Dance Review: Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Mixed Bill @ Sadler’s Wells

Where the word “Cuba” is mentioned in connection with a dance company, the words “sexy” and “spirited” are never far behind. So let’s get those formalities out of the way now: the 24 dancers of Danza Contemporánea de Cuba are young, athletic and gorgeous; their extensions fly as high as their hips wind low; and this energetic programme celebrates both modern dance technique and Cuban flavours, in places very successfully.

Guest choreographer Itzik Galili’s work is well-represented on the Sadler’s Wells stage lately, with works A Linha Curva and Sub included in recent Rambert programmes. His new commission for DCC, Sombrisa, is more of the same – a mass ensemble work full of hyper-energetic action and lots of legs on show. This particular version of the Galili ouevre marries Steve Reich’s tribal Drumming No. 1 to scissored legs and salsa shimmies; for some reason, this one is performed in boxing gloves. By trying too hard to be sexy – the women in tiny frilly skirts winding provocatively and gesturing to their bosoms with gloved hands, the men writhing and diving – Sombrisa misses the mark and ends up looking tawdry.

If Galili’s effort to be sexy is too obvious to be successful, the same can be said about Finnish choreographer Kenneth Kvamström’s attempt to be fun. A humorous homage, as the name (and punctuation) suggest, to Bizet’s famous melodrama, Carmen?!   is neither an all-out romp in the style of the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, nor a sensitive modern adaptation in the mould of Matthew Bourne’s. It’s rather a one-note joke, with the cast of seven men pulling exaggerated flamenco poses and histrionic faces to no particular end. At five minutes long, this would have been quite fun. At a drawn-out 25 minutes, it’s anything but.

The programme is rescued by a revival of Mambo3XXI, DCC’s 2010 production by house choreographer George Céspedes. Set to music by “Mambo King” Pérez Prado remixed by Beny Moré, the work nods to Cuban rhythmic and movement traditions without being engulfed by either. Dressed for a 1950s PE class in white vests and long shorts, the 24 dancers begin Mambo3XXI in a rigid grid formation that suggests a highly-monitored, quasi-military society. It looks great; but soon the pace steps up and the dancers break free of both the formation and the rigid actions, rippling into the space with arcing torsos and gyrating hips. It’s mambo, but not as we know it – towards the end of the piece, sensuous doublework takes over from the segmented unison, building to a luscious finish. By keeping the obvious to a minimum and the dance material creative, Mambo3XXI succeeds in being both sexy and fun where the rest of the programme stumbles.

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is at Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R until 1 June. Call the Box Office on 0844 412 4300 or book online at
Originally posted at

Dance: Made By Katie Green – Matters of Life and Death at The Place

Made by Katie Green 'Matters of Life and Death' Photo: Nuno Santos.

Originally created in 2010 for the inaugural UK Young Artists showcase in Derby, Matters of Life and Death is choreographer Katie Green’s eighth, and most substantial, work to date. Appearing here in its London premiere, the hour-long piece takes Graham Swift’s unsettling novel Waterland as its inspiration, in particular a scene in which four characters find a drowned body in a sluice and how this fatal discovery reverberates through their own lives.

Opening with a sequence performed in near-darkness, in which flashes of physical forms and suggestions of action are picked out by torchlight, Matters of Life and Death plays with the visual and the cinematic throughout its duration. The body discovered, a panicked Daniela Larsen is first on the scene, fretting and casting about herself for assistance. She is joined by three helpers, who hoist Adam Kirkham’s body from the water; just as it seems we have the measure of the skittish Larsen, and a more dispassionate Rebecca Yates, the scene rewinds and we view again from another character’s perspective. With clever wrapping and reversing, Green’s choreography makes visible the conflicting narratives of multiple narrators.

One might imagine a corpse would have little to do, but Kirkham’s body becomes animated in a series of flashback and dream sequences that illustrate his impact on the other characters. Marie Chabert seems to feel weighed down with guilt after the discovery, the world pressing in on her and Kirkham’s carcass heavy on her lap. Larsen fears the body reanimating and making erotic advances on her, ending in her own strangulation; Morgan Cloud imagines instead some kind of brotherly communion. The grim situation pushes all four into a frenzied whirl, bodies pushed off-kilter as lives are unbalanced by the discovery.

Max Perryment’s electronic soundscore is a superbly atmospheric accompaniment to the work; much like Green’s choreography, it’s evocative without being obvious. Green’s five agile dancers make nimble work of the emotional twists and turns, and keep the piece both enjoyably physical and admirably legible. The disquieting subject matter and troubled characters leave little room here for levity; dark as it is, Matters of Life and Death is an accomplished and highly watchable piece of dance theatre.

Q&A with Katie Green

Originally published at