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Osnel Delgado: Transforming an Island into a Harbor


Cuban choreographer and performer Osnel Delgado is also a founder of Malpaso Dance Company, based in Havana.  Osnel’s choreography expresses the passion, cultural blending, and uncertainty that define life in Cuba and beyond.  He draws his inspiration from the country’s rich and varied dance traditions – from Afro-Cuban rhythms, to beloved Cuban ballet culture, to the vibrant modern dance presence. 


ICONS Inspire spoke with Osnel during Malpaso’s 2016 United States tour with the help of Malpaso co-founder and Executive Director Fernando Saez, who served as translator.


ICONS:  Please share with ICONS how you came to dance.


Osnel Delgado:  I come from a family of dancers.  My parents are dance teachers.  My father, Esteban Delgado Betancourt, was a dancer with Danza Contemporanea de Cuba (DCC) for more than 15 years.  My mother, Idania Wambrug Rodriguez, is a teacher at the National Dance School of Havana. So I grew up in the environment, which means, perhaps, I didn’t have many career choices.  Because people told me I had to follow the path of my parents, I initially rejected the idea of becoming a dancer. 


As a boy, I got used to being in theaters, performances, and dressing rooms surrounded by dancers.  I was fascinated by the idea of telling a story through dance.  Growing up, I danced at different parties.  The movements came quite easily to me and I had some rhythm as well.  But I inclined myself toward sports, and at age seven I started to train in gymnastics.  For a while I did quite well.  I was able to enter the national gymnastics school.  But after five years, my body changed:  My legs and arms grew to be too long for gymnastics.  The trainers and teachers advised me to quit.  My mother told me that if I wanted to stay in Havana, I would have to enter dance school.


ICONS:  How did you discover choreography?


OD:  I have been surrounded by dancers since I was a little boy, so I have many stories to tell.  I created my first choreographies as a young student.  I started with imitation, imitating my parents and things I saw as a child.  However, they don’t teach choreography at the dance school.  First, I made small works -- duets and trios -- and my last year I choreographed a work for all the students in the class and presented my final piece before graduation for all the students.  That allowed me some time to go deeper into my choreographic work and to explore different possibilities.  Plus I worked with students from different levels of the dance school.


It’s hard to explain, but it’s not just about expressing yourself through choreography; it’s about learning how you engage the other dancers and how they express who they are and how they come to the expression in the works.  You learn early that collaboration is very important.



ICONS:  Americans think of Cuba as isolated, but that is certainly not the case in the dance world.  Cuban companies and dancers tour; they teach and work in Europe, Australia, South America and other parts of the world.  Did you encounter barriers in works you could make at home in Havana or works you could tour to other nations?


 OD:  We say that Cuba is an island from a geographical point of view, but culturally speaking, we are a harbor. There are many people from all over the world who travel back and forth, learning about us, giving to us.  As a nation and as a culture, we are the result of cultural influences from all over the planet. We haven’t been completely isolated; however, we need, of course, to be aware of and work on the system of information going back and forth.  For many years we worked with mostly European choreographers.  Now, with the new political circumstances and changes, it seems it will be possible to develop more dialogues, conversations and exchanges with American choreographers and artists in general.  It’s going to be of mutual benefit, no doubt, because we have so many things in common.


ICONS:  You have no restrictions on what you can make as an artist?


OD:  The artists in Cuba have the freedom to elect and decide what kind of work they want to make. That doesn’t mean that problems are not going to appear at some point.  But this is what art is all about:  revealing problems of human existence.  And everywhere we face problems.  So we have to deal with beauty, with stories to tell.  In this world that is moving so quickly, it is amazing that people still take the time to attend dance and theater.


ICONS:  Can you make any political expression in your work or do you edit yourself or your political ideas?


OD:  We could, but it doesn’t make any sense.  Our message is not political.  It is about poetry.  It’s to talk about who we are and where we come from. Our dance company is not a political party.  We don’t have an interest in that.  It’s not an issue.


ICONS:  Tell us what you have been working on lately.


OD: Malpaso premiered our new production on September 15 in Havana:  a full-length, 60-minute work based on The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, with music by Arturo O’Farrill, the composer/pianist.  It is not about illustrating the story; it’s about recreating the book, the story, and the main subjects and themes of the work through dance.  It is very hard for me to talk about my own work. What we usually do in the studio is share our life experiences.  The creative process of Malpaso is always collective.  We are able to develop this sense of working together so intimately that the audience can feel the intensity of the process in the work.  I feel that the results are beautiful, but it’s not up to me to talk about it.



Malpaso is excited to announce its upcoming performances at Havana's Teatro Martí on January 22, 23, and 24, 2017.  The program will include the company's premiere of Trey McIntyre's Bad Winter, which was graciously gifted to the company by Trey.  Also in the program will be Ocaso/Twilight and 24 Horas Y Un Perro/24 Hours and A Dog, choreographed by Osnel Delgado. 


In addition, Osnel’s work and Malpaso can be seen in the US:  Dreaming of Lions, Mar 1 - Mar 5, 2017, at BAM Harvey Theater, co-presented by the Joyce Theater, New York.  The performance includes Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble.  Choreography by Osnel Delgado, music by Arturo O’Farrill.  For more information CLICK HERE


Video Sample of Osnel’s choreography:




More about Osnel…


Before founding Malpaso Dance Company in 2012 with dancer Daileidys Carrnzana and Executive Director Fernando Saez, Osnel danced with DCC from 2003-2011.  He has worked with choreographers Mats Ek, Rafael Bonachela, Kenneth Kvanstrom, Ja Linkens, Itzik Galili, Samir Akika, Pedro Ruiz, Isidro Rolando, and George Cespedes, among others.  Aside from choreographing for DCC, he has created works for Rakatan and Ebony Dance of Cuba.  Osnel is a 2003 graduate of the National Dance School of Havana, where he is now a professor of dance studies.  He is a recipient of several major Cuban awards, including the Premio a Mejor Coreografía del Concurso Solamente Solos (Award for Best Solo Choreography) and a special mention award at the VI Iberomerican Alicia Alonso Choreography Competition in Madrid.  In 2014 he received a McKnight International Artist Fellowship, which supported a creative residency with Minneapolis-based Zenon Dance Company.  Delgado’s work is a rich blend of North American modern dance and Afro-Cuban dance elements and rhythms, along with dance styles drawn from the Cuban syncretic religious traditions and practices of Santeria and Yoruban culture.


Photos by Cherylynn Tsushima and Robert Torres


Interviewer Lisa Traiger writes on dance, theater, and the arts for numerous publications. She is based in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.