It’s easy to see why Carlos Acosta’s partially autobiographical dance theatre spectacular, Tocororo, is returning to London for the third year running. There’s just so much to warm to in this passionate and colourful show, choreographed and performed by Acosta himself, and inspired by his Cuban boyhood.
Admittedly in narrative terms it’s a rather simplistic work. The eponymous Tocororo is a young country boy who leaves his father behind to seek a new life in the city. There he meets and falls for the attractive Clarita but he has some major obstacles to overcome before he can get his obligatory happy ending. Yet to classify Tocororo as a love story would be erroneous, what really matters is his finding his feet in this new environment and coming to terms with what he has left behind.
This clash of cultures – country and city – is successfully and entertainingly illustrated through music and movement. The straw hat-toting Tocororo (played as an adult by Acosta, naturally) is derided for his stiff, formal dancing by the city kids who soon school him in shoulder-shaking, hip-wiggling and an altogether cooler manner of comporting oneself. There’s a lot of humour in these scenes, particularly when Tocororo’s love rival is involved, clad as he is in full-on pimp attire – waistcoat, mirrored shades, and painfully tight trousers.
All this takes place to an exciting soundtrack of Afro-Cuban beats – an energetic blend of insistent percussion and blaring carnival whistles performed by the onstage band. Tocororo works best in these big group numbers, which combine the spectacle of musical theatre with some dazzling choreography. But though the superbly-evoked Havana buzz is clearly the main draw, Acosta also includes some genuinely emotional moments. When Tocororo returns home to mourn the death of his father, his anguished writhing and silent moaning conveys real pain whilst never relinquishing the elegance and fluidity of his performance.
First performed at the Gran Teatro de la Habana in 2003, Tocororo still retains a rough-around-the-edges quality, in endearing contrast to the overwhelming opulence of the Coliseum, its home for this brief London staging. On more than one occasion the music ends jarringly abruptly and the brief spoken interjections are unintentionally amusing. A crimson Havana taxi cab is wheeled on at one point but it adds very little to proceedings and is not employed in any useful way.
There’s also an overly sentimental coda that, while admittedly necessary to complete the character’s emotional journey, will make more cynical audience members cast their eye around for a convenient sick bag. But really these are small quibbles, this is a show of numerous pleasures; warm-hearted and accessible, full of energy and excitement, performed by a superb ensemble with a central performance by the ever-magnetic Acosta holding things together.