When Bonnie Brooks, Associate Professor of Dance and Director/Lead Curator of the Dance Center's Dance Presenting Series commented to us before the Malpaso performance “You are in for a treat.”, she obviously knew of what she spoke.
Malpaso, which ironically means “misstep”, was founded in 2012, and in short order has established itself as a leading dance troupe and one of few that Columbia College invites to teach its students.
Seeing them perform two works—“Indomitable Waltz” by female choreographer Aszure Barton and “24 Hours and a Dog” by choreographer and Malpaso co-founder Osnel Delgado—thrills. These are astoundingly graceful, nimble and strong dancers who bring to life repertoire that allows them to fully flaunt their stuff.
Within seconds “Indomitable Waltz” snags you wholesale into its explorations of fluid vs. tension. We see quirky shoulder rolls, hips that articulate as the dancer’s arm becomes a dead weight anchor contrast, nimble one-armed twirls, and more. It’s such a different universe that when it injects a traditional one-two-three waltz per its title you almost want to burst out laughing as it charms in what seems like a moment of self-reflection.
There are eight dancers and six musical pieces—from Alexander Balanescu: “Waltz”; “The Young Conscript and the Moon”; and “Love Scene” and “String Quartet No2:2.II by Michael Nyman; and from Nils Frahm both “Circling and “04.33”. We see moves that seem far afield from classical ballet, yet follow that tradition’s close sync of music to movement. Here though, it’s the dancers bodies that make you hear the instruments in a new way. If we think about it we all know a piano is really strings being hit by hammers. In Barton’s work though, the dancers’ bodies show this quality of the music. It’s as though they are re-writing popular protest chants to say, “This is what staccato looks like!” Similarly, arms reach and other body parts flex with tension so that we see how the strings of the violins, violas and cellos make sound.
24 Hours and a Dog
So entranced, it was only after an Intermission and Delgado’s work “24 Hours and a Dog” began in contrast to Barton’s movement alphabet, that this writer was able to sneak a millisecond or so attention back to reflect on how her work is so beyond the traditional male-female partnering. Not too much attention though, because the high energy choreography by Delgado, accompanied by a Latin Jazz work by Arturo O’Farrill ,commands you to watch.
Call it athleticism with dignity maybe—perhaps the most astounding moment was at the bow when you scan the dancers with their well-earned panting and sweat to see that dancer and choreographer Osnel Delgado looked totally calm and fresh. Chicagoans haven’t seen anyone or anything like this since Michael Jackson post-championship game cool.
There are seven movements to “24 Hours and a Dog”, referencing a dog’s life and a day in the life routines. A duet is named “Daydream”, which strikes this writer as an apt name for the entire piece. The changing hues as a screen setting—blues changing to pink —are accompanied by music and dance that alternates between energetic and more energetic. There is a flavor of Latin dance but the main spice is expression and delighting unexpected gestures—a male dancer holds a woman’s head like a melon, women being held aloft angle their legs unexpectedly, and then Delgado himself does an amazing one-armed lift-off into the air.
Seeing this chock-full-of-intriguing-gesture dreamlike work created a fierce craving to see Malpaso’s vivid expressiveness channeled into a story ballet of some kind. Malpaso seems made to tell not just a story, but a narrative with soul and meaning. How wonderful to then visit the Malpaso website and see that they have done exactly this with a new work that uses Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” as its launch point.
Catching up with co-founder Fernando Sáez by phone the day after seeing Malpaso’s mesmerizing performance, we were intrigued to learn that this “Dreaming of Lions” work that has been touring other US cities does have a chance to be seen here too, though no definite scheduling or venue is known. We learned also that visitors to Havana can pre-schedule an open studio visit to Malpaso.
Add visiting Malpaso in Havana to the long list of reasons to go to Cuba soon before it changes.
And in the meantime, clearing your schedule to see Malpaso dance in their remaining performances at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago is a top pick recommendation for any free time you can find today and tomorrow.
March 10 and 11 at 7:30 PM
The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
1306 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
312-369-8330 and or visit colum.edu/dancecenterpresents.
Photos: Judy Ondrey-- Top slider images of Indomitable Waltz
and all others courtesy of Malpaso Dance Company.
"Step Inside Malpaso" mini-documentary was produced by Joyce Theater Productions, with videography by T.M. Rives.