Danza Contemporánea de Cuba returned to Sadler’s Wells with a splash of colour and a burst of energy in a triple bill that was physical, sharp and flirty. Unfortunately I missed the first work performed, Itzik Galili’s Sombrisa, but the night was not a loss. Kenneth Kvarnström’s Carmen?! showed a playful exuberance, while George Céspedes’ Mambo 3XXI had an accessible message and tons of high-energy and intricate movement.

The immediate impression Danza Contemporánea de Cuba gives is one of sheer power and velocity. This company is on the move and it’s best just to sit back and take a ride. After an explosive first visit to Sadler’s Wells in 2010, DCC is back with the same Latin flavour we fell in love with the first time. But perhaps even more noteworthy is not the strength of the Cuban-inspired movement, but the ease and efficiency with which the dancers execute the difficult technical contemporary movement. Yes, DCC is a company that blends contemporary dance and Caribbean styles, but their ability to be masters at both is what makes them truly shine.

In Carmen?! the company approaches this traditional story with a big twist and a snap of humour. Set to the classic music of Georges Bizet rearranged by Rodion Shchedrin, Kvarnström’s work, for all men, was enjoyably engaging. The men, dressed in black waistcoats and trousers with brightly coloured shirts, form an ensemble of characters that play out into some seriously funny situations. The mock-gravity with which each dancer approached the sometimes idiotic movement had the audience giggling, while the exactness of each step to the music was very satisfying.

Still, it seemed the characters were slow to develop, and got lost sometimes in Bizet’s iconic music. It was only in the second half of the work that the concept was fully actualised, but it was better late than never. Despite small issues with character, it was clear that the movement and precision required of the dancers was very physically demanding, but the men of DCC performed with an easy grace that freed the audience to get wrapped up in the fun of Carmen!?

The last piece, George Céspedes’ Mambo 3XXI, tackled the complexity of Cuban mambo rhythm in a fresh new way. In an interview with Dance Consortium, Céspedes explained the piece grew from a request to make a piece based on Cuban rhythm, movement and music. Determined not to make a cliché piece with frilly costumes and gyrating hips, Céspedes dug deeper into the Cuban rhythms, and what he found is evident in Mambo 3XXI.

The piece begins with the dancers in regimented lines performing the movement with pinpoint accuracy. The dancers wear similar bland clothing and hardly interact despite their proximity to each other. Then a transformation begins. The big group dissipates and makes way for a series of solos, duos and trios with the dancers trading their white shirts for ones with different colours and styles. The dancing is no longer robotic, but instead full of life and individuality. Throughout the progression this individuality finds its way into the larger group, and the final segment is a celebration of both the personal expression and group energy that Céspedes’ Mambo contains.

It is clear through this piece that both dancers and Céspedes have struck on the heart of Cuban rhythm, movement and music. They look like they’re having the time of their lives dancing this work with each other, so we as an audience had a great time too. Mambo 3XXI is the only piece in this year’s programme that was performed in the company’s 2010 visit to Sadler’s Wells, and it is still a strong end to this programme, two years later.

Danza Contemporanea De Cuba, at Sadler's WellsErin Johnson reviews Danza Contemporánea de Cuba's Triple Bill at Sadler's Wells: Carmen?! by Kenneth Kvarnström and George Céspedes’ Mambo 3XXI.4