When the dancers of Ballet Rakatan burst onto the Peacock stage in a whirl of colour, slick suits and sashaying skirts, they begin an immensely energetic two-hour display of Cuban dance and all its origins. And when the male dancers remove their suit jackets, and then their colourful shirts, and reach for the zips on their trousers, cheers of encouragement come from the audience. No, it’s not the Chippendales, it is something infinitely more classy, sexy and passionate: Havana Rakatan. Caroline Bishop mopped her brow….
To the disappointment of the crowd, the male dancers do not remove their trousers in that instance. But toned legs, washboard stomachs and ultra-flexible backs are on show in abundance among this athletic and incredibly talented troupe of dancers from Cuba. This is a display of beautiful people, in beautiful costumes, performing beautiful dances and having a huge amount of fun to boot. Unlike more rigid dance and ballet, the moves on show here ooze spirit, fun and sexiness and seem ingrained in the dancers’ bones; these are dances that have originated in the streets of Havana.
In an eclectic mix of costumes, the dancers take the audience on a trip through the history of Cuban dance. Act One sees flamenco and tribal dances, African influences brought by slaves from the Congo, rhythms originating in the slums of Havana and among the peasants of the country; Act Two shows off the dances that set the streets of Havana alight in the 20th century – mambo, bolero, cha-cha-cha and salsa. The dances are very different in style and yet all the performers seem as comfortable with tribal acrobatics as with salsa. Given the amount of chemistry on show among the dancers, the whole thing comes across as one big courting ritual – girls shaking their booty in ra-ra skirts and red lycra; guys taking it in turns to show off their moves while the rest cheer them on. It is also very much a team effort, with every dancer as sensuously rhythmic as the next.
Providing the rhythms is a classic Cuban band, with guitar, trumpet, bongos and vocals. Geydi Chapman, on lead vocals, has her turn in the spotlight on a number of occasions, joining the dancers on stage while they salsa to her songs, and giving a rendition of that well known Cuban song Guantanamera.
Director Nilda Guerra and her team have brought to London an inspiring and infectious flavour of Havana that makes other forms of dance seem dull by comparison. This crackling Cuban spirit can’t fail to make you smile.
Havana Rakatan runs at the Peacock until 23 June.