The Malpaso Dance Company as a Cultural Window

Photo Courtesy of Judy Ondrey.

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Malpaso Dance Company performed at the Mandeville Auditorium. Formed in 2012, the Havana-based dance group has become one of the most sought-after Cuban acts as of this date, and their showcase last Friday served as merit of their artistry.

The dance company’s origins are rooted in the Latin American tradition. The one factor that distinguishes a dance company from others is the type of music utilized in its choreographies—music adds to the group’s narrative and determines the performance’s mood. European and American dance companies often utilize music rooted in the Western or European tradition. The Malpaso Dance Company, formed from its respective cultural roots, does not.

The first performance served as a strong opening act for the lengthy two hour showcase. Incorporating all of the company’s members, the choreography for this piece utilized high-tempo music with distinctive drum rhythms and a slower tempo towards the middle of the choreography. Every dancer had a unique part in the choreography, standing out as a single unit part of a larger group.  At the same time, all of the dancers were in sync with one another and composed a cohesive narrative that could only be accomplished through empathetic dance. The lighting of this piece also served a pivotal role, indicating a somber yet versatile mood. A dimmer stage indicated a slower part of the performance, while a brighter one indicated an upbeat and faster part of the music.

The second performance involved two members, one man and one woman, performing a duet. Although the music was still distinctively rooted in the Latin American tradition, it did possess certain European aspects. The music was slower than the first, fitting more of a dramatically styled duet. The lights set the stage for a romantic duet, possibly telling the story of forbidden love.

The third and final choreography served as strong ending acts for the overall performance. The music infused distinctive drum rhythms and fast tempos, ending the night on an empowering note.

An important lesson to be taken from this performance, as with other dance performances, is to see dance as not merely a series of body movements. Like all art forms, dance expresses cultural roots and tells a story. The Malpaso Dance Company exhibited this means of expression to the finest degree by precise body movement and thus, gave substance to an often misunderstood art form.

Bernard Kim is a writer for the Arts and Entertainment section of The Triton.