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The Peacock Theatre poster proclaims “A dazzling dance spectacular direct from Cuba”. It would be nearer the truth to announce it as a “deafening” dance spectacular, for Havana Rakatan – direct, indeed, from Cuba – knows nothing below a triple forte, in manner as in amplification. And it is a frightful bore.
The seven men and seven women of the troupe knock themselves out as they chart some kind of history of Cuban dance, from African roots to cha-cha-cha. Behind them, musicians (especially percussionists) and vocalists blast and bay and hit anything within reach. They create a terrific din, thanks to the wonders of a sound system that aims their activities straight at the audience’s unresisting ears.
It is a Johnny-one-note evening, and that note is not just a deafener but an artistic mistake in presentation as well. We might not expect ultra- sophistication (though my childhood memories of Xavier Cugat’s music are of the most beguiling sounds) but the evening exists on a level of simple and all-too-direct appeals to our applause.
A variety of scenas, mostly over- extended (the dancers have to draw breath and change frocks in between times), explore Cuban folklore, Cuban dance-ideas, Cuban life, on the most unrelenting terms. I thought of how Argentina’s tangos have been given such allure and variety in the
theatre by companies such as Tango por Dos. And I wondered why, with all the splendid devotion of this troupe and all the rhythmic verve of their movement, Cuban dance was made to seem so exhausting and heavy-handed (or, rather, heavy footed).
Presentation is peremptory, and hints of scenery make little sense. Everything looked vehement, coarse- grained and greedy for the dancers’ energies without repaying with any charm or wit of identity. And the band, admirable musicians all, played insistently, ear-splittingly on. As I left, I thought greedily of that quietest of musical instruments, the virginals.
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