By Laura Diffenderfer
Malpaso Dance Company has emerged as one of the most captivating Cuban dance troupes working today. The company has received numerous accolades, including recognition for its “sparklingly present” and “remarkably strong” dancing (The New York Times). Having toured extensively in the past few years, Malpaso is still reeling from its recent debut at the L.A. Music Center, which propelled the Los Angeles Times critic to experience a “pinch-me moment, one of those times when you catch an artistic dawning.” On that bill was company artistic director Osnel Delgado’s 24 Hours and a Dog, which you may have viewed at The Joyce previously; as well as Sonya Tayeh’s Face the Torrent and Aszure Barton’s Indomitible Waltz —both making their New York premieres Jan 17–21, 2018.
Founded just five years ago by arts advocate Fernando Saez and dancers Osnel Delgado and Daileidys Carrazana who met working in Cuba’s main government-supported contemporary dance company, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Malpaso has experienced an incredible rise since that time . Having received no funding from the Cuban government to date, the company’s unlikely ascension is truly a testament to its unique talent and spirit, as well as the generosity of its friends. The Joyce Theater is a proud supporter of Malpaso, and has helped to tour the company to more than 30 cities in the past three years through its production and touring arm, Joyce Theater Productions; and has produced or commissioned most of its works, including the quiet and mesmerizing Indomitible Waltz, which we sat down with the Barton to discuss.
What kind of work did you envision creating before you arrived in Cuba?
The words that first came to mind were jubilant and colorful.
Did your idea morph and change after you arrived? If so, what contributed to those shifts?
Oh yes. Over a year and a half later, I was in a very different place. Together, we ended up creating something different. The process, and ultimately the dance, manifested in an intimate exploration of the soul. It became an honest conversation with an unbelievably humble dance family. The original concept for the costumes was vibrant and fabulous but we ended up losing the bright color (and the garnish) and went with something much simpler. The dancers themselves are the intensity.
What was the experience of working in Cuba like for you?
It was beautiful, and an absolute pleasure. I have rarely felt so at home in the studio and in a place. The Cuban dancers I met are fully passionate about our art form; they are committed. I was reminded of how absolutely fortunate I am to have the life that I do, to have the kind of family that I do, to be able to encounter such generosity, and to have such intimate human exchanges in this life. It really was an amazing journey.
Was there anything in particular you were thinking about while creating Indomitable Waltz that helped shape the work?
I made a conscious effort to trust my soul and to discourage myself from placing judgement or expectation on my process.
Did the dancers inform the way the piece came together?
Yes, absolutely, it was a very collaborative process and without them it would not exist.
Did anything surprise you about the country or the company?
I didn't know what to expect but I was deeply moved by the generosity of the dancers. I thought that communication would be much more challenging and it was not; we speak the same language through dance. I was reminded of our innate similarities and that we are unquestionably kindred. I was also enchanted by the architecture in Havana—there is beauty in decay.
What does the piece feel like to you?