the company and draws on the Cuban Mambo music and dance tradition.

But it isn't a respectful piece, reverencing the tradition. At the beginning we have a fast unison dance with all 21 dancers in lines performing a straightforward, although exhaustingly energetic, Mambo style of dance. With the company dressed in black shorts and white vests, it has the feel of an old-fashioned PT exercise, but gradually the costumes change: coloured or multi-coloured tops replace the white vests and the movement becomes more individual, more emotional, more erotic and more powerful, so by the time we reach the finale of the piece, performed in the same lines as the opening, we have something very different. There is a sense of involvement, excitement and enjoyment which brought cheers from the audience.

It could be said to be subversive. He is trying, he says, to "break the cliché of what Cuban music and dance is" - and he succeeds spectacularly so that, when the dancers move into the final still picture, reminiscent of but so different to the kind of publicity still that we see throughout the world from the Moulin Rouge to your local dance school, there is a real sense of happy closure, of having been witness to something exciting, different and joyful.

Touring to Snape Maltings (Programme B), Brighton Dine (A), Nottingham Playhouse (A), Wycombce Swan (A), Hall for Cornwall (A), Churchill Bromley (A) and Sadler's Wells (B)

Reviewer: Peter Lathan