Cuban dance company debuts act with American influence

HAVANA -- Usually Havana lags behind New York, but, with the partnership of U.S. choreographer Ron Brown, dance fans in the Cuban capital got the jump on the Big Apple.

Brown was in Havana to create a work for the independent dance company MalPaso, or Misstep. One of its founding dancers and resident choreographer, Osnel Delgado, produced another. The two works debuted last weekend in the capital city's Mella Theater.

Cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States virtually dried up under the George W. Bush administration but has picked up in recent years, and MalPaso will get to perform Delgado's "24 Hours & a Dog" and Brown's "Why You Follow" at New York's Joyce Theater in May.

MalPaso formed in December 2012, with members ranging in age from 21 to 27 and whose vision of contemporary dance, Osnel said, is to create something innovative and fresh.

Delgado said his piece focuses on what happens to the dancers during a given day.

"Concretely, a day in this city, with, let's say, situations that reoccur in our training, our love lives, our deceptions, our deceits and an imaginary dog that is following us during the work and is present in the various locations," he said.

Brown, who has created works for New York's Alvin Ailey company, worked on a Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess." With Philadelphia's Philadanco, among other companies - not to mention his own Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company, Evidence - he is fascinated with storytelling and African and Caribbean rhythms.

"The conversation I'm having is this kind of triangle," Brown said of "Why You Follow," "between Western dance, Africa and Cuba."

He has taken them from Guinea, South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal. When he turned to Yoruba rhythms, he was told to go to Cuba. That was back in 1999.

On the island, he met with Cuban musicians and dancers, took classes, taught classes and now, more than a decade later, in cooperation with the Joyce Theater, discovered MalPaso.

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