I’ve heard people mention Riverdance when speaking of Dance Cuba. That’s misleading. There are no misterioso moments when Lizt Alfonso’s company hits the stage, and no male dancers. Alfonso and her 16 women present a bright, shiny entertainment—intermissionless and short to keep the parents and kids in the New Victory’s audiences happy. The choreography and company style stress impeccable unison, symmetrical final tableaux, semipermanent smiles, winning energy, and good-looking, identical costumes. For the first third of the program, a change of blouses or vests over basic black skirts and white petticoats gives each dance a whole new look.
Andalucia Suite offers dances in the neoclassic mode—with scattered semi-balletic elements like chaîné turns, balancés, and attitudes; castanet work; and music by Ernesto Lecuona—as well as Gitanería, a gypsy duet for Yamilé Barrero and Maysabel Pintado that leads to a flamenco suite. You can admire Alfonso’s skillful interplay of small groups, the strong, precise heelwork rhythms, the bold dancing, and slightly kinky port de bras in a striking piece like Tango del Tiempo. Do not look for nuance, refinement, or hints of duende. There is some fierceness but few dark moments in this upbeat show. Elogio, to music by Reynier Mariño, performed by either Tais Hernández or Denise Román, is slow and slightly sad, but not brooding.
One look at the musicians—two singers, a guitarist, a keyboard player, a bassist, and two percussionists who handle congas, bongos, gourds, claves, and more—and you understand the fusion that Alfonso is exploring. In the final third of the show, the Spanish influences on Cuban culture are joined by the African. Ire a Santiago brings together one set of “Spanish” women in heels and ruffled red dresses with trains and some Cuban villagers wearing sandals, whose wide strides and slapping rhythms compete with the more refined style in sexy counterpoint. The premiere, De Novo, introduces elements from the “Guaguancó,” that part of the traditional Cuban rumba when, according to the program, the man “propositions” his partner. At the New Victory, the audience stands in for all those missing men, and the women do the heavy flirting—looking at us out of the corners of their eyes, swishing their flowered skirts, and undulating championship hips.
Sam Kim’s Placid Baby begins with a dazzling effect. We’ve been sitting in P.S. 122’s upstairs theater waiting for this Dixon Place presentation to start, and the place looks drably functional. Nothing hides the heaps of boxes, ladders, and other theatrical paraphernalia in one corner. But when the lights come up, we’re in a fuzzy blue dreamspace. Michael Stiller’s lighting festoons the walls with foliage, and the music (maybe Book of Love?) begins with a New Age sweetness. While six women (Jennifer Allen, Stacey Carlson, Tracy Dickson, Anneke Hansen, Tania Varela-Ibarra, and Kim) positioned differently about the room rearrange their arms, suddenly the name “Modigliani” surfaces in the song.
In the program, Kim acknowledges the influence of artist Raymond Pettibon, who often mates images and text in surprising ways: Superman ponders heaven; Gumby puts down the illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Kim’s world is that of the daydreaming adolescent, but no comment on or probing beneath those clichéd visions of girlhood emerges. She has abstracted behavior and emotion into gesture and pose. Although at one point she herself builds a movement into thrashing, and Varela-Ibarra has what might qualify as an outburst, Placid Baby is indeed placid, albeit with a hint of tartness. As the women dance alone or in pairs or all together to offbeat pop (Book of Love, Puffy Ami Yumi, Yaz, and Neu), they maintain a studied blankness. Carlson and Allen (who seems to have a lot more going on in her head than the others) maneuver their hips around and flip their hands in a half-awake show of sexiness. Dickson draws others into a big stroll down some imagined street. Kim and Allen have a gestural conversation and later grip hands and pull against each other. The women lie on their backs and “swim.” They stand and do side-together-side-together dance steps. At the end, Kim, alone, waves wanly.
Kim is undoubtedly smart and talented. In this case, although what we see is supposed to be enough, she seems to raise questions she’s not about to answer.