Last August Sadler’s Wells staged Brasil Brasileiro, an energetic, exuberant trawl through the musical history of Brazil. It was a hugely popular show, good summer fun, so it’s not a huge surprise that this year they’re staging a similar piece, Havana Rakatan which attempts to do the same for the vibrant music and dance culture of Cuba.
It makes sense. Cuba has a musical history equally rich and diverse as that of Brazil, and dance has always been an integral part of the culture. This show, performed by the Cuban company Ballet Rakatan and directed by Nilda Guerra, is chronological in its approach. It begins by foregrounding the colonial and African influences on Cuban music, and only in the second half, does it move onto the eclectic dance hall grooves that developed in the early half of the 20th century: mambo and bolero, rumba and salsa.
The large troupe of dancers are backed by the energetic performance of seven-man band, Turquino, and they in turn are accompanied by the powerful vocals of singer Geydi Chapman. This is a big, noisy, colourful show it tries to evoke the cool chaos of nights spent dancing away in Havana and, up to a point, it succeeds.
Musically, the volume has been cranked right up perhaps too much the middle-aged woman in the seat beside me spent the second half of the show sitting with her hands clamped firmly over her ears (she seemed to be enjoying it despite that however). Still, no matter how loud they make things they can’t disguise the fact that the Peacock Theatre, Sadler’s Wells sister venue, is a character-free box of a place. The choreography seems patchy and under-developed in places, something that becomes clearer in the quieter moments, whenever the sensory bombardment lets up.
Running at over two hours, it’s a little too long as well, and there are too many breaks for costume changes where the band are left to do their own thing. These rough edges don’t really detract from the overall entertainment value of the piece. Havana Rakatan makes for a fun evening out, perhaps one best enjoyed with a couple of pre-show mojitos inside you, to really get you into the spirit of things.
It’s an enjoyable, accessible show that will appeal to a wide range of people. On Fridays, the Peacock will be holding salsa classes and DJ sessions after the performance to complete the Cuban experience.