By Gia Kourlas Nov. 20, 2015
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba performing in “Cuba Vibra!" at the New Victory Theater in a family program focusing on romantic relationships and women’s strength.Credit...Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Hamstrings can’t be the only strained body parts for a member of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba. They must also need to ice their jaws. These dancers smile so hard that after the third or fourth number, your own mouth may start to ache in solidarity.
This group of dancers and musicians, which opened “Cuba Vibra!” at the New Victory Theater on Nov. 13, also takes precision seriously. While the choreography for this company, formed in 1991 by Ms. Alfonso, is a fusion of ballet, flamenco and Afro-Cuban, the precision technique of the Rockettes can’t be far behind. The dancers, all but three of whom are women, seem from another time: Elaborately coifed and perfectly made up, they’re anchored by sleek movement in unison.
That has its disturbing side. At this show, recommended for ages 6 and up, the youngsters in the audience seemed, at first, enthralled by the sight of such life-size dolls. And for good reason: Initially, their comely uniformity was impressive. But in “Cuba Vibra!” the line between a beauty pageant and a performance is thin.
The show, which unfolds in vignettes touching on romantic relationships, war and mysticism, covers the 1950s to the present. In “Tea Party,” the women sweep across the stage in flirty, full-skirted dresses until their hips and feet succumb to the mambo. The band, at the back of the stage, is an asset to “Cuba Vibra!,” giving its overly choreographed numbers some life, but it’s hard to penetrate such calculated polish. This is a celebration of live music and dance: Where’s the spontaneity?
As seamless as the choreography can be, the program is oddly arranged. One piece, “Spirituality,” features a wistful Tamy González, in a white dress and heels, surrounded by a group of barefoot, hooded women holding candles, which they raise and lower in solemn prayer. “Besame Mucho” pits two women against one man in a coquettish number that could hardly send a positive message to the little girls in the audience.
The second act leads with “Hombre,” a percussive stick dance meant to emphasize female strength. It has a certain hypnotic appeal, though the dancers, led by the statuesque Ms. González, look as if they had stepped out of a Las Vegas revue. Wearing tight beige pants, bandeau tops and shoulder-baring sleeves — each adorned with fringe — they blend flamenco and Afro-Cuban dance with tightly knitted clicks of their heels. The performers hold short sticks defiantly overhead or use them to strike the floor. For this one at least, they put their smiles on hold.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba continues through Nov. 29 at the New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street, Manhattan; 646-223-3010, newvictory.org.
A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 21, 2015, Section C, Page 2 of the New York edition with the headline: All Smiles: Well, Until the Sticks Come Out.