Penn Live Arts Blog

An extraordinary lineage, Havana’s Malpaso Dance Company makes its Penn Live Arts debut

Posted September 27, 2023

There’s a saying that everyone dances in Cuba. This dancing island boasts rich histories and colorful traditions from Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, Asia and Europe. It is no wonder Cuba has spawned some of the greatest dancers of all time, including Alicia Alonso, superstar prima ballerina and founder of the National Ballet of Cuba, as well as the world’s most popular music styles such as the son (salsa), mambo, cha-cha-chá, merengue, guaguancó, bolero and Afro-Latin jazz. Hailing from this cultural hotspot, the technically gifted, versatile and strikingly gorgeous Malpaso Dance Company (MDC) makes its Penn Live Arts debut October 6-7 with the world premiere of A Dancing Island plus two Philadelphia premieres, Indomitable Waltz and La Última Canción.

A rising star on the world stage, Malpaso’s repertoire features works by celebrated choreographers including Merce Cunningham, Ohad Naharin, Mats Ek, Aszure Barton, Ronald K. Brown, Sonya Tayeh, Trey McIntyre and of course, Osnel Delgado and Daileidys Carrazana, both featured on this program. Delgado and Carrazana danced with Danza Contemporánea de Cuba from 2003-2011 and in 2012, founded Malpaso along with Fernando Sáez.

The Spanish word “Malpaso” translates into “miss step” or “false step.” I was perplexed by its name when I first saw the company perform in 2017 at NextMove Dance. The performance featured Delgado’s 24 Hours and a Dog and Ronald K. Brown’s Why We Follow, and I was mesmerized by the dancers’ over-the-top artistry, fluid athleticism, lush movement quality and thrilling musicality. The dancers were so versatile – they could do anything. Perhaps, it is due to their training in la técnica cubana, a unique and challenging blend of North American modern dance (Duncan, Graham, Limón, Cunningham), European ballet, African traditions and popular influences of Creole colonial ballroom dances. Local dance audiences have a fascination with Cuban dancers from Philadelphia Ballet’s principals Arian Molina Soca, Mayara Pineiro and Dayesi Torriente to the Rock School’s virtuoso triplets Angel, César and Marcos Ramirez who won our hearts just like Malpaso did back in 2017.

Osnel Delgado (MDC’s Artistic Director and resident choreographer) comes from a dance family proficient in Cuban technique. Both parents are dance teachers. His father, Esteban Delgado, danced for 15 years with Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, the country’s leading contemporary dance company. His mother, Idania Wambrug Rodriguez, teaches at the National Ballet School in Havana, where Delgado graduated and is also a professor of dance studies. Delgado spent his early days in theatres and eventually followed in his father’s footsteps. Why would he and Carrazana leave a well-established company? Many considered it a “miss step,” and Malpaso Dance Company was born.

Fernando Sáez notes, "Our dancers are all graduates of our national dance schools for modern and ballet, and they are all wonderful social dancers as well, something that is typical in Cuba. We want to narrow the gap between the high standards of Cuban dancers and the [ability] level in terms of choreography." Malpaso’s founders created a repertory company showcasing the works of acclaimed dance-makers while providing a voice for new Cuban choreographers. Its mission is to bring contemporary Cuban dance to the 21st century.

For our performances, the program highlight is the world premiere of Delgado’s A Dancing Island, a Penn Live Arts co-commission. Set to a new score by Grammy® Award-winning composer, saxophonist and conductor Ted Nash, A Dancing Island explores the genesis and evolution of Cuban social dances and is a celebration of the country’s rich heritage. It is a true showcase of MDC’s artistry and Delgado’s unique, inventive and joyful choreographic voice.

Also on the program is the “totally engrossing” (Palm Beach ArtsPaper) Indomitable Waltz, choreographed by Aszure Barton, Canada’s official ambassador of contemporary dance. Set to music by the Balanescu Quartet and Nils Frahm, this intriguing dance is an exploration into the soul. The physical vocabulary includes quivers, inversions, stares, knee-high jumps, rolls, flawless partnering, unexpected interactions and unusual lifts suggesting a rollercoaster of emotions. Our dance audiences may remember Barton’s stunning works, Busk and Blue Soup, performed when Barton’s company made its debut in 2011. (Barton’s Les Chambres des Jacques will also be featured when Ballets Jazz Montréal returns to our stage in February 2024.)

Completing the program is La Última Canción by co-founder and Associate Artistic Director Daileidys Carrazana. In addition to the performances, there is a post-show talk with the artists hosted by Christopher Gruits, our Executive & Artistic Director, on October 6 as well as a masterclass for intermediate to advanced dancers on October 7.

Join us for this rare appearance by Cuba’s most foremost company! Be ready to move and be moved by the rhythms, colors and sensations of this dancing island.

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