Cuba's Malpaso Dance Company Makes Cleveland Connections

[photo: Nir Arieli]
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A little bit of Havana comes to Northeast Ohio this weekend at Playhouse Square.  Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company, acclaimed internationally for pushing the boundaries of modern dance, comes to Cleveland for two performances and to work with the local dance community. 

Malpaso co-founder, Fernando Saez, says his company is committed to delivering complex artistic work.

"[Which] means that we have to be deeply committed to the complexity of what contemporary Cuba is all about.  Somehow as contemporary Cuban artists we have the mission and the responsibility of asking that of ourselves on a daily basis," he said. 

To bring Malpaso to Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Foundation is partnering with Dance Cleveland through its international artist residency program, Creative Fusion.

Dance Cleveland Executive Director Pam Young says Cuba has a long, modern-dance tradition going back to the 1950s when Cuban dancers trained with pioneers of American modern dance.

"They studied with Martha Graham and José Limón, went back to Cuba and opened up an institute for modern dance.  They really developed it into a Cuban technique that really blends that Afro-Carribean/Cuban movements with modern dance and even very formalized ballet,” she said. 

Malpaso Dance Company, founded in 2012, performs in Playhouse Square Friday and Saturday before a residency of workshops at Cleveland State University next week.

Saez believes the recent warming of relations between Cuba and the US has been a turning point for the company.

"I feel that in a deep way we have benefitted very much from this decision.  However I do have to say that Malpaso Dance Company was deeply committed with rescuing and retaking an organic relationship with the American dance community before that date," he said.

Earlier this year a contingent of Cleveland artists and arts leaders traveled to Havana, including a group from Dance Cleveland.

Saez says the exchange has been rewarding.

"It’s always exciting to see a group of people so deeply committed to develop exchanges in life and to be so focused on bridges with a consciousness that life is about making friends that life is about bridges that isolation is the worst enemy, not only of Cuban culture, it’s the worst enemy of any culture," he said.

This is the company's second visit to Northeast Ohio after a sold-out performance last year.

Saez fell in love with Cleveland the last time Malpaso was here.

"It is not only related to the arts and to the very impressive arts institutions that you have in your country and in particular in your city the theaters, the museums.  I should include also the lake and walleye fishing.  I should include the Indians and how much I love baseball," he said.

Young is excited that following this weekend's free concerts Malpaso plans to interact with the local dance community over the course of ten days when they'll teach at Cleveland State University during CSU's summer dance program.

"We’re giving them a studio, they’re going to be working on brand new work with another choreographer coming from Chicago.  They’re going to be part of Cleveland State’s AHA! Festival.  It’s a very wonderful and long, deep engagement," she said.

With the company returning to Northeast Ohio, Saez believes a bond is beginning to form.

"It’s a whole adventure to meet all again in a different context and to be able to deliver our work but this is going to be a second round and a beautiful adventure," he said.

Malpaso Dance Company takes the Ohio Theater stage this Friday and Saturday night.  While tickets for both performances were free they were all claimed in less than ten minutes.

Listen to Dan Polletta's report Thursday, June 1 at 12:33pm on 90.3 during Here and Now featuring the Sound of Applause.





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