BECKET — If our country’s relaxing of sanctions with Cuba continues, perhaps visits from the likes of the Havana-based Malpaso Dance Company, performing at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week, will be more frequent. Given this contemporary company’s compelling, handsomely-trained dancers, more appearances would be most welcome.
Cofounded in 2012 by executive director Fernando Sáez Carvajal, dancer Daileidys Carrazana Gonzalez, and artistic director, dancer and choreographer Osnel Delgado Wambrug, the group’s name — a sly little joke — does not, happily, live up to its translation. Any “misstep” is merely a (tongue-in-cheek) misnomer.
The program’s two works, created this year, showcase the dancers’ physicality, a blend of unfussy ballet technique and lushly earthy modern dance, spiked with now-soft, now-explosive capoeira.
Like many of his dances, Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire” — set to a series of songs recorded by the singer-songwriter known as Grandma Kelsey — confidently walks a delicate line between pathos and subtle humor.
Though it’s marked by beautiful, discrete duets, the recurring motifs of circles creates a strong sense of solidarity. The partnering throughout is permeated by a kind of slowness, the pacing making the contact between two dancers seem palpable — truly connected. In one duet, different levels and planes are explored; in another, the dancers don’t actually touch, but rather trace, circle, and slice at the space around each other.
At one point, the riveting Dunia Acosta Arias is lobbed above her partner’s head, her legs tucked up and bent, froglike; later, in her exquisite duet with Joan Rodríguez Hernandez, she flings herself into the same position, but now lower, on him; earlier, from an upright stance, she freefall tilts into his waiting arms; at the end of the dance, she catapults herself backward into a group of men. These images are full of surprise, a somewhat fraught drama, but the fact that there’s always someone there, waiting and ready, is consoling. This dance isn’t about life-altering tragedy, but perhaps about life-affirming resilience. The different ways in which we interact with and love others is explored, but so too is the way we sometimes need to lean on a community.
“Despedida” (“Farewell”), which takes its name from the poem of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges, also highlights the dancers’ musicality. Delgado Wambrug’s staging is a thrilling partner to the music, a rousing, often playful original composition by Arturo O’Farrill that is performed live by him and members of his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble. Like the musicians, the dancers prove to be fine individual players who stand out when asked to but otherwise come together to make great music: Sometimes they simmer in tight unison, particularly in the sumptuous floorwork; trios overlap and blend smoothly; occasionally one (often Delgado Wambrug, fluidly powerful, and the star of his own piece) strikes out for a solo. In her only appearance in this program, the strong, agile Carrazana Gonzalez shares a weight-testing duet with Rodríguez Hernandez, one of the company’s quietly arresting men.
The farewell in this dance, arriving after so much flowing, captivating movement, feels more like the kind of goodbye you offer at the end of a party, rather than the wistful finality of the Borges poem. No matter: Why artists create what they do, and what inspires them, can often be a mystery, and as in “Despedida,” a lovely one that needn’t be unpacked.
MALPASO DANCE COMPANY
At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, through Sunday. Tickets: $45-$75. 413-243-0745, www.jacobspillow.org
Janine Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.