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Quick Quick Slow

Malpaso Dance Company brought a vibrant slice of Cuban life to the Joyce last week: virtuosic dance, live music, humor, and of course, the salsa—an element that was ever-present as a through-line for the evening. The company’s contemporary dance vocabulary was peppered with identifiable moments of quick-quick-slow rhythm in the feet, a certain swish of the hips, a wag of the shoulders.

Performance

Malpaso Dance Company, choreography by Osnel Delgado, Daile Carrazana, and Ephrat Asherie

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, October 10, 2023

Words

Karen Hildebrand

Malpaso Dance Company in “Dancing Island” by Osnel Delgado. Photograph by Steven Pisano

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Founded in 2012 when Fernando Sáez, Osnel Delgado, and Daile Carrazana left Danza Contemporanea de Cuba to strike out on their own, the Malpaso directors have an appetite for artistic collaboration. This program was no exception, opening with a work by New York City choreographer, Ephrat Asherie, who is known for hip hop, breaking and house club dancing. She dedicated “Floor…y ando” to her mentor, the late Gus Solomons, Jr. The work nicely introduced the three prominent Malpaso men, Esteban Aguilar, Osnel Delgado, and Esven González, who functioned as the spine of the evening. Dressed in t-shirts and chinos, their gestures and pauses suggested a casual conversation. The dance broadened into a dynamic trio, well-paced and full of smooth loose-limbed moves set to a mellow piano solo performed live by Ben Rosenblum. I could hear the dancers’ sneakers squeak on the floor as they scampered through the fast foot work. 

Dunia Acosta and Danny Rodriguez shone in Carrazana’s “La Última Canción.” For one thing, their satin costumes literally shone—Acosta in a red-orange halter jumpsuit and Rodriguez sporting a loud marigold yellow shirt and shorts. A delightful ensemble work for seven, “Canción” featured live jazz piano, interspersed with recorded traditional Cuban music.

The curtain rose on Acosta, spotlit in stillness. Ever so slowly she sank into one hip and then into the other, pounded her chest with a fist, balanced on one leg while leaning forward until she was stretched in one extended line from toe to toe. After a duet with Rodriguez and Aguilar, Acosta snatched a sock from Rodriguez’s foot, slipped it into her bodice, and gave Aguilar’s chest a slap. 

Daniela Miralles, Esteban Aguilar, Greta Yero Ortiz, and Osvaldo Cardero in “La Ultima Cancion” by Daile Carrazana. Photograph by Steven Pisano

In a clever segment, Aguilar and three dancers lined up in a stair step manner as if sitting on each other’s laps. Aguilar took the position in front and proceeded to replace each of those behind him until he reached the final dancer, whom he embraced. She twitched in his arms and fell inert. While he held her upside-down, Acosta again showed up to remove the dancer’s sock, tucking it into Aguilar’s shirt. During the post show talk, the choreographer explained that her oddly charming work was about loss. Like a sock, things disappear and then sometimes come back. 

Delgado’s “Dancing Island,” was a collaboration with saxophonist Ted Nash, who composed a work for a six-piece band including Nash, who performed live. Any expectations the title might raise for a salsa club dance party evaporated when the dancers entered costumed by Guido Gali as school children: women in short jewel toned skirts and white knee socks, men in trousers with suspenders. “Dancing Island” in this case referred to the influential role salsa plays in Cuban culture. It could as easily be a comment about the Cuban educational system where every child may study ballet for free. Malpaso is a great case study in favor of such a practice. The classically trained dancers were exciting to watch without exception. I was drawn particularly in “Island” to petite Carrazana, who sparkled every time she was onstage. In a spicy duet, she took a scarf from her partner, used it to flirt with (or taunt?) him, then tied it around her waist as if a trophy.

Daniela Miralles, Esteban Aguilar, and Greta Yero Ortiz in “Dancing Island” by Osnel Delgado. Photograph by Steven Pisano

We might forgive Delgado for a bit of grandstanding in his surprise entrance from the audience where he sat for the first 30 minutes after intermission. What better way to introduce his outsize presence without overshadowing the other performers? Once he was onstage, he was an electric spark—it was impossible to look away. Daniella Morales engaged the newcomer to the stage in a gorgeous duet as the music turned sexy and romantic. I have a lingering image of the two leaning away from each other in a counter balance that seemed to stretch their long limbs impossibly wide. When the music shifted again, the energy rose to a crescendo and the ensemble circled into a bit of rueda de casino, eventually pulsing into a tight cluster. Delgado faced them, his arms held as if to embrace the entire cluster as his partner. Then, with a deft leap and roll, he slipped to the back row and was swallowed into the group. With backs to the audience, the dancers ended the work, each moving alone with hand held to ear, until a few at a time they drooped over from the waist, like a stand of wilted flowers. 

Karen Hildebrand


Karen Hildebrand is former editorial director for Dance Magazine and served as editor in chief for Dance Teacher for a decade. An advocate for dance education, she was honored with the Dance Teacher Award in 2020. She follows in the tradition of dance writers who are also poets (Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson), with poetry published in many literary journals and in her book, Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books). She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn.

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