UM Students to Perform with Malpaso Dance Company

Ford Center performance by Cuba-based troupe will open with a student piece

Ole Miss students rehearse the piece ‘Redefining Carmen’ while studying abroad in Cuba in December. The group will perform Jan. 27 with Malpaso Dance Company at the Ford Center. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Cuba-based Malpaso Dance Company will perform this weekend at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, combining Cuban influence with contemporary dance styles for a unique display of talent at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 27).

Tickets, priced at $30 for orchestra/parterre and tier 1 box levels, $26 for mezzanine and tier 2 box levels, and $18 for the balcony level are available at the UM Box Office at the Ford Center and at A 10 percent discount is available for faculty, staff and retirees when tickets are purchased at the box office.

Malpaso is a young company, founded in 2012 to foster the development of young Cuban choreographers and to promote their artistic vision. The group has traveled throughout the United States and has grown to international prominence while bringing its unique style and vision with the hopes of piquing interest in Cuban culture.

“Dance and music are the most efficient ways, culturally speaking, that we Cubans have to express ourselves,” said Fernando Sáez, Malpaso founder and executive director. “The role of music and dance in the Cuban culture is the result of the intricate and profound, complex conversations among individuals representing cultures from all over the world.

“We have to pay attention, of course, to the main branches of our culture: the Spanish and the African influences.”

Malpaso has been working with Mississippi: The Dance Company since November to develop a piece for Ole Miss students to perform at the beginning of the show.

Jennifer Mizenko, UM professor of theatre arts, wanted a partnership with a Cuban dance company for this collaboration and sought out Malpaso. Seven students in the company will perform “Redefining Carmen,” choreographed specifically for them by Osnel Delgado, Malpaso’s artistic director, founder and choreographer.

“This is something we really enjoy very much – the opportunity of not only performing, but interacting in a more profound way with the communities and students throughout workshops, classes, lectures,” Sáez said. “It is really worth it, and we enjoy doing this very much.”

Ole Miss students Rachel McKellar and Lydia Myers rehearse during their ‘Dance in Cuba’ course in December in Havana. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Students Madeleine Bradley, a junior exercise science major from Memphis; Madeline Friedman, freshman art history major from Madison, Wisconsin; Mary Lacy Lusk, freshman undeclared major from Troy, Alabama; Rachel McKellar, junior English major from Purvis; Makenzie Menaker, freshman undeclared major from Mobile, Alabama; Lydia Myers, junior musical theatre major from Laurel; and Victoria Penagor, sophomore math major from Boulder, Colorado, have rehearsed with Malpaso.

“The more they’ve come together as a group and as friends, the more they’ve come together in their dance performance,” Mizenko said. “Finding those intimate moments and shared memories is going to come into the dance, and that’s also improving them as a unit and improving them in the performance.

“In this final week of rehearsals, Osnel is working with the students on the nuances of the piece and bringing the spirit of the piece alive in details such as where they are looking, how is the head tilting, exactly where are the arms. They’re really digging into the piece and fine-tuning all aspects.”

The training began during the Office of Global Engagement’s International Education Week in November and continued through a two-week study abroad course last month in Cuba, where the students studied Cuban dance styles and learned about the culture while fine-tuning their piece for the performance.

All the students have a background in dance, but Delgado’s contemporary style challenged each of them to get out of her comfort zone.

“It was definitely interesting working with Osnel because none of us knew what to expect coming into it,” Lusk said.” It was definitely challenging because just the style of dance is completely different than what we’re used to. The way he moves and the movement is just completely different.

“I feel like he hears different parts in the music than we’re used to, so it’s hard to kind of match his musicality. It’s challenging, but in a good way.”

The goal of the piece is to portray the contemporary woman.

“He’s just such a good choreographer and he has this vision,” Friedman said. “I’m trying so hard to make this vision happen. He actually put together the music that we’re using, which is really impressive because it’s a really cool song.”

Delgado created the piece based on the group, and each student was able to incorporate her own original movement into the piece.

“He literally wanted to base a piece off of us seven girls and our personalities and who we are as contemporary women, and so I immediately had respect for him wanting to do that and wanting to bring that out for us,” Myers said. “He’s so creative and he’s so much fun. We all had really great chemistry with him.”

Besides the student work, the company’s 10 young dancers from Cuba’s premier dance schools will perform pieces that display the country’s unique dance culture and traditions.

“Malpaso Dance Company represents some of the best of Cuban contemporary dance,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “We are glad to welcome them to the Ford Center and to be a part of the collaborative project with the company and Ole Miss dancers.”