A dose of Cuban culture is headed to Oxford as Ole Miss welcomes the Malpaso Dance Company to campus. During their visit, members of the dance company will speak and participate in various events around campus and in the community.
The dance company’s residency began Sunday with a potluck welcome and presentation by Spanish artistic director Fernando Saez and the entire Malpaso Dance Company.
Dance professor Jennifer Mizenko spearheaded the residency and was inspired to start the project last year after researching Cuban dance companies, where she came across Osnel Delgado and his company. Mizenko said her initial idea was to just have a study abroad class, but that evolved to include this residency along with a to a trip to Cuba.
“I have been working on this for exactly a year,” Mizenko said. “The idea originated when I was hanging out with a good friend, Milly West, who is a photographer and gallery owner and has been working with Cuban artists since the 1990s. I then fantasized about how I could expand on what she was already doing and apply that to dance.”
The week’s events include lectures, discussions and modern Cuban dance classes. In addition to hosting public events, the company will also visit anthropology, Spanish, dance and political science classes. The members hope to expose students to all aspects of Cuban culture, including the current political and cultural climate of Cuba with a lecture led by Fernando Saez.
Mizenko said she is always looking for new ways to challenge her students, and believes the residency is something they will benefit from.
“Working with a choreographer and dancers of this caliber gives the students something to aspire and work towards,” Mizenko said. “They see what is possible and can make it a goal to achieve the level of dancing they are seeing in front of them in the studio.”
The residency will accompany a Cuban exchange program, Mizenko and eight other students will travel to Cuba in December. While there, students will study under the Malpaso Dance Company, and the trip will culminate with a performance at the Ford Center on Jan. 27.
This will be the first time a Study Abroad class has gone to Cuba.
Theatre arts major Alexis Boucugnani said she is excited to get back to her Cuban roots. As a Cuban-American, she said this is more than just a study abroad trip for her.
“I am the first of my family to visit Cuba since my family left in 1957,” Boucugnani said. “I am excited to bridge the cultures of Cuba and America through modern dance, as well as visit the country for which my family lived for generations.”
Students raised money for their trip through GoFundMe campaigns, fundraisers, corporate sponsorships and grant money. Their largest fundraiser was Salsa Night, which had a cash bar and a silent auction.
Freshman Mary Lacy Lusk said she is ready to experience her first time out of the country and to see new things, even if it is for a short amount of time.
“I believe that experiencing a different culture will allow me to grow not only as a dancer but as an individual by allowing me to better understand and connect with individuals that have similar experiences, like the Malpaso dancers,” Lusk said.
Mizenko emphasized how closely dance resembles everyday life, something she said she hopes her students will learn from the Malpaso dancers.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 5 years old. It’s a part of the fabric of my life,” Mizenko said. “Movement is the main form of how everyone communicates. We trust movement. We like the people who walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I see no separation between dance and everyday life.”