Between a nasty respiratory virus that was making its way through our ranks and the cumulative exhaustion of our event-filled week, many of us were barely standing by this final night of our Cuban theater intensive. And so it was with some ambivalence that I staggered up the flight of stairs to the 2nd floor dance studio that would be the sight of our final presentation.
While most of the groups we encountered were thoughtfully curated ahead of time, this one happened rather spontaneously, following a fateful night at the bar where Moises Kaufman and Teresa Eyring met the choreographer, Susana Pous. At that moment (11:30pm), she called her dancers and convinced them to come together for this impromptu performance the following evening.
Danza Abierta is a Cuban dance company whose work sits comfortably in the space between modern dance and theater. Their leadership structure was unique among those companies we encountered. The General Director of the company, Guido Gali, describes himself as a dance dramaturg, technical director and administrative director of the company. The Choreographer and Artistic Director of the company, Susana Pous, is originally from Barcelona and brings with her a sophisticated and wide ranging dance vocabulary along with a genuine passion for Cuba. According to Sous and unlike other companies we have seen, they do not train specifically in Cuban technique but rather use a mx of influences “without losing touch with what is Cuban.” The company develops their work in a laboratory fashion, using a variety of improvisation and dramaturgical techniques over the course of a year before presenting the complete work.
The piece we saw was “Showroom”, a powerful dance narrative depicting the onstage and backstage dynamics of a group of cabaret dancers. The quality of choreography and dancers was first rate, but what made it particularly thrilling was the specific emotional intensity and transformation of each dancer, in addition to their physical prowess. A simple framed curtain on wheels rotated and shifted as the characters straddled the backstage and onstage worlds of the story. The piece was haunting and invigorating, and left me breathless at its conclusion.
Although the work was not on our original itinerary, our trip to Cuba would not have been complete without seeing this extraordinary group of artists.
Mara Isaacs is a creative producer dedicated to fostering an expansive range of compelling theatrical works for local, national and international audiences. In 2013, Mara launched Octopus Theatricals, LLC, a theatrical producing and consulting company. She is currently completing her 18th season at McCarter Theatre, where she is producing director and responsible for daily artistic oversight of McCarter’s theater series and play development programs. She has produced over 100 productions that have been seen in theaters around the country, on and off-Broadway, and internationally. Prior to McCarter, Mara produced new play development programs and productions for the Mark Taper Forum. She teaches courses in creative producing, international theater and musical theater development for Princeton University, and serves on the Board of Directors for Tofte Lake Center in Ely, MN.
(Photo of Mara Isaacs by T. Charles Erickson)