Professors C. Otis Sweezey and J. Calvin Jarrell traveled to Cuba to soak in some culture and also bring back a flavor of the island to students. The results of their efforts will be seen in Fusión de Carnaval en Santiago de Cuba, a vibrant dance with nearly 20 dancers moving to the salsa beat but also with African influences and a contemporary dance flavor.
Fusión will appear in Dance In Concert 2007, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 7-10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, all in the theater at SIUE’s Katherine Dunham Hall. The concert also features works by Mikey Thomas and Kerry Shaul, also members of the SIUE dance faculty.
“I wanted to make contact with some Cuban dancers and/or choreographers and, perhaps, visit the National Dance Museum in Havana,” Jarrell explained. “I met William Danger (DAHN-herr) who is artistic director of his own dance company, Santiago de Cuba, blending Cuban dance with contemporary movement.”
Jarrell, who is a certified movement pattern analysis practitioner, said Cuban culture has for centuries had a tradition of music and dance. “The whole country moves, from the time they learn to walk,” he said. “I was astonished to see that even elderly people dance and they were moving as exuberantly as the young people.”
In Cuba, Carnaval finds its origins in the 18th Century when each city would celebrate on the feast day of that city’s patron saint. Some 250 years later, the celebration came to symbolize Fidel Castro’s takeover in 1959. “The first half of our dance has the Carnaval flavor embodied in the movement and in the costumes,” Jarrell said, “but the second half blends African, Australian, jazz and fusion influences.”
The Carnaval aspects also have been captured in Sweezey’s exciting costumes. “Look anywhere in the Caribbean or Latin America,” Sweezey said, “and you’ll find vibrant colors, probably because the sun is so intense it brings out the natural colors of the islands. In turn, the colors are represented in the costume dance traditions. “They also use ‘moveable floats’ in the parades,” Sweezey said. He noted Cubans construct lightweight metal structures with wheels over which parade participants drape the costume. “I decided these moveable float structures look like walkers that elderly people use to get around,” he explained. “so I purchased a few walkers to save time and money.
Sweezey said he’s incorporating a variety of colorful fabrics. “Some satins, shiny and sparkly fabrics,” he pointed out. “But, when we move into the African portion of the dance, the costumes will change to African patterns as opposed to solid colors.
“It’s going to be an exciting dance and I hope the costumes will add to that experience for the audience.”
Thomas’ piece, The Candy Pitch, is “a result of the aerial dance training we had last year for the dance students,” Thomas said. “It’s our chance to use that training.” Thomas pointed out that the dance piece is reminiscent of a circus act à la Cirque du Soleil, “but without the height,” he said. “The piece is extremely physically demanding, colorful and fast-paced. There’s no intent to tell a story but I hope the audience will find a connection to circus.”
Thomas explained that aerial dance started in the 1970s in California and was based on circus trapeze acts but with more artistry. “For our piece, most of the devices are low to the ground and we don’t need nets,” Thomas explained. “It’s been quite physically challenging for the dancers. It’s like going out on your swingset in the backyard and having a show.”
Tickets to Dance in Concert 2007 may be purchased through SIUE’s Fine Arts box office, (618) 650-2774, or, toll-free, (888) 328-5168, ext. 2774.