Malpaso is a Cuban dance company with a sense of humor: The name is Spanish for “misstep.” Founded in 2012 by former members of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Malpaso made its Boston debut at the Boch Shubert Theatre in 2016 with a Celebrity Series-sponsored program that included the amusing “24 horas y un perro” (“24 Hours and a Dog”). Global Arts Live had scheduled the company to return in March 2020; that appearance was scuppered by the COVID pandemic, and so was a planned visit as part of Global Arts Live’s Winter Dance Fest last January. Sunday proved third time lucky, as Malpaso brought a quartet of contemporary pieces to the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre.
The program began with a solo, “Lullaby for Insomnia” (2021), choreographed by company member and Malpaso co-founder Daileidys Carrazana. Dressed in a dark tank top and shorts, Heriberto Meneses seems to be channeling all his insomniac thoughts into the muscles of his body. He mimes weightlifting, adopts a swimmer’s crouch, looks at an arm as if it belonged to someone else, peers uneasily around and overhead, walks toward the wings as if searching for an exit door, stretches, high-kicks, lies on his back in the hope that sleep will come. Insomnia is his invisible opponent; if he doesn’t prevail, his “Lullaby” is still an acrobatic delight.
Mats Ek’s “woman with water” (2020) starts as the story of a woman in an orange shift (Dunia Acosta) and a simple green wooden table. Acosta is drawn to the table; she rubs its top with her foot, dusts it with the hem of her shift, sits on it, crawls underneath. Then a man (company co-founder Osnel Delgado) appears, puts a glass on the table, and fills it from a pitcher. He becomes her new lover; she’s in a trance, or perhaps a nightmare as he pulls at her braid. She drinks from the glass, leaps about in sensuous celebration, pulls a drawer out of the table. Delgado returns; Acosta drinks again, drops the glass, collapses. He brings out a broom and sweeps up; the two men who brought the table out take it away. Delgado ends the piece by sweeping Acosta off stage.
Carrazana and Ek reminded us how much you can say in 10 minutes. The two 30-minute works that followed reminded us that longer isn’t always better. Set to Ambrose Akinmusire’s bluesy trumpet score, Aszure Barton’s “Stillness in Bloom” (2021) begins with dancers backing around one another cautiously in a signature two-second phrase. Gradually the space between dancers closes up, but the piece doesn’t come into focus until Beatriz Garcia and Armando Gomez engage in a clingy love duet that’s also a wrestling match and ends with her dragging him into the wings. The dancers refill the space, still with more patterns than relationships. Meneses concludes it with a jittery solo that suggests more insomnia; he’s crouched into a ball as the lights go out.
Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa” is set to the 1977 Arvo Pärt composition; Naharin created the work back in 1986, but in 2018 he went to Cuba to restage it for Malpaso. The first half — Pärt’s “Ludus” — is a firestorm of spontaneous, spasmodic movement dotted with a ballet vocabulary of jetés, barrel turns, and deep pliés. But it’s the second half — Pärt’s “Silentium” — that sticks. The 10 dancers enter downstage left, one by one, sidestepping, swaying back and forth. It’s hypnotic, until dancer #8 (Leonardo Dominguez) stops dead and #9 (Garcia) and #10 (Osvaldo Cardero ) bump into him. That comic turn leads to a more serious trio in which an elusive Garcia leaves her two suitors grappling with each other. After a sequence of swaying in place, the women begin to jump into the men’s arms; Acosta has Delgado lined up (shades of “woman with water”), but Gomez beats her to it. Acosta persists; eventually Delgado carries her off, and Carrazana goes and lies atop the supine Gomez while the other dancers continue to sway.
Malpaso Dance Company
Presented by Global Arts Live. At: Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Sunday, June 5.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.