Artistic Director and Choreographer: Nilda Guerra
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Airports are the some of the most frustrating places in the world. Despite the excitement and anticipation of the holiday destinations ahead, the trudge through airport security and the overcrowded lounge feel like a chore. How much worse all this is when your plane is delayed, and endless hours of waiting stretch ahead; if only it was more interesting, if only there was dancing!
Trapped in Cuba’s airport overnight while their flight to Miami is inexplicably delayed, a group of passengers and airport staff get to know each other. They dance, sing, build friendships, fight and fall in love in all in one night to series of traditional and modern Latin rhythms, which give the ever-grounded Porter and Chief of Customs plenty to dream about.
Vamos Cuba!, first performed in 2016 at Sadler’s Wells, has returned to London for a second run at the Peacock Theatre, maintaining much of the energy and vivacity that won it critical and audience approval last year. Its structured story ensures the 12 different dance pieces hang together well, while creating investment in its mini-plots that seem spontaneous but well-controlled in Nilda Guerra’s choreography.
With 14 dancers, two singers and a band onstage almost throughout, it’s not possible for everyone to shine, but it’s clear early on that Yanisley Prado’s air hostess and Yarima Rodriguez’s doctor will draw the eye throughout, and they both figure in the two romantic plots as Prado dances a beautifully fluid and emotional bolero with Robermi Carreras Montano’s pilot, charting the decline of the couple’s relationship in the show’s fourth number.
The doctor’s story runs through the show as she develops deeper feelings for Yoanis Pelaez’s Porter first in the sultry ‘Feeling the Heat’ towards the end of Act One and then in the tender ‘Here We Are Again’, a duet the pair dance with a weightless ease that builds well to the bittersweet conclusion for all the characters in the final number.
Vamos Cuba! excels in the comic and more frenetic moments as the increasingly frustrated passengers fight either as individuals or in gendered groups, taking sides in the various romantic dramas. Yelda Leyva’s prostitute enjoys distracting the men in several dances, while Luis Carricaburu adds an unusual dimension as the dancing priest who may not be all he seems.
Some of the earlier scenes feel a little scrappy including a slightly lacklustre entry of a group of air hostesses, followed by a chaotic section in which the passengers arrive, and although each of the dancers is placed and precise, they’re not quite working in unison. There is the odd synchronicity issue throughout that slightly detracts from the shape of some of the formations, while the play-like downtime between the first few numbers is quite stilted.
Yet, Guerra’s showmanship really comes to the fore in the second half, as one character is taken into a dream sequence that varies the tone to include some of Cuba’s cultural history including its link to goddesses and saints of Afro-Cuban religion, as well the Carnival Queens and showgirls who perform a couple of visually impressive routines that, along with Geidy Chapman and Maikel Ante’s incredible vocals, are among the most striking aspects of the evening.
A political piece about Castro is a tad misjudged but allows for costume changes, while an extended curtain call adds an additional 15 minutes to the two-hour runtime, yet Vamos Cuba! is a show that combines a sense of carefree movement and some emotionally-loaded story-telling, utilising Latin influences by harvesting steps from the mambo, rumba, samba and cha cha cha, combining them with modern styles from break dancing and hip-hop, that help to create audience investment in the characters. So, next time you’re stranded in an airport you’ll wish you could be transported to this vibrant and high-energy fantasy world instead.
Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Sadlers Wells