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ON THE SCENE : Cuban dance company spends unexpected holiday in Placid

January 26, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Both the Martha Graham and the Paul Taylor Dance companies came to Lake Placid for a break from their intense performance schedules and to focus on creating new works while deepening bonds among the dancers and choreographers. These retreats were turning points in the choreographers' careers and in the direction of the companies which went on to new heights.

Over the Christmas-New Year's holiday, another company came to Lake Placid for a retreat, although in their case it wasn't a planned occasion; rather, it was an outcome of recent changes in U.S. immigration policies that left them adrift in the U.S. seeking a place to stay.

Even so, like their predecessors, the time in Lake Placid was well spent.

Article Photos

Here are the co-founders of the Malpaso Dance Company of Cuba. From left are choreographer Osnel Delgado, dancer Daileidys Carrazana and executive director Fernando Saez.
(Photo provided — Naj Wikoff )

The Malpaso Dance Company of Cuba has only been in existence five years, but in that short amount of time it has exploded onto the dance world charting bold and exciting performances that have been hailed in Havana, Los Angles, New York and beyond. As Eve Hill-Agnus, dance reviewer for the Los Angeles Times wrote about their November performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, "The Cuba-based Malpaso Dance Company's debut was a pinch-me moment, one of those times when you catch an artistic dawning."

The company was founded by the choreographer Osnel Delgado, Fernando Saez, who serves as the executive director, and the dancer Daileidys Carrazana. What they shared in common was a desire to create an independent dance company that will nurture and showcase the work of contemporary Cuban and top international choreographers and emphasize a collaborative style that includes space for improvisation. They wanted to create a repertory company where the dancers were part of the creative process. The outcome has been a wow, fully demonstrated on the stage of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts at the end of their residency.

The background of this visit can be traced back to the founding of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba in 1995, an institutionalized effort to foster cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba. The Foundation now has 27 U.S. partners, which includes the Joyce Theater of New York, along with more than 30 Cuban partners.

The Joyce Theater has a long history of commissioning dance. In 2013, working in collaboration with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Ludwig Foundation, they commissioned Brooklyn-based choreographer Ronald K. Brown to create a new work with a Cuban dance company taking him to Cuba to review about a dozen companies. Brown selected Malpaso, one of a handful of companies that does not receive government support, which resulted in a March 2014 performance at the Joyce.

In 2015-6, with the support of the Joyce and other partnering agencies, Malpaso came to the U.S. for a 15-city, 12-state tour. For the 2017-18 season, returning with new commissions and world premieres, Malpaso had planned a fall tour, then a six-week holiday in Cuba for most of December into early January, followed by a six-week winter tour back in the U.S.

Immigration red tape

Their problem was that recent changes in immigration policy under the Trump administration, coupled with the U.S. Embassy in Havana closing last fall when 21 of its staff came down with a mysterious illness, meant that had they gone home as planned, they would have had to re-apply for a visa with no guarantee that it would be approved in time to enable them to fulfill their January-February dates. The only way the be sure that they could fulfill their contractual obligations was to remain in the U.S.

The co-founders and the dancers discussed all the pros and cons of remaining in the U.S., not an easy decision as it meant six weeks away over the holidays. Plus, for nearly half the dancers, their home cities had been devastated by Hurricane Irma, and they very much desired to be with their families.

Lake Placid vacation

In the end, they decided to stay, but where? That's when Lake Placid Center for the Arts Director James Lemons received a phone call.

"I got a call from their agent," said Lemons. "I've known about the company since they developed their partnership with the Joyce, and I've know their agent for a while. When we meet with agents, we let them know we have more resources than just money; we have housing, residency work and so forth. Their agent called, said they were stuck in the United States, and asked if there was any way we could house them. I said sure. In exchange, they did three master classes for us and an open rehearsal. So, it worked out very well."

The dancers were extremely impressed with the caliber of the Lake Placid School of Ballet students, and Terpsie Toon, school director, and the students were equally pleased by the unexpected opportunity, even though attending master classes over the holiday was not ideal.

"What was really hard was that this during our Christmas break, but I called all our upper level kids and told them this was being offered," said Toon. "As many of them were getting ready for auditions I told them it would be good for them, and they came. The kids liked the dancers a lot. It was hard because of the language barrier, but they did a great job. I loved everything they did."

The members of Malpaso loved being in Lake Placid, even though the weather, including extremely cold temperatures, was a bit of a challenge and a learning opportunity, according to the dance company staff.

"Our philosophy is based on collaboration," said Saez. "To feel the love, care and solidarity of our partners, like the Joyce, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, and our other two hosts, it is not just business; it is about human connections. It's been a very human and beautiful response. It is during times of crisis that you find out who your friends are. It has been very beautiful to receive the care and love from all the people that responded to us. We were moved by those who came out for the open rehearsal when it was minus 27 and their enthusiastic response. We look forward to coming back under more normal circumstances."

"Life is about moments like this one," said Carrazana. "At first, we saw it as a defeat as everyone had personal plans for the holidays, but it turned out the five weeks was a great opportunity to fine tune and polish a work that we are going to be performing in January. While we spent several years working together, this is the first time that we had to co-exist, to live together, and it has had an impact on the work. We've noticed the difference. What seemed might be a loss has turned into a victory for us."

"Sometimes we think we know everything about each other after having been working together for some years, but this time demonstrated it is not exactly like that," said Delgado. "We have learned that there are endless possibilities that we can offer to our collective life and work not only as dancers, but as human beings."

On Jan. 6, they presented two works at the LPCA and the audience gave them a standing ovation. "Awesome," said Jennifer Small. "I'm glad my kids got the opportunity to see them. We look forward to their return."

This week, Malpaso will be finishing their U.S. tour and heading back to Cuba. One thing is certain, they want to return to Lake Placid, and the art center wants to welcome them back, in warmer weather, of course.



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