Ballet is graceful and airy, flamenco is powerful and fiery – it’s rare for the two worlds of dance to meet on one stage, let alone in one dancer.
But what may seem like an unusual fusion for some is crafted with precision and performed with vigor by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba.
Making an assertive entrance, a chorus line of dancers flowed onto the stage of the Cairo Opera House wearing long black skirts and red matador jackets, clanking castanets and stamping their heels.
Composed of 17 female dancers, the company combines the passion of flamenco, the poise of ballet and the poignancy of contemporary dance peppered with playful Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Director and choreographer Lizt Alfonso formed the company in 1991, and nine years later, they became a staple of Havana’s Grand Theater. The group, now credited for being one of the icons of Cuban culture, has toured around the world to much acclaim.
They brought their fancy footwork to Egypt for the first time with two performances in Alexandria last week, and three shows this week in Cairo.
“Strength and Beat, as the show is titled, best describes the virtuosity with which this group of commanding dancers portrays the saucy palette of styles, techniques and emotions.
A group of six musicians and their instruments accompany the dancers on stage performing the original compositions of the show’s soundtrack. A lead singer belts out throaty Cuban lyrics supported by a mix of Latin and African tunes: piano, guitar, bass and a percussion set featuring congas and bongos.
The dancers strutted on and off stage smoothly, in groups as small as four and as large as 17, moving in unison across the stage, forming symmetrical shapes, sharp lines and twirling in pairs. They switched from the rhythmic thumping of feet to grande-pliés and pointe work with a subtle sensuality accentuated by sweeping arm movements and the soft ruffling of skirts.
In many ways, and despite the fact that the focus is on the company as a unit, there’s a lot of room for individual expression. The results are well-choreographed numbers performed with sultry precision – the Rockettes with a flamenco twist.
Everything is done in perfect unison and I was close enough to the stage to see that their facial expressions were choreographed as meticulously as the dance.
Two superb solos proved that the dancers’ technical finesse is as strong when performing on their own as it is in an ensemble. In one of the solos, the dancer floated on stage donning a flowing blue dress, whirling it around spiritedly as if it were her dance partner.
Although highly entertaining, the numbers featured in the first part of the show seemed a bit repetitive with static lighting and stiff costumes. The second half was definitely the highlight, with more colorful dresses – ruffles and all – dramatic lighting and a lot more energy from the accompanying musicians.
One of the key elements that made the second half a success was the smooth transition between numbers, which kept the show going without any interruptions in the dynamism that was transferred from the company to the audience.
In the most dramatic dance, the company came out in full force to perform an African-inspired number: dressed in skin-tight outfits with bare midriffs, a brown sash tied around their waist and holding wooden sticks similar to those used in the Egyptian stick dance tahtib. The dancers looked like lionesses performing a tribal dance and had the audience on the edge of their seats.
Next came what seemed to be a dance off between classy flamenco and a less elegant form of the dance you may see in the Spanish countryside. Six dancers came out, three in red dresses and high-heeled black shoes, and three in blue and white ruffled getups with flat slippers. The first group did a traditional flamenco number while the latter mimicked them and flopped around the stage in their clunky slippers. At the end of the playful face-off, the two groups merged signifying in what looked like a stylistic compromise.
The finale was more of a dance marathon. Dancers in striking red dresses created a lively atmosphere with hand-clapping and fan-snapping techniques that – like much of the performance – set the stage on fire.
Don’t miss “Strength and Beat by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba tonight at the Cairo Opera House, Main Hall, 9 pm.