With a barrage of glittery ruffles and gleaming smiles, Danzabierta gave us another glimpse of Cuban modern dance on Saturday. The show was part of the “Cultural Evolution” festival of Cuban culture presented by the Copperbridge Foundation, which also brought the outstanding Cuban troupe Malpaso to Miami in June. With these two shows, the foundation has opened up a window into one aspect of the island’s artistic scene — contemporary dance — that was almost completely unknown in Miami.
The theatrical look and concept of Showroom, which Danzabierta performed at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, was different from the stripped-down blend of post-modernism and Afro-Cuban movement we saw with Malpaso. Choreographed by Danzabierta artistic director Susana Pous, Showroom gave us the stage as metaphor for life, where performing hides the real person within. But the passionate and finely executed dancing could not ultimately transcend an idea that is far from new.
In this case, the performance is classic Cuban cabaret. Showroom starts with the six excellent dancers (Yoankis Matos, Abel Berenguer, Gabriel Mendez, Maylin Castillo, Taimi Ramos and Diana Columbie), clad in flesh-colored trunks, bras and skullcaps, slowly crawling up from a fetal mass to gather elaborately ruffled, white and silver mambo skirts, sleeves and headdresses. Then, cloaked in shimmying glory, they burst through the silver curtains of the stage-spanning, wheeled wall that divides on stage from backstage, performing from interior life. (Pous designed both costumes and set.) With their rapidly undulating torsos, fluorescent smiles, grimacing winks and cries of “ agua!” they were so convincing as cabaret dancers that the audience applauded reflexively. Castillo in particular was superb as the lead dance diva, glittering eyebrows rising to match her towering headdress, her imperious expression dissolving into panic as the fictional façade keeps cracking open.
Showroom goes back and forth between ruffled presentation and stripped-down “real” emotion. The wall rotates to show us onstage and backstage, sometimes simultaneously — at one point it even becomes a carnival float. The effective score, by famed Cuban musician X Alfonso, alternates bursts of Cuban popular styles like timba, bolero and conga with starkly thudding electronic sounds.
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Behind the wall, the nearly nude dancers grapple and hug in combative/erotic ways and vault through the air at each other, as if desperate to connect. But they also thrust each other back into costume and out in front of the shimmering curtain, back to the show. At one point, Matos and Ramos do a long, yearning backstage duet as the other dancers hit the stage; after Matos finally leaves her, Ramos holds out, in poignant isolation, until she too is swallowed up. At the end, the dancers undulate back to back, half-ruffled, half-nude, the costumed parts of their bodies moving frantically, the rest immobile, as if possessed by overpowering spirits.
All this is executed with a vibrant and impressive level of theatrical dancing and technical craft. But Showroom repeats the same imagery, the same contrasts, over and over — we get it. And the concept — that we hide our real emotions behind a social mask, with a performer’s life a metaphor for that duality — is far from new. You could also interpret Showroom as a metaphor for Cuba, with the cabaret standing in for the cliché image of sexy exuberant Cubans, covering up their struggle and isolation. But that still doesn’t make this shiny but facile production any deeper.
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Copperbridge’s “Cultural Evolution” festival continues through Thursday. Complete information and schedule at copperbridge.org.