Dancing the darkness away
Havana After Dark, Pleasance @ EICC, Edinburgh * * * * *
It’s a title that conjures up images of late-night salsa bars, Cuban rhythms and sultry dance moves. All of which this hugely entertaining new show has to offer, and more. But Havana After Dark has two meanings – and the second speaks more of the Cuban people’s resilience than their recreation.
During the Obama administration, American music stars would regularly visit Cuba, cruise ships docked in Havana, and tourists flooded the city with dollars.
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Under Trump, all that has stopped. Bars and restaurants are closing, oil ships can’t get through – and without oil, there’s no light, leading to regular blackouts (hence Havana After Dark).
We know all this from singer Gisela Lepio’s brief but informative interludes – but there’s nothing in the action that suggests despondency or frustration at the current situation. In true Cuban style, there’s just pure joy – even the blackouts are given a positive spin about romance in the dark.
Cuba is known for its strong arts training, so there’s not a single weak link on this stage. An incredible 5-piece band, led by award-winning musician, and Buena Vista Social Club pianist, Rolando Luna form the backbone of the show. Singers Lepio and Joaquín García are the bridge between the audience and the other performers, infecting us with their deep love for their country.
Taking centre stage, are eight dancers who deliver salsa, rumba, cha cha cha and mambo that looks as natural to them as breathing. All trained at the acclaimed Escuela Nacional de Arte, their precision and attack is flawless – each costume change bringing a renewed energy and charge to the floor. But the jewel in Havana After Dark’s crown, is the pairing of classical ballet dancers Daniel Rittoles and Barbara Patterson.
Both have danced with the National Ballet of Cuba, and their on-stage chemistry and gentleness is both tear-jerking and exciting. At 21, Rittoles is like a young Carlos Acosta, leaping and turning with a powerful grace that takes the breath away.
Each component – band, Latin dancers and classical ballet duo – would be worth the ticket price on their own. Together, they’re electrifying.
Until 25 August.