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Havana Rakatan

by Ana Abad-Carles

May 24, 2007 -- Peacock Theatre, London

One of the things that becomes clear when one goes to Cuba is that any preconceptions about one's ability to dance salsa goes to shame when confronted with the reality of how Cubans dance it!

There are countries where dance is part of their shared culture and it becomes a way of moving, a way of expressing themselves. Cuba is one of them. Music and rhythm are part of their genetic inheritance and thus, the opportunity to see a group of Cubans displaying their skills and passion in the middle of London is something not to be missed.

Directed by Nilda Guerra, Havana Rakatan is a dance group that combines the richness of Cuban dance and music with outstanding dancers, singers and musicians. The result is an evening of pure entertainment, an evening that is not pretentious by any stretch of the imagination, but an evening that captures that feeling of fun and joie de vivre that Cuban music and dance have.

The evening opened with a Mambo that fused the new rhythms of Cuban music and dance and featured the most contemporary offering of the evening. The success of reggaeton with young people and that fusion of traditional rhythms and hip hop was displayed in a wonderful dance number where the dancers excelled in the combination of dance forms and in their technical accomplishments. The programme then moved into the offering of a history of Cuban dance which spanned the arrival of the Spanish and their choreographic input to the slow fusion with Afro-Caribbean dances. The second part of the programme was devoted to the more twentieth century dance forms that conquered the dance floors in the West, like the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the rumba.

The lighting, scenery and costumes reflected those of La Habana, a city where time seems to have stopped and where one can still find those bars, that lighting and that dance!

Overall it was a great evening because the music, the singing and the dancing were outstanding. The sense of style and the passion that everybody poured into their performance was worth watching. Though the men were stronger than the women, the latter displayed a rare combination of earthiness in their more tribal numbers and feminine quality in their salsa movements that was quite unique. Turquino, the orchestra and the lead singer, Geydi Chapman, were a delight and the whole evening was a joy to watch.

My only criticism would be that the ending of the programme should have brought back onto the stage those contemporary dances that we were shown in the opening number. They would have reflected the reality of the new generations and their interests, and they would have brought the whole programme to a more rounded structure.

For me Havana Rakatan captured the joy, the exuberance, the sensuousness and the passion that Cuba still has.

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