Michael Eizenberg saw them perform repeatedly when he traveled to the island nation in the past few years with his Wellesley-based educational travel company. Members of the Joyce Theater Foundation in New York, one of Eizenberg’s regular clients, were also watching the ensemble’s dancers, impressed by their talent.
So when the Obama administration eased travel restrictions for nonprofit groups between Cuba and the United States, the Joyce foundation acted quickly, and arranged for the Cuban dance troupe to visit New York this spring. Contemporary dance companies in Philadelphia and Norfolk, Va., quickly followed suit, and extended the tour to their cities.
Boston doesn’t have a contemporary dance company with a theater to present the troupe, so Eizenberg stepped in. Although he is not a dance promoter, he arranged for the Cuban ensemble to finish its first American tour in Boston. Danza Contemporanea will give a public performance May 26 at the newly renovated Strand Theatre in Dorchester, and a private performance on May 27 in Cambridge at the Sanctuary Theatre, home to the José Mateo Ballet Theatre company.
“The fact that they’re coming is historic,’’ Eizenberg said. “This is the first time since 1959 for a Cuban contemporary dance company to be authorized by the US State Department to tour in the United States.’’ Not coincidentally, that is also the year that Fidel Castro gained power, he added.
Cuba has a history of well-trained dancers, many of whom start with the National Ballet and go on to other forms of dance. But unlike many other ensembles in the international dance community, in which choreographers work with companies around the world, Danza Contemporanea De Cuba was cut off from such collaborations by the political sanctions placed on its home country. “The company has worked in an isolated way in Cuba from 1959 until 2009, when they finally were able to get some international choreographers to come to Cuba,’’ Eizenberg said.
But as travel out of the country became a littler easier in the past few years, the group was able to perform for audi ences in London and Mexico.
For this spring’s tour, American sponsors are paying for 32 members of the company to fly to the United States and stay in the cities where they will perform. “Because the embargo is still in place, we can’t really pay the dance company a fee, so we won’t do that,’’ said Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce foundation. “But we’re allowed to cover their expenses.’’
Shelton has observed Danza Contemporanea perform in Cuba several times since 2001, when she first traveled there with Eizenberg’s firm, she said.
“A lot of it is based on the dance styles that are part of their everyday life,’’ Shelton said. “If you go to Havana, there’s dancing everywhere. It’s a part of what they do every day.’’
In Boston, the group will perform two pieces, each lasting about a half-hour. One piece, “Horizonte,’’ was choreographed by Pedro Ruiz, who is based in New York. This is the first time that a Cuban-American choreographer has created a piece for a Cuban dance company, Eizenberg said.
The second piece, “Mambo 3XXI,’’ drew rave reviews in London, where it was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as the best new dance production after a performance last year.
The Telegraph newspaper’s dance critic was enthusiastic: “Set to heady Latin house music, much of ‘Mambo 3XXI’ — by their gifted resident choreographer George Céspedes — has the air of a souped-up aerobics class: a step forward, then back; a shoulder raised, then lowered; a bounce to one side, then back again. Hardly earth-shattering stuff, you might think, yet these passages are performed in such perfect synch, and with such sexy intensity, that you can’t tear your eyes away.’’
Eizenberg is also planning a party for the dance company during their stop at the Sanctuary Theatre in May. During the visit, students will be invited to hear from the dancers about culture and art in Cuba, and watch dress rehearsals.
“It’s not just about dance,’’ Eizenberg said. “It’s also very much about international relations and gaining better understanding between people. We view it very much as an opportunity for international exchange.’’