Three Trees & Traces
In what author Jalal Toufic calls an “untimely collaboration,” Ramón Ramos Alayo’s Three Threes is a conversation with the acclaimed Cuban choreographer Narciso Medina’s seminal work, Metamorphosis. Medina’s award-wining choreography debuted over twenty years ago and has since achieved the status of cultural icon in the Afro-Cuban modern dance world. Medina called out, and a generation later, some Cuban choreographers have felt compelled to respond.
Ramos does not answer Medina’s work with a sequel, but unexpectedly, honors his predecessor by choreographing a prequel, or rather, a pair of prequels that intersect with the third. Ramos’ dual compositions, Elements and Moments, investigate the nature of relationship and the set the stage for Medina’s commentary on the process of transformation.
Through the use of pointed titles, Ramos deftly defines the preconditions of transformation – substance and time. Further, by elevating Medina’s piece to the final chapter and emotional climax of a narrative triad, Ramos crafts an even more forceful reading of Metamorphosis than as a stand-alone oeuvre. Ramos’s strategy in Elements and Moments is to lyrically soften boundaries, thereby intensifying Medina’s already breathtakingly intense work.
Ramos uses his signature style of close in, relational movement to poetically comment on the nature of intimacy, singularity, and unity. Cleverly using a self-similar structure, Ramos constructs a tri-part composition exactly similar to the smaller parts of itself. The braided architecture of Three Threes reflects the closeness of dancers movements. Three times, three bodies cluster in space to create three cohesive entities, which in turn, intersect to form an integrated whole.
In Traces, Ramón Ramos Alayo fuses Cuban popular dance with Afro-Cuban modern in a collaged composition of likeness and difference. Though these dance forms coexist and influence one another, rarely are they merged seamlessly in one chorographic composition. For the first time in the repertoire of Alayo Dance Company, Ramos embroiders the framework of Afro-Cuban modern dance with threads of popular Cuban dance movement.
Ramos’s modern dancers travel the history of Cuban dance, tracing with their bodies the rise and fall of popular forms such Danzón (ca. 1879), Danzonete (ca. 1929), Mambo (ca. 1943) and finally, Rumba. Spanning decades, these dances embody the shifting complexities of Cuban history. Each familiar gesture mirrors the multifaceted identities and economic realities of Cuban society.
In Traces, Ramos presents this lineage in rough chronological order, punctuating the modern dance vocabulary first with Danzón, typically danced in the early years of the twentieth century by the restrained upper classes. Moving through Danzonete to the lively Mambo of the fabled Havana nightlife in the 1950s, the choreography eventually circles back to Rumba, an expressive, low-bodied, street dance of the lower classes. With its distinct African origins, Rumba is defined simultaneously as a gathering, music and dance. Only in recent decades have Cubans, perhaps as an expression of cultural unity, embraced the form as the nucleus of Cuban dance and music.
In Cuban popular dance, there is an emphasis on human connection. The movements are not simply patterned steps counted out at intervals. Rather, they constitute a visceral and visual language of relationship – personal, social, economic, and racial. Referencing the intricate, and sometimes fractured, social history of Cuba, Ramos uses these popular dance forms to weave his dancers into multiple liaisons and finally into a social whole.
- Deborah Valoma