Though Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s dance-centric production Havana Rakatan has been around for a decade, the show didn’t make it to the United States until last year. For producer Suzanne Walker, there is no time like the present to offer Americans their rather colorful window into Cuba with a production that showcases Cuban song and dance and all of its African and European influences. “It’s clear that over the last year, we’re finding in the UK and of course everywhere, that there’s so much interest in Cuba now with everything that Obama has helped to open up,” she says. “We wanted to try and bring it to America for many years and of course now, it’s suddenly become more possible, and so we brought it to New York City Center for the first time last year. I have to say it was a really moving experience. A lot of Cubans came who had been in America for a long time, and so many people knew a lot of lyrics and the words to the songs, and they were singing along and everyone was on their feet by the end of the show.”
One woman in the audience was Cuban but had grown up in America. “She took her father, who moved to America from Cuba,” Walker says. “And she said she looked over to him at one point, and he had tears running down his face remembering the old songs and getting that flavor of Cuba.”
Accompanied by renowned Cuban eight-piece band Turquino performing live on stage, Havana Rakatan uses folkloric dance and delves into Cuba’s multicultural history to give audiences a vibrant insight into the country. “You see all facets of life reflected in the wealth of music and dance styles that are in the show,” Walker says. “The start of the show gives you a taste of the early African influences with African dance forms that became so important in Cuba and this melting pot that resulted in all of the other dance styles that then followed.”
One of the country’s most popular dance styles is the rumba. “It’s a dance where guys tease the women, and the women protect themselves with their scarves and defend themselves from the aggression of the men,” Walker says. “It’s very sweet and very endearing.”
Most of the production’s 14 dancers, along with Rakatan‘s choreographer Nilda Guerra, hail from Havana, so they’ve grown up with the rhythms of Cuba. “The music and dance is in their blood,” Walker says. “They can use their bodies in ways that we aren’t used to.”
You’ll also see a lot of cha cha cha, a European-influenced dance developed for the upper-class, sophisticated elite, the energetic mambo, and the sensual, slow-tempo, Spanish-Cuban bolero. The show finishes with a salsa, which Walker describes as a hot mix of many different dance styles that became synonymous with Cuba.