Having seen a rehearsal for the Malpaso Dance Company on a recent trip to Havana, a highlight of our cultural tour, we were eager to see the New York Joyce Theater's full production. Guest choreographer Trey McIntyre, from Idaho, was on hand, enthusing about working on "Under Fire" with this talented group founded in 2012 by Daily Carrazana, Fernando Saez, and dancer choreographer Osnel Delgado, whose work, "Despedida/ Farewell," was in preparation for its world premiere. The company is one of a few in Cuba not supported by the government. The program at the Joyce, through this weekend, is a thrilling affirmation of flourishing independent arts in Cuba.
Trey McIntyre's "Under Fire," set to Grandma Kelsey's raw American vocals, features the dancers clustered and coupled. In particular, against the cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," dancers Dunia Acosta and Joan Rodriguez spin, seeming weightless. Inspired by a Borges poem, included in the program notes, Osnel Delgado's "Despedida/ Farewell" was accompanied by the music of Arturo O'Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz ensemble. They just won a Grammy. The 8-piece band sits in two tiers off to the side of the Joyce stage.
The dance starts with Osnel Delgado sitting alone, as if staring at the shore, with his back to the audience before the company joins him. The son of dance teachers, he trained in gymnastics before coming back to dance; the work is athletic, and charged by the live Latin music. Of this collaboration, O'Farrill, the son of Chico O'Farrill, said, it started with party talk about working together but then, months later, Fernando Saez said at a post-performance talk back, we have a surprise for you and brought him to a rehearsal at the Sephardic Center in Havana. A new ballet had been set to his music. "For a composer to see movement to your music is the most touching experience, and particularly because their dance is so rooted in Afro-Cuban experience, Afro-folklore and modern dance." O'Farrill created original music for "Despedida/ Farewell" after their chemistry with the dancers was established. "Otherwise," he said, "It would be like a failed love affair."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.