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‘A contemporary vocabulary’

Members of the Malpaso Dance Company perform Israeli choregrapher Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa.” The Cuban company will be at the Lensic later this week. (Courtesy of Nir Arieli)

Members of the Malpaso Dance Company perform Israeli choregrapher Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa.” The Cuban company will be at the Lensic later this week. (Courtesy of Nir Arieli)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Spanish phrase “mal paso” translates to “misstep” in English.

It’s an ironic name for a collection of dancers. But Fernando Sáez, executive director of Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company, said the phrase has a few meanings.

The moniker was originally suggested by Osnel Delgado, artistic director and co-founder of the contemporary dance company. Sáez, Delgado and dancer Daileidys Carrazana founded Malpaso in late 2012.

“I had doubts about it for three seconds, but after that, I like(d) very much the proposal,” Sáez said during a recent phone interview from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the Havana-based group was rehearsing for a summer residency.

Delgado, he said, told him the phrase had personal meaning for him. After Delgado left the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba – the country’s long-standing contemporary dance troupe – at the height of his career about two years prior, friends had told him he was taking a misstep by leaving the security of his steady job to venture into the unknown.

The name also fit, Sáez explained, because missteps – or failure – are a necessary part of exploration.

“When we fail in a kind of honest way, I believe that is a consequence of us being inventors and us moving in an unexpected direction,” he said. “I think this happens when we go into unknown places. I believe if we don’t fail, we won’t grow, we won’t get mature.”

Since it was founded, Malpaso has worked with choreographers throughout the world and toured the U.S. consistently as an associate company of New York’s Joyce Theater. Malpaso will be making its debut in Santa Fe with a show at the Lensic on Tuesday, something Sáez said the company is looking forward to.

“We are thrilled by this opportunity,” Saez said. “Your city has a reputation of being a very beautiful place, and also an enthusiastic and active artistic city, so we’re very happy about that.”

The company was born out of the three co-founders’ dissatisfaction with their country’s then-current contemporary dance movement, Sáez explained.

Both Delgado and Carrazana left Danza Contemporanea de Cuba to search for other artistic opportunities – Delgado specifically wanted to explore choreographing his own works. Sáez, not a dancer himself, but head of the performing arts program for the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, was interested in narrowing the “dramatic gap” between the expectations of Cuba’s professional dancers and the level of choreography available in the country.

Malpaso Dance Company became a repertory company and connected itself to the “best of international dance.”

“We wanted, through the work of the company, (and by) inviting to Havana, to our studio, dominant international choreographers, to encourage the emerging Cuban choreographers to improve their standards, to learn (through) work-shopping, sharing with those prominent artists, dancers from around the world,” Sáez said. “This is one of the main missions of the company.”

“I think it has been paying off,” he went on to say. “Nowadays, we don’t have only have one home choreographer Osnel Delgado … now (our) own dancers from the company are starting to choreograph and develop their interesting work.”

Working with people from other parts of the world, Sáez added, allows the company to expand understanding of Cuba and its culture.

The company’s Santa Fe program features work by Delgado, as well as two international choreographers. The first work, created specifically for the company in 2015, is “Indomitable Waltz” by Canadian choreographer Azure Barton. The piece, which Sáez described as a “sophisticated” piece of contemporary work, is a “very intense approach to the human soul under extreme emotional circumstances.”

“It’s not about telling a story; however, I think the audiences could get connected to the piece through some particular situation and actions,” said Sáez.

The Malpaso Dance Company will perform artistic director Osnel Delgado's piece "Ocaso" during its performance in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Robert Torres)

The Malpaso Dance Company will perform artistic director Osnel Delgado’s piece “Ocaso” during its performance in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Robert Torres)

The next, from Malpaso’s Delgado, is “Ocaso,” which translates as “twilight.” The duet between Delgado and other co-founder Daileidys Carrazan reflects on the day in the life of a couple.

“The complexity of the relationship between the two individuals,” Sáez said. “The different nuances of these profound affections that this couple experience(s).”

The show is rounded out with “Tabula Rasa.” Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin originally choreographed this piece in 1986.

“But it looks completely contemporary, like it was choreographed just today,” Sáez noted.

Naharin visited the company in Havana and added to the piece, allowing the company to latch onto it in a personal way, said Sáez. The work itself is a metaphor about humanity.

“It’s a very theatrical piece in the sense that there’s a big contrast between the first part of the piece, which is very physically intense, and the second part, which is more reflective and theatrical. So, this work, ‘Tabula Rasa,’ it’s a profound reflection of human beings and humanity, (and) where do we go?”

The Santa Fe program, he said, is a good representation of the company’s diverse repertoire.

“Very different pieces, but in common you have a contemporary vocabulary,” Sáez said. “And I think the three pieces are very well delivered by the dancers who, among the qualities they share, I have to remark on their versatility.”