As if it hadn’t been unseasonably warm all week in Boston, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba blew into town promising a hot night in Havana. Sunday afternoon at an unseasonably cold Cutler Majestic Theatre, the troupe delivered, making Christmas in Cuba seem an enticing prospect.
Lizt Alfonso, the company’s director and choreographer, founded her troupe in 1991 as an all-woman outfit named Danzas Ibéricas. By the next year, she had changed the name to Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, and in 2000, the company became a resident ensemble at Havana’s Gran Teatro, where the Cuban National Ballet also performs. Cuba’s Kings of Salsa, who played the Majestic in 2011, were smokier and more nightclubby; Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba makes greater use of ballet, contemporary, and flamenco. It now also has a few male dancers.
The program the company brought to the Majestic, “Cuba Vibra!,” tracked the development of Cuban music and dance since the 1950s. There wasn’t much of a story, but the performance was so infectious, it didn’t matter. And though the company roster distinguishes musicians from dancers, you can’t really play this music without dancing to it. Joan Manuel Morell started out on the bandstand as a singer, and a good one, but he wound up as one of the principal male dancers, with Oddebí García and Jerlandys Milián.
Alfonso designed “Cuba Vibra!” to show off her company’s versatility, and it did. The baseline was Latin social dance, at which her shoulder-shimmying, hip-swiveling, skirt-swishing women excel: mambo, rumba, conga, cha-cha-cha. But in the 1960s “Neighborhood” section, the ladies displayed their mastery of American rock ’n’ roll as well. “Hombre,” described as “a sticks dance,” found the women, in skin-tight fringed trousers, combining flamenco with rhythm gymnastics and a bit of morris dance to the beat of a drum and bugle corps. That piece and the flamenco-inspired “Fuerza y compás,” both led by Tamy González, showed off the ladies’ exceptional ensemble.
The opener, “Music and Stars,” proved that these dancers can do Broadway, and ballet training was likewise in evidence: grands jetés, manège sequences of passé-piqué, big barrel turns from the men. “Seduction,” a pas de deux for Milián and Yadira Yasell, was all ballet, beautiful but somehow not moving. Better were Alfonso’s concept pieces. The Afro-Cuban “Spirituality” found González surrounded by barefooted women in long white dresses and cowls and holding candles, ready to predict her future. “Blackout” was a war piece, with women in fatigues, parading, marching, and saluting, and Morell as a man with a sweetheart (Sandra Reyes) he didn’t want to leave. Eventually he got enlisted and sent off to the front, where the percussion section riddled his body and the lady soldiers took no notice.
The ladies took plenty of notice when Reyes stepped out with Milián in “Bésame mucho” and then Yasell took him away. The story line had Reyes finding consolation with Morell and Yaraidy Fernández hooking up with García. But the couplings were less important than the energy of the music and the dancing. Vocalist Rachel Pastor was a powerhouse on “Quizás, quizás, quizás” and “Bésame mucho”; Mayquel González’s trumpet had a searing solo in the mambo section of “Tea Party.” And the ladies, with or without men, had a good time. Any audience would be hard pressed not to follow suit.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba
Presented by World Music/CRASHarts. At: Emerson Majestic Theatre, Sunday
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.