Review: Carl Cubero has a Fresno night to remember with Ailey II

Ailey II

A moment from Ailey II’s ‘Where There Are Tongues.’

We should all have a night in our lives like the one Carl Ponce Cubero experienced Sunday at the Tower Theatre.

The theater was packed for the New York-based Ailey II dance company. The audience was in a generous mood. At the end of the evening, the applause for the curtain call was heavy and sustained.


And why not? We’d just witnessed an exhilarating display of athleticism and technique. Over the course of three diverse and fascinating pieces, the choreography ranged from quiet and sensual to robust and pulse-pounding.

The emotional high point came when it was time for the dancers to take their bows.

But first, a bit of backstory: Cubero grew up in Porterville, where a remarkable third-grade teacher saw his talent and paid for a year of lessons to pursue it. What followed was the excruciatingly hard work common to a success story such as this: endless lessons, painful injuries, moving to New York.


This was Cubero’s first time to perform in Fresno, even through all those years living relatively close by, and it was a grand homecoming.

The 12 dancers in Ailey II negotiated the small Tower Theatre stage with brisk, graceful confidence. In the first piece, Uri Sands’ “Tracks,” relationships — in pairs and in groups — seemed to swirl in front of us. (Two men paired up to the song “Desire Me,” and along with the impressive lifts was a tender, simmering sensuality that isn’t often seen on the dance stage even when two men dance together.) The second piece, “Where There Are Tongues,” choreographed by Bradley Shelver, felt like an entirely different choreographic language, giving us movements that felt like references to folk music and tribal rhythms, ranging from crisp and precise to rag-doll floppiness.

And then there was “Breaking Point,” danced to the music of Audiomachine, known for its music for film trailers and advertisements. Indeed, the piece had an action-movie potency to it and a big, brassy cinematic sweep.

Most of the dancers got a moment in the spotlight in “Breaking Point,” and Cubero took full advantage of his: a big, solo moment filled with exuberance and passion.

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Then came time for the curtain call.

This was an audience ready to love Cubero. His proud parents from Porterville, who had never seen him dance with Ailey II before, were there. So were other local friends and family. The dancers stood in a line taking their bows, and as the clapping continued, one of Cubero’s fellow dancers pushed him out front. The crowd went wild.

He stood there as people whooped and hollered, the thunder of applause rising — and all for him and his hard work. (If everyone could experience a moment like that, it’d be a worldwide self-esteem boost.) He looked a little shy, and embarrassed, and proud. I’m sure it will be a night Cubero will never forget.

A thank you, then, to the Lively Arts Foundation for bringing this remarkable dance company back to Fresno. And thank you to Mrs. Wise, that third-grade teacher in Porterville, who took a chance on a little boy who loved to dance. Our lives are all richer for it.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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