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Havana Rakatan

by Ana Abad-Carles

February 9, 2010 -- Peacock Theatre, London

Ever since their first visit to London in 2007, Havana Rakatan has been a regular show at Peacock Theatre. Their long seasons every year at the London venue speak volumes for the appeal this show has for London audiences. The combination of great live music and unmatched energy in the dance routines seem to work as an antidote for the cold and dark evenings in the British capital during its winter months.

I saw the show back in 2007 and I loved it. The sheer energy of the dancers and musicians reminded me of Havana's magic. Having visited the city back then, the show seemed to have captured some of the vivacity and excitement of its streets as I had known them. Not only that, the first part of the show told the story of Cuban music and dance in a very didactic and illustrative way. The way the original indigenous dances had fused with the Spanish and African forms in order to become the unique Cuban rhythms we all recognise today seemed fascinating to watch.

However, in the present show, this first part has been changed slightly and I was disappointed not to see some of the original sections I still remembered. On this occasion, the fusion of the flamenco and indigenous forms made very explicit allusions to slavery in a more narrative way. Perhaps this change was brought about as a result of some of the original criticism to the show by some critics that found this part of the evening a bit confusing. For me, the newly structured and choreographed first part had some of the original elements that conformed Cuban folklore missing. I was hoping to see the section where the santería (mixture of indigenous religious beliefs with Catholicism) was introduced and I waited in vain. Instead of that, a conquistador with sword in hand dominated the stage for too long. The flamenco dancer, whose appearance in the previous show was more like that of a passing figure accompanied by other women who echoed her moves, also stayed for too long. The dialogue between the conquistador and the flamenco female dancer seemed a bit confusing. We seem to be told that Spanish women brought zapateado and the use of fans... whereas the men brought slavery. A bit confusing!

Leaving those opening sections aside, the rest of the show is more or less the same as I remembered it. A mixture of wonderful rhythm and colour with some fantastic dancing and music.

As it happened before, the men really outshone the women. I am not sure if this is because of the choreography given to them or because the male dancers the show presents are superior in technical ability to the women. It has to be said that the sheer magnetism of these men on stage really keep the vibrancy of the dance going.

As for the women, they are highly accomplished in their style, too. Their sensuousness on stage is magnetic and their vivacity is a wonderful complement to the men's acrobatic displays.

The musicians and singer also deserve high praise, as they fill in the theatre with the sounds of Cuba and make you wish at times you were on the stage with them. I admit I found myself tapping feet and clapping on several occasions.

Overall Havana Rakatan is a great show. It is not a masterpiece of depth and choreographic design, but it is a great show in that it captures the essence of a city and its magical rhythms and presents them in a very simple way to its audiences. Perhaps, the narratives are not that interesting and could easily go, but they are not obtrusive either and help linking the different sections. The flow of these different sections also helps shaping the show and moving it at an enjoyable pace.

Just one final disappointment when, at the very end, the company tries–in vain–to have their audience doing a “Macarena” kind of dance to their glorious music. Though it is nice to see these artists trying to interact with their audiences, I don't think a “Macarena” dance makes justice to their skills and spirit! Nevertheless, a great evening before going out in the London cold once again.

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