Review: Havana Rakatan at Peacock Theatre

Performance: to 21 June 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Monday 9 June 2008

Havana Rakatan. Photo: Sven Creutzmann

A collage of dance from Cuban descent, assembled under the name Havana Rakatan runs at the Peacock Theatre until 21 June, giving audiences a taste of the Caribbean in London. With live music from Cuban band Turquino, the beats pulsate from the stage gving the dancers the energy and impetus to deliver their show of Spanish and African delights. With a journey from traditional 15th century Flamenco, through tribal West African dance, to more familiar dance hall scenes, choreographer Nilda Guerra sets out to display a potted history of Cuba through dance.

The backdrop of El Malecon opens the show, just one of a series of locations to which the audience is transported. With all the dancers on stage looking out to sea you could anticipate a show with political undertones, but this is not the case. After the initial opening scene incorporating a flurry of dance styles and costumes, the show takes us back in time to discover the styles that fed into the creation of Cuba’s most popular export – Salsa.

The feeling that dance has been part of Cuban culture from the beginning is unambiguous, as few countries would be able to trace their dance styles through such a colourful performance. Although the premise of the show seems plausible, some elements seem to verge on the stereotypical. The African slave dancers may have used traditional steps but the execution is extremely showy.

The Mambo which opens the second act is expertly choreographed with an accent on 1940s style. The dancing alone carries this number – displaying Ballet Rakatan’s enthusiasm for movement. The second act makes up for the overly long first with the introduction of more contemporary social dances such as the Mambo, Rumba and Salsa. The audience seemed appreciative of these more commercial forms, relaxing into the music and clapping along spontaneously.

Other dances are a welcome change from the norm. The Bolero, a dance that could rival the Tango for its sensual sexy crown, was definitely a highlight but the dancers omitted the intimacy between the couples to focus on projecting to the audience. The Rumba was true to it’s extrovert and erotic nature – a far cry from most Rumbas seen in British ballrooms.

The dancers’ stamina was phenomenal throughout as they executed footwork from a variety of backgrounds with a fresh energy in every section of the show. Their ability to produce a foot stamping flamenco followed by both contemporary and social dances, all to an extremely high level, was outstanding.

The final Salsa left feet tapping and hands clapping as the two hours of dances styles united into one rhythmic extravaganza. The musicians and dancers clearly enjoyed the choreography, dropping their stage show personas to allow a little more personality to shine through.

A year on from its first performances in London the energy of Havana Rakatan remains high throughout as the musicians, singers and dancers all hit the right note. Nilda Guerra’s claim to show dance as seen on the streets of Havana is perhaps a little overstated, as in transition from street to stage the dance forms have taken on a new identity.

What’s On