When Susana Pous left her native Barcelona to study dance in New York with Martha Graham and Jose Limon, she had no idea she would settle in Havana and turn her passion to choreography and filmmaking. But her mixed-media work being performed by DanzAbierta (Open Dance), a small Cuban company making its first U.S. appearance this week at Jacob’s Pillow, is rightly described as a love letter to Havana.
Cuba’s dance forms, a showy fusion of influences from South America, Africa and Europe, are popular staples of partying America: rumba, mambo, tango, conga and cha-cha. DanzAbierta, a five-member contemporary troupe founded in 1988, is one of the experimental folk groups that have emerged since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and first nationalized the ballet company.
Pous has worked with Danz-Abierta under its artistic director, Guido Gali, since 1999. Its name suggests openness to cross-pollination, and Pous’ hourlong “MalSon,” loosely translated as a bad kind of dance (maybe bowdlerized or impure), reflects these wriggling party influences as well as her own colorful compound of film and video. Her pieces have been seen on tour in Canada, Western Europe and South America.
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Jacob’s Pillow Ted Shawn Theatre, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass.
HOW MUCH: $64.50-$43.50
MORE INFO: 413-243-0745, www.jacobspillow.org
Throughout “MalSon,” dancers pair off in multiple ways, but whether in love, hate, adventure or chaos, they never lose their relationship to one another. As the piece begins, two couples in neat casual dress are dancing, while the fifth dancer, Saro Silva, strides purposefully around the stage in a square pattern. Like the other women, she is in high heels — what else would Cubans wear for this? The dancers move busily to the sound of a telephone busy signal. Silva begins to meddle with the couples, and at one point, the odd woman out shouts at her man to hug and kiss her and need her as much as she needs him.
It turns out that their outfits, in black, white and gray tones, as well as a large cinderblock that looks immovable but isn’t —and low-budget lighting — all are intentional and significant. The revelatory moment comes when the dancers face stage rear. Up comes a backdrop projection of Havana’s famous waterfront and skyline, in vivid color, intensified by rhythmic percussive recorded music arranged by the Afro-Cuban singer X Alfonso. Screen action, with views of the dancers and the city, becomes part of the work’s atmosphere, its story and its look.
The exciting conceit is that the dancers are in the film, brightly dressed, so their number doubles, adding to the foreground, where they wear gray and black. Right away, 10 dancers, instead of five, and partners are lost and changed in the crowds.
From this point “MalSon” hurtles forward with color and life. The back of the stage explodes with images of the crowded city’s color, big old cars and bleached-out buildings with hollow doorways, views of sea and skyscraper hotels, a fleeting vertical zoom-out of a woman in red lying at the bottom of a square staircase, and another of dancers in an elevator with a door grate. Clouds float in a blue sky, male voices vocalize.
The film is sometimes speeded up for even more intensity, while dancers on stage flash their fluid torsos, Caribbean style. In a moment of stylized rumba, females grip the males’ buttocks as they extend their arms stiffly forward. The girls wriggle, backs to the audience, while the guys, Abel Berenguer and Yoan Matos, dance separately. The left-out girl, Yaima Cruz, with her black pageboy bob, stands transfixed, elbows crooked forward.
In a suddenly silent interlude on stage, Mailyn Castillo desperately tries to escape being confined by the block. The scene jumps to a blue car on the beach near the blue water. The five drive together, fight in the car, then come to terms. In the final image, they sit comfortably on the block, along with themselves in the video, looking at Havana’s water and skyline.
No wonder this dance, by a foreign-born choreographer, has been called a symbol of Cuban nationality. Oh what a beautiful city. A love letter — just the thing.