The Cuban modern dance troupe Danzabierta returned to Miami for a single night last Thursday, performing Malson, an urban fantasy inspired by Havana. The show at the Miami Dade County Auditorium drew an enthusiastic audience of approximately 200, a tribute to the appeal of the company and the work of the Copperbridge Foundation, which presents Cuban cultural events, including a Danzabierta concert in 2014. (This concert was co-presented by the Centro Cultural Español as part of their Cuba Ahora series on contemporary Cuban culture.)
Malson, like Showroom, the psychological, satirical portrait of Cuban cabaret dancers that the troupe performed here two years ago, is also by its Spanish director Susana Pous, and shares some of the same theatricality, though in a very different style. Instead Malson was an impressionistic multi-media portrait of a city, with the five dancers interacting with a stream of video on a stage-spanning screen – created by famed musician and artist X Alfonso, who also did the urgent and dramatic score. Although Pous’ creation is very different, the inspiration is reminiscent of 24 Hours and a Dog, also an urban portrait by Cuba’s Osnel Delgado for his Havana company Malpaso, another leading Cuban modern troupe that Copperbridge has presented here.
The sequences in Malson convey a series of moods: wonder, melancholy, urgency, and a sense of being trapped – and captivated. Pous gave a hint of her mixed feelings about the city in a post-performance Q&A, telling the audience "I fell in love with Havana," but also adding that "if you think [Malson] is about politics and society, that’s good."
In one sequence, the dancers (Maylin Castilla, Diana Columbie, Taimi Ramos, Gabriel Mendez and Abel Rojo) stride tensely and repeatedly back and forth, like hurried, stressed out citydwellers. In another Castilla and Columbie do a kind of mechanical salsa with Mendez and Rojo, the women frustratedly pushing and jerking the men’s stiff limbs, Castilla mouthing angry lyrics at male shortcomings. Castilla could be a stand-in, perhaps, for Pous’ feelings – or someone’s shifting feelings, at any rate - about Havana. At one point Castilla drifts around the stage, arms open as if in wonder, as clouds blow across a blue sky. But later the other dancers line up and spin her vertically at dizzying speed, her limbs outstretched like the spokes of a wheel, then Rojo spins her on his shoulders – it’s a startling feat, and makes Castilla seem a physical emblem for a sense of being spun out of control.
A tall, wide box that the dancers move about onstage, clamber onto and behind, serves as platform and wall. (Pous and Guido Galli designed the set and the costumes, simple, dark dresses and shirts and pants.) Early on Mendez sits atop the box, which aligns with video of the wall of the Malecon, looking out at the ocean, with a woman in a red dress walking and posing atop the wall, so that Mendez appears to be sitting on the wall with her, captivated by a fantasy emblem of Havana. Later video shows vertigo-inducing footage looking down a long square staircase, where the dancers move up and down, as if inside an Escher print; later we see them banging about inside an elevator, running down the street trying to catch up with a car. The woman in red reappears frequently – another stand-in, perhaps, for Pous in these images of struggle and stress.
Whether Pous is giving particular weight to Havana as causing this kind of claustrophobia and frantic chase after things that are always out of reach is unclear – most cities provoke these kinds of stressed-out reactions. But is a brief video of a man in a raft on the ocean, evoking the thousands of balseros desperate to escape Cuba.
Pous tends to repeat both the dance and video sequences longer than she needs to, so that they go from sharp, pungent impressions to repetitiveness. But Malson’s final image is a striking one, poignant and ambivalent: the dancers sitting in a line atop the platform, again aligned with a shot of the Malecon, so they seem to be staring at the sea and the horizon beyond – whether in wonder or longing, we don’t know.