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Cuban Dance Group Makes US Debut

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More than 50 years since its founding, Cuba's premier modern dance troupe is touching down on U.S. soil for the first time. On Tuesday evening, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba begins a 12-night stint at The Joyce in Chelsea as part of the city's ¡Si Cuba! festival.

Danza Contemporánea's style mixes sacred and traditional Afro-Cuban dance with ballet from American modern dance luminaries like Merce Cunningham. The ensemble was formed in 1959, one year before the 1960 trade embargo was put in place that shut off economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

“To look at these dancers and look at this technique, obviously the conversation between Cuban traditions and U.S. traditions was very fruitful at one moment, and I think it could be again,” said Abigail Levine, a dancer and choreographer who has lived and studied in Cuba.

Levine said that Danza Contemporánea was a great example of a highly evolved dance culture in Cuba.

“There’s a great education in Cuba in terms of culture. You turn on the television and they show ballet on TV with commentators explaining the moves,” said Levine. “And then on the level of social life, it just includes dancing and music all the time, and kids grow up with a sense of movement in their bodies.”

Danza Contemporánea’s program will include Santeria-inspired numbers like “Sulkary,” a work from Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, and “Mambo 3XXI,” which Levine described as a “deconstruction” of the mambo.

The ensemble isn’t the only Cuban dance group that will appear in the States this year: Cuba’s national ballet will perform at BAM this June, and the modern group DanzAbierta will appear at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts later this summer.

Since 2009, more and more Cuban artists seeking to perform in the U.S. have been granted visas, according to lawyer Bill Martinez, a specialist who obtained visas for DanzAbierta this summer.

“The good news is that just about every application that has been presented has been approved,” said Martinez. “The downside is that until Cuba is removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, artists have to deal with the uncertainty caused by enhanced security clearances.”

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba will perform at the Joyce through May 22. Click here to see the schedule.