Since 2007 Havana Rakatan has been a staple of Sadler’s Wells programme enjoying huge success year upon year, each time returning more refreshed and vibrant than the last. Directed by Nilda Guerra, this show has lost none of its hot Cuban authenticity since it first hit the West End. The staging is simple, yet stunning and it’s easy to see why audiences keep on returning.
Latin dancing performed by those who have been brought up in its true environment is a rare thing to see. The West End is frequently filled with offerings from the latest Strictly stars but Havana Rakatan, with its accomplished musicians and native Cuban dancers, has an unmistakable authenticity about it and it makes for the ultimate ‘feelgood’ evening.
The show is essentially an abridged dance through the decades, starting 500 years ago when Cuba was a place of rivalry between the two distinct cultures of colonial Spain and tribal Africa. It transports us through the evening into modern day Havana through a dynamic and rhythmic finale where the Rakatan dancers finally bring us the climax of the show in a mix of contagious salsa and mambo; by now the audience certainly don’t need any encouragement to party with them.
It’s not all fast and sexy salsa, although there is a lot of that too. Havana Rakatan features some stunning slower numbers and scenes that highlight the historical significance of their dancing. The Afro-Flamenco section early in the first act is full of fire and passion, the strong rhythms enhanced through the use of the bamboo canes, and themes of desire and hatred are brought to the fore. For the second act, the stage is transformed into a smouldering late night club where the females are slow and seductive and the men are strong and athletic, each playing to their own strengths with a selection of their own signature moves and expressions.
It would be unforgivable to neglect to mention the musicians and vocalists who accompany the troupe on stage. For Cubans, dance and music are inseparable and Guerra’s production reflects this perfectly. The vocal talents of Geidy Chapman are particularly outstanding and she’s even intermingled in some of the dance numbers, another indication of dance and music being indivisible from Cuba’s national identity.
Havana Rakatan is certainly more than just another cabaret showcase. As the audience are whipped into a frenzy by Yoanis Pelaez Tamayo’s unbelievable isolations, each member of the troupe signs off with their own signature move, Chapman rallies the audience for one final shimmy and the curtain eventually comes down and we’re suddenly in soggy London again.
Havana Rakatan is playing at the Peacock Theatre until 24 May. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells Theatre website.
First published on AYoungerTheatre.com