by Isaac Rathbone · February 10, 2015
Take a trip to the Canary Islands with Cambuyon...
Located off the coast of West Africa, the Spanish ports of the Canary Islands welcomed ships of all sizes and destinations. For over 100 years, British merchant vessels would hang signs inviting local traders to row out to them and “Come Buy On.” This sea-faring cultural exchange is the inspiration for Enlace S.C.’s newest dance and percussion show Cambuyon currently playing at the New Victory Theater.
The show is a wonderful mixture of dance, percussion and human instrumentation. Set aboard a ship, the “crew” travels across the oceans, combining tap dancing, hip-hop and using found objects to create both music and sound effects. With the exception of a guitar in one number, all of the music is created on-stage by the company, which includes some masterful singing. The simple visual aesthetic of the show, which includes crates, rope and old-fashioned wooden pulleys sets the sea-faring mood from the get go. The tap-dancing and contemporary hip-hop influenced choreography does not feel out of place and mixes into the world of Cambuyon. The show is also infused with some humor and plenty of “wow” moments which makes this a fun show no matter if you are an adult or one of the many kids in the audience.
The Company (Nestor Busquets, Raul Cabrera, Thanos Daskalopoulos, Jep Melendez, Berta Pons, Clara Pons and Jonatan Rodreiguez) feels so in-synch and tight, that they can break out into a series of songs using just the clapping of their hands, and then transition into an all-out dance number with fluidity and flair. The use of the human instrument is as solid as their percussion playing. Sound designer Ubaldo Perez Conde is as critical to this ensemble as each of the dancers. The New Victory is a giant space and small sounds and objects must be amplified for parts of the show’s soundscape. One particular moment includes the Captain of the ship tapping two small matchsticks on a box, like a drum, while another crewmember sings a Duke Ellington tune. The matchstick percussion is just as powerful as when other drummers bang on wooden crates.
The costume, set, light and aforementioned sound design support the nautical aesthetic and each character is costumed according to their role on the ship. The show also features a projection screen and some animated visuals through out. This is the only element of the show that feels out of place. The opening intro, which includes old sepia-toned photos of ships docking at the Canary Islands and some animation of the ocean waves, is the only projected sequence that works for the show. The other animated moments seem extraneous and pulls focus away from the organic sentiment that Cambuyon succeeds at creating.
The overall strength of Cambuyon is its ability to be a piece of dance theater as opposed to just a showcasing of well-executed choreography and music. The loose narrative of sea travel and the clear character distinctions of each dancer create a foundation of context and story. The dancers each have clear personalities and at times conflicts, that sets this apart from other hip-hop shows where the only common themes seem to be “check out how awesome I am.” This is a performance that has its share of dance-offs and highlights of the company’s unique talents, but it does so in an established environment with challenges and ground rules.
Having been to a few shows at the New Victory this season, this piece fits in nicely with the other performances in the organization’s current programming. Like the strictly theatrical pieces (such as The Old Man and the Old Moon and The Magic Flute), Cambuyon shares many of the same elements such as, live percussion, found object sounds and even a similar visual look. It is a credit to the New Victory for searching the globe and finding these puzzle pieces that go together.
The younger audience members will most definitely enjoy this show as it is fun, exciting and has great music. There are plenty of goofy moments that will get them chuckling as well as some great music and dancing Just like those old merchant ships, the dancers of Enclace S.C invite you onto their ship and enjoy Cambuyon.