Malpaso Dance Company's 'Tabula Rasa' Hits Pittsburgh For the First Time Since 1986!

The Night Marked Pittsburgh Dance Council's 50th Anniversary & Patricia Wilde Day Announced

February 26, 2020
Malpaso Dance Company

A bad step.

Isn't it interesting how one move in life can change everything? Sometimes for the better, at other times for the worst. The path you were once on has changed completely, shifting course and opening up new possibilities while closing former ones. Change is often difficult- transition tumultuous. We cling to comfort and all the things that manifest it. Success however, often pushes us out of our comfort zone at some point. Eventually, as we continue to grow, we encounter levels of maturity, success and reform that are far from the small circle of familiarity we once operated in.
With that growth, will surely come failure. Whether small or big, it shall come to pass.
We are not at ease with that reality most times. Many of us lead lives where we try to carefully hop from stone to stone safely, without ever falling short and hitting the rushing water of life beneath. Failure is fearsome. We don't know the consequences and it stabs at our confidence. It begs the question, when did we learn to meticulously avoid and inherently fear this inevitability? It is a teacher that grants wisdom and clarity- a gift that cultivates endurance, creativity and confidence. Can you imagine a life where you actually desire to mess up? Where you desperately hope to fall at every corner just to make sure you're learning as much as you can from the dirt gathered around your ankles and knees?

This plunge into the mysterious depths of failure is something the Malpaso Dance Company of Cuba is dedicated to. The Executive Director and Co-Founder Fernando Saéz told the audience, "Failing on a daily basis- that is our mission. We seek to fail. You very seldom learn from success, but you learn from failing." Malpaso translated means "bad step." What a daunting name for a dance company, no? Saéz explained that the name is not only an ode to the bumpy road in founding the company, but also a motto they wanted to stand on (and dance on). As a team they would not fear failure, bad steps, mistakes, wrong counts, popcorn feet or awkwardly missed transitions. They would strive to stumble into a greatness that only slipping up can teach. After all, it is pressure that makes diamonds and practice that makes progress. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020 was a special night. Not only did we as an audience witness a reading of the official proclamation of Patricia Wilde Day (a woman whose accolades caused even her to roll her hand in circles, requesting that the reading of them be sped up and cut short to get on with the show), but we also- celebrating alongside her legacy- paid homage to the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 50th year Anniversary. It was a wondrous night for dance, for movement, for honoring all the bad steps and failings that accumulated to this day. The company performed three acts- "Face the Torrent," "Ocaso," and "Tabula Rasa," which were all added separately to the overall experience in 2017, 2013 and 1986 respectively. It was a wondrous feeling to sit in a seat that has witnessed five decades of dance originating from all over the world, while simultaneously experiencing a show that has failed into progression for nearly as long.

"Ocaso" was a rollercoaster of an opening act. Performed by only two- Beatriz Garcia and Armando Gomez, the piece took us through the many stages of relationship- the highs, lows, tender moments and strife, the vulnerability and instincts to run, the joy, sorrow and many things in-between. Translated, it means both sunset and decline. The lighting was certainly indicative of the first, orange lighting and low music that transformed into a nighttime blue with bubbly melodies interspersed. The sounds alternated between slow and somber, to upbeat and positive. Garcia and Gomez moved fluidly together; it was mesmerizing. Their movements and bodies were art before us. The strength, control and passion was explosive, yet gentle. Their breathing was controlled, and it was hard to imagine contorting yourself so many ways without gasping for air, but you could hardly tell the movement exerted anything from them. They were practiced and poised.


This was a theme for the next two pieces especially. "Face the Torrent" came first and "Tabula Rasa" closed out. These were bigger groups- eight and ten respectively. They alternated between moving in sync to performing in layers that allowed each individual's style to shine, seeing the same move repeated through them all in beautifully, minutely different ways. The language is foreign, this language of dance. Things are being communicated that the untrained eye and unexposed intellect are certain to miss, but there are other times that it hits your heart with such clarity that it wounds your memory- forever engraved. In example, I can't forget the crushing feeling of watching one of the dancers always be rejected by who should have been her partner. Time after time, just as she went to at last be comforted, held, embraced and accepted, she'd be abandoned- the opportunity swept out from under her by another. Her loneliness and rejection became a motif. The audience laughed, but I mourned. 

I awed at the revelation of how our minds can get so used to something that when one thing breaks pattern, we instinctively know- even if we cannot put out finger to it yet. The performance doubled as a game for the mind- we'd see everyone in sync for lengths of time that made you question what the dancers think about during those moments, and then one would break uniformity and your head would quirk, noticing something off before seeing the outlier. The intricacies of it all were astounding.

A flood of color, grace, strength, control and beauty. They were masterpieces, captivating as much in movement as stillness. Their bodies sculpted emotion and painted stories. They were mystical, other worldly. I was introduced into a new arena this night, and I am happy to dive in and stumble alongside my fellow residents. One bad step at a time. 
A standing ovation to all involved.