The past couple years may have often felt like life was going in circles, but "The Turntable," a new work making its world premiere with Smuin Contemporary Ballet, is quite the opposite, spinning into new territory for the company.
The piece, created for the company by Cuban dancer and choreographer Osnel Delgado, comes to the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts Sept. 16-18 as part of Smuin's fall program, "Dance Series 1." The program also includes the spirited Smuin favorite "Take Five" set to the music of Dave Brubeck and choreographed by former company member Rex Wheeler, and the heartfelt "Requiem for a Rose" by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, set to Schubert's string adagio from the Quintet in C.
A major theme of "The Turntable" is highlighting connections, Delgado said in an interview. "This work, for me, connects people — not only in the audience but also with dancers," he said, noting that his work with the Smuin company dancers, sharing experiences in rehearsal, is built into the piece.
"So 'The Turntable' is like the search for let's say, the love or character or person that takes you out of your comfort area, to find new things. Each (music) track is like a situation and each dancer goes through different things trying to reconnect themselves during the journey," he said.
Delgado's style meshes well with the company's ethos, established by late founder Michael Smuin, whose choreography incorporated diverse styles with classical ballet, noted Smuin Artistic Director Celia Fushille.
"My dancers are classically trained and so although Osnel has a ballet background as well, this piece is quite contemporary. And then there are also some Afro Cuban rhythms, some salsa rhythms, rumba and a little bit of social dances, which was also something consistent with Smuin Ballet: Michael loved to draw on many different dance styles in his choreography. But this work is much more contemporary," she said.
Fushille said that physically, the dancers must move and hold themselves very differently in performing "The Turntable."
"They have to be much more grounded and use the plié quite a bit. It's different than in ballet, where everything is very often held up. And this is much more relaxed — the upper body is much more relaxed — and yet it takes a critical core strength to do this kind of dancing," she said.
The piece draws on a wide range of music and highlights some Cuban composers and musicians. The soundtrack features two very different works by Kronos Quartet, the tense, haunting "Tashweesh" — a collaboration with Ramallah Underground — and the bass-heavy, Latin-inflected "El Sinaloense;" as well as the moody, mysterious "Los pasos perdidos, II: Largo viaje hacia la noche" by Cuban composer and classical guitarist Leo Brouwer; the free-spirited jazz of saxophonist Kenny Garrett's "Wayne's Thang" arranged and performed by Cuban violinist William Roblejo and the big band sound of Alfredo Gil's "En las Tinieblas (Bolero)" arranged and recorded by Miguel de Gonzalo & Aldemaro Romero Y Su Orquesta.
Delgado also recorded some voiceovers and Daniela Miralles, one of the dancers from Delgado's own company, recorded a cappella vocals for the soundtrack.
"It's a range that allows the company to stretch themselves through all the different music," Delgado said.
As with many other performances making their way to the stage in recent months, the piece was set to debut in 2020 and delayed by the pandemic. But the initial inspiration for the collaboration actually goes back about a decade.
Delgado grew up in Cuba, with both of his parents teaching dance. When he was growing up, he was reluctant to go into the family business and spent about five years training in gymnastics before his body type changed too much to continue in the sport. He went to dance school and ultimately pursued dance and choreography as a career, founding his own company, Malpaso Dance Company, in 2012, with fellow creatives Fernando Sáez and Daile Carrazana.
That same year, when Smuin Artistic Director Celia Fushille was in Cuba on a cultural exchange tour, she visited Delgado's father's company.
"At that time, Osnel was dancing with his dad's company. And he was leading the dancers in a warmup. And, I mean, he was immediately riveting as a dancer," she said.
Fushille was interested in a collaboration with Delgado, but it would be a few years before they met again, and since diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba weren't restored until 2015, getting in touch proved a challenge. The collaboration eventually came together with support from the Joyce Theater Foundation in New York City, which provides administrative and production support to dance artists and companies, including Malpaso.
While Malpaso has been touring recently, it's given Delgado the chance to drop by the company to workshop "The Turntable," giving the dancers a chance to learn the different style of movement.
"It's a new vocabulary for (the company), they are trying to absorb as much as they can, the form and the quality. At the same time when that information goes through their bodies, I create something new, something totally different that is happening. Collaboration is the best way to figure out our assumptions about who we are and learn more about this beautiful job, to connect with people and to make some friends," Delgado said.
"Dance Series 1" takes place Sept. 16-18 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $25-$79. For more information, call 650 903-6000 or visit smuinballet.org.