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Cuban contemporary dance troupe one of best to hit London in a while, writes Natasha Hotson

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Is it me or does contemporary dance have a tendency to take itself too seriously? Navel-gazing angst followed by writhing death seems to be the order of the day and there’s only so much of that most audiences can take.

My theory is that some choreographers have an inferiority complex that ballet is recognised as the purer dance style. But surely subversive art forms are supposed to break away from the more established ones, not try to outdo them.

Refreshingly, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, established in 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution, successfully satirises the opera Carmen and reverses stereotypes of rose-between-the-teeth Latin dance in George Cespedes’ Mambo 3XX1.

The mixed bill is split into three separate pieces that stand alone and form a coherent whole - testament to the calibre of this innovative and inspirational company.

The first piece, Sombrisa, choreographed by Itzik Galili, is inspired by boxing. The cast of 18 keep their gloves on throughout and somehow look graceful sparring to a drumming composition. Their timing is impeccable – many a corps de ballet would look sloppy in comparison.

Then Kenneth Kvarnstrom’s Carmen?! shakes things up. Set to George Bizet’s original music, seven male dancers play all the parts including a simpering Carmen and her racy sisters. Although the send up does not do the score justice, the entertainment factor compensates.

Finally Mambo 3XX1 showcases the dancers’ technical and artistic range. Initially they mambo as if in an army drill; little by little things loosen up until girls embrace girls and boys boogy with boys. Then the decadence of cabaret seamlessly flows into street dance set against the electronic sounds Cuban duo Nacional Electronica have blended into the rhythms of “King of the Mambo”, Perez Prado.

One of the best contemporary dance shows to hit London for some time.

* Danza Contemporanea de Cuba is at Sadler’s Wells until tomorrow, Friday June 1.

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