In a discussion at The Place last autumn, Akram Khan mentioned how terrifying and intimidating the Sadler's Wells audiences can be, especially on press night. Maybe Danza Contemporánea de Cuba felt some of this intimidation last night, as certainly the triple bill appeared to be performed by two separate yet identical companies: one which performed the first two works, and a second which relished every moment of the final piece, which it performed to perfection.
The opening piece Sombrisa was choreographed by one of 2012's most ubiquitous choreographers, Itzik Galili, using Cuba's twin passions of dancing and boxing as its premise. Unfortunately, the boxing motif only extended to each of the dancers wearing boxing gloves, and was not explored further. The handicap of the gloves led to interesting challenges during the partnerwork, which were the more watchable parts of Sombrisa, along with the occasional flying somersault. Unfortunately for an opening piece, Sombrisa exposed the company's flaws rather too quickly, and left them exposed for the duration of the piece: either Sombrisa needed more rehearsal time, or the dancers are each too individual to conform to tight timing and choreography in this work.
The company, or at least seven male dancers, gave a more cohesive performance in Kenneth Kvarnström's Carmen?!, a somewhat excruciating take on the classic story, but without any Carmens in sight, or, as with Sombrisa, without much conviction in their performances. The choreography owed much to the Trocks, relying on gags to entertain the audience in a heavily theatrical piece.
The reward for the dancers was the final piece of the evening, Mambo 3XXI, which received multiple award nominations after its London performances in 2010, and the cast's performances were so transformed, it was hard to recognise them as the dancers who had gone through the motions of two-thirds of the programme. And in Mambo 3XXI, we could finally see why this company had received such praise in their last visit: it is high-powered, exciting and dynamic, with tight performances which show off the company at its best. The dancers visibly enjoyed this piece far more, which fuelled the audience's excitement, resulting in rapturous applause.
Perhaps Danza Contemporánea de Cuba set the bar too high with their last tour, and chose to be too experimental for this tour. A triple bill of works like Mambo 3XXI would have resulted in an amazing night of dance, instead of the awkward performances and disappointing choreography of the rest of the programme. Let's hope they track down their mojo for the remaining performances and manage to thrill London audiences all over again before they leave.