Fifty-two years young, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at last made its US debut on Tuesday at the Joyce. Much buzz and sold-out notices accompanied its arrival, part of the citywide ¡Sí Cuba! festival. How good could they be? Very good, it turns out. Vibrant, skilled, disciplined dancers of all shapes and sizes (and hairstyles, particularly the guys), radiating with confidence. They bring to mind the Ailey company—top-notch dancers, flexible in style and approach, making the most (or at the mercy) of whatever choreography they’re presented with.
The company (24 dancers came to the US, but it is more than twice that size) will perform two programs over two weeks, and director Miguel Iglesias Ferrer wisely chose just a pair of works for the first. (The misguided, and all-too-frequent temptation would be to present as much repertory as possible, especially for this long-awaited run.) Mambo 3XXI (2009), choreographed by George Céspedes with the 21 dancers, is built on simple, repeating tap-pivots done crisply in unison. The effect was initially cheerfully retro, but after many repetitions, felt like exercises. Solos and duets followed, and partnered trios featuring soaring women lifted aloft. The prosaic movement was done with precision, dotted with influences of hip-hop and capoeira. The finale recalled a Broadway number—crescendoing movement phrases ending in a centerstage tableau of beaming dancers.
Mats Ek’s psychologically motivated movement in Casi-Casa (2009) proved a stark contrast to the external brightness of Mambo. Yet the dancers capably handled the angled limb, isolation-dense expressionism of Ek’s choreography. The hypnotic Osnel Delgado led off—his restless, elastic body following the curves of a modern chair, that along with a door and a stove, defined the setting as domestic. The sundry stories conveyed through dance were romantic, tragic (a smoking doll pulled from oven), quotidien and somewhat sexist (a female quintet with “vacuums,” led by the charismatic Jenny Soca), and more. The company did justice to the striking lines and springing split leaps by Ek. And they ably handled the emotional opposite poles of the two works. Tickets are apparently scarce, but it’s worth a try.