Cuba’s hottest new dance stars are bringing a dazzling mix of salsa, rumba and hip hop to Edinburgh

Words Kelly Apter    Photos Deborah Jaffe

For over 500 years, Havana has been a melting pot of cultures and styles – and, despite everything the politicians can throw at it, Cuba’s capital is a city that knows how to have a party. Salsa, rumba, mambo – from the streets to the stage, these passionate dance styles have brought people together for centuries.

Director Toby Gough has been creating work in Cuba for more than 20 years, and his latest Fringe show, Havana After Dark, aims to capture its intoxicating vibrancy as well as its need for change. President Trump’s recent ban on all US cruise ships, yachts and private planes from travelling to Cuba – which has already had a crippling impact on local businesses – only underlines the crucial importance of music and dance.

“Havana today has a restless spirit, and the people are frustrated,” says Gough. “The Cuban government has introduced new censorship controls and Trump is tightening the suffocating restrictions of the US embargo. The streets of Havana are empty – restaurants, art galleries, taxi drivers, everyone is struggling, businesses are going bankrupt.

“The lack of opportunities for work means that the dream of every dancer and musician is to be part of a group or dance company that allows them to tour the world, enjoy new experiences, open their eyes and earn a decent salary.”

Known worldwide for its excellent arts education, Cuba unsurprisingly is also home to some of the world’s most revered dance companies. So when Gough was on the lookout for talent for his show, he knew which doors to knock on. “The dancers come from Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Carlos Acosta’s company Acosta Danza and the National Contemporary Dance Company,” he says. “After his recent film Yuli and appointment as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta is the most famous Cuban dancer of all time, and I’ve discovered the young man who is taking on all his roles at Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the next ballet star of Cuba, Daniel Rittoles.”

Alongside dancers like 21-year-old Rittoles, who has benefited from Acosta’s advice and training, Gough has also recruited performers better known for their edgy online presence and for appearing in music videos for stars like Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias.

“The dancers in Havana After Dark all need to be brilliant in different ways,” explains Gough. “Capable of performing exquisite classical ballet pieces, street rumba and stunning salsa choreographies – and some of them also perform in the show as musicians. Many of them were the original dancers from the hit show Ballet Revolucion.

“We’ve also got nine fantastic musicians who have been selected from the top salsa bands in Cuba and the Buena Vista Social Club orchestra.”

The show itself is a series of choreographed inter-connected scenes capturing people’s hopes, dreams and frustrations. They combine to form a portrait of the people living and working in this fascinating but complex city.

“Bringing the company to Edinburgh is giving them the greatest stage on which to demonstrate their talents and see all the other shows visiting from around the world,” explains Gough. “That’s why the Edinburgh Fringe was born – to bring the world together in one city, to engage in exchange, support communities and share cultures from around the globe.”

Despite its current economic woes and governmental issues, the Cuban capital is in the middle of a year-long celebration, and Havana After Dark aims to highlight the myriad dance and music styles that have emerged over the years, as well as bringing it right up to date.

“As this year is Havana’s 500th birthday, we’ve included all the rhythms and dances that were born here,” says Gough. “So we’re featuring rumba, mambo, salsa and the new fusion of hip hop and funk that’s being played on the streets today.

“And because it’s a 9pm summer party show, with a live salsa band, Havana After Dark will also play this year’s hottest Latin hits. When you put 20 Cubans on stage, it creates an unforgettable party.”

WHERE & WHEN

Havana After Dark, Pleasance at EICC, 5-25 Aug, 9pm. from £15

pleasance.co.uk

 

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