Smuin's Dance Series 1 Highlights a World Premiere by Cuban Choreographer Osnel Delgado
September 13, 2022—Smuin Contemporary Ballet opens their 29th season with a bang on Friday, September 16th with the 2022/2023 edition of Dance Series 1. Known for their vitality and skill, the Smuin dancers will perform three energizing works: Take Five by Rex Wheeler, set to music by jazz legend Dave Brubeck; Requiem for a Rose by acclaimed choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, set to a Franz Schubert score; and the highlight of Series 1, the world premiere of The Turntable by rising Cuban choreographer Osnel Delgado. Delgado is co-founder and artistic director of the Cuban contemporary dance group Malpaso. He has worked with well-known choreographers such as Mats Ek, Rafael Bonachela, Kenneth Kvarnström, Ja Linkens, Itzik Galili, Samir Akika, Pedro Ruiz, Isidro Rolando and George Cespedes, among others. Delgado has also created works for DCC, Rakatan and Ebony Dance of Cuba. Thanks to Smuin's Artistic Director Celia Fushille, Osnel Delgado discussed The Turntable today with Michael Phelan of BayDance.com.
Inspired by "the uncanny timing of life", the stage set of Delgado's The Turntable ambitiously features a large turntable, like a very big phonograph turntable. The idea of the spirited Smuin dancers leaping, spinning, and partnering on and off a moving turntable is kind of mind-blowing. Delgado describes The Turntable as partly a response to rejoining dancers after the isolation of the Covid pandemic. "Collaboration doesn't exist without the audience," Delgado says, "but at the same time it doesn't exist without people who interact and create connections and tell stories with their bodies. So for me the most important thing is to create a surrounding space in which the dancers interact and make those connections in different moments." Changes in the music reflect different situations in life, such as the dancers reaching for their lovers and enjoying every moment of their happiness. "It's like a vortex happening all the time," says Delgado, "where people are looking to each other."
Delgado describes the Smuin dancers as, "very talented and gifted," and he's tried to bring to them some of his "Cuban flavor" from his background. "The way that I move," he says, "expresses more eloquently who I am and where I came from." He tries to bring out that expression from the dancers in what he calls "a very interesting process." He thinks of The Turntable as recreating that process in that space.
His Malpaso company is known for their collaborative process and working together intimately. When asked how he achieves that collaboration and intimacy with dancers he hasn't worked with before, such as Smuin, he answers, "I think each process is different." As a dancer himself, he tries to respect what the dancers bring to the studio in creating a collaboration. They try to understand his objectives and create their own interpretations. He also teaches morning classes with the Company, "which makes the connections stronger," he observes. "You never know how to start," he says, "But once you start, you find a way to communicate and create new material." It's different for these dancers, he observes, because it's something done "in the specific moment." His aim is to communicate universal human experiences and feelings. "We all share the same sentiments," he says.
In Delgado's 2014 work Coming Home, about the American and Cuban mutual pastime of baseball, he incorporated gestures and movements from baseball into his choreography. Asked if The Turntable has recognizable movements that act out familiar activities, Delgado answers, "It's not direct references, but a lot of references to what people are experiencing in a specific moment." The audience will recognize the movements because they are all "typically human", he states.
When asked about his interests and ambitions, he reflects that, "I'm pretty open to working in different areas." Before he started with Malpaso, he worked with his father, also a dancer, on commercial work that involved social dance. "For all dancers," he says, "the most important thing is to have different experiences. To make the best dance possible, you have to prepare yourself to do different kinds of dance, to have different kinds of experiences, and then you can find your own way." He doesn't separate his experiences, but tries to incorporate the different styles he's experienced into his choreography and "create a language that will work in a specific moment." In The Turntable, there are a lot of movements inspired by Cuban social dance, but he can use techniques from ballet and contemporary styles such as break-dance with the aim of building "something unique," so that each one of his pieces is different.
Smuin Ballet's Dance Series 1 opens in Mountain View on September 16 and runs through the 18th. It continues September 23 to October 2 at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason in San Francisco, and again from October 7-8, at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. For more information and tickets, see Smuin Ballet.