Malpaso Dance Company brings Cuban culture to Texas

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With dim lights and a deep, steady drum beat, the Malpaso Dance Company prepares its audience to receive a taste of Cuban culture.

“Our contemporary dance is deeply based on where we come from, an island that could be approached as a dancing island,” said Fernando Saez, Malpaso Dance Company co-founder and executive director. “Music is also very important ingredient of our culture.” 

On Feb. 9, as part of its ninth U.S. tour, the company will sway to a Cuban musical beat at UT’s Bass Concert Hall with a mixture of contemporary and ballet techniques. 

“It has been a dialogue and a chance, a way of breaching and expanding our own visions of what the reality and cultures are all about,” Saez said. “Collaborations are essential to us because it is one of the most effective ways of fighting our own cliches and the assumptions we have accumulated throughout our lifetime.”

Daileidys Carrazana, co-founder and associate artistic director of the Havana-based company, said the 16 dancer company is no stranger to performing for American audiences.

“In our studio we host groups rich with American visitors and we have noticed that the Cuban and American cultures have many things in common,” Carrazana said. “There is a strong connection between the traditions of the American ballet and the Cuban ballet and also we are very connected in the fields of modern and contemporary dance.” 

Carrazana said the U.S. is one of their favorite locations to tour because of the warm acceptance they have received from audiences.

“It is very rewarding to have the experience of confronting our work with the American audiences and the way they react in a very open and receptive way,” Carrazana said.

Saez said the moves they typically integrate into their performances represent the ways in which music and dance intertwine with the Cuban lifestyle.

“The kind of dances we develop should be something related to the easy musicality and strong physicality of our dances and some theatrical elements can (also) be identified in most of our work,” Saez said.

Saez said these elements are deeply intertwined with the Cuban nationality and way of life.

“The musicality and the physical elements are very important in our culture,” Saez said. “Dance and music are related to the very essence of the cultural quality of being Cuban. (They) are not merely related to having fun, leisure and entertainment. They are related to anthropological elements connected to communications, the practice of memory and cultural resistance.”

Maria Karla Araujo, a dancer for the company, said although they may make some changes or additions to traditional dances, the troupe feels a strong responsibility to maintain the essence of the Cuban culture. 

“The commitment for an honest delivery and the work we convey with the audience are connected with the reality from which we come and the circumstances in which we exist,” Araujo said.

In the end, Saez said the performances have been more of an educational experience for them than for
their audiences. 

“It has been an exchange,” Saez said. “We have been learning more than what the audiences have learned
from us.”