To help the UK audience understand the purpose of Ballet Revolución, it was also billed as “ballet with attitude”. The trouble is that the attitude in question seemed to belong to a day in the life of a temperamental teenager: it took a very long time to get going, but ended up in a hi-energy, non-stop rave. And, despite the title and the additional strapline of coming “direct from Cuba” there was nothing even vaguely revolutionary about it. In fact, a very large part of Ballet Revolución played out like a tribute act bringing to life on stage a succession of pop videos or perhaps honouring the kind of dance routines (now categorised as the “commercial” genre of dance) that might have accompanied songs on Top of the Pops or Seaside Special. It could have been sub-titled as a Cuban tribute to Legs & Co or Pan’s People.
In fact, for the first few of these songs – Beyoncé’s ‘If I were a Boy’ and Enrique Iglesias’s ‘Hero’ limply stagger to mind– I would have happily traded what I was actually watching for some of the late Flick Colby’s more imaginative choreography, since what we were seeing was bland and frankly instantly forgettable. It has to be said, however, that this largely unremarkable material was delivered by a very talented ensemble of 18 dancers, all of whom are graduates of Cuba’s leading dance schools. I thought many times over in the first half-an-hour that they deserved better.
The 12 young men at least personified the lyrics of Enrique’s song with their heroic virtuosity as they leapt over imaginary small buildings and spun like several power drills stuck on the superfast setting. Three guys with dreadlocks, dancing together, were quite a sight, but the most notable impression was made by Jesús Elías Almenares who is – without a doubt – one of the most diverse dancers I’ve seen for a very long time. A ballet dancer who can deliver dynamic, acrobatic, hip-hop somersaults and horizontal body spins is certainly a rarity: I think he’d be a shoe-in for a Cuban ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ if Nigel Lythgoe considered expanding the franchise to Havana. The six girls were very much the supporting cast although Idania La Villa Palenzuela (formerly a soloist with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba) flavoured the pop music with a leitmotif of balletic elegance; and a girl strutting around with the tightest-fitting gold hot pants constantly reminded me of Fergie – the lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas, in case you were wondering – which seemed strangely appropriate in this hall of MTV mirrors.
Although I spent much of the first act wondering how many more songs until the interval, and hoping it was none, the show suddenly took off! The so-so covers of Latina pop songs suddenly hit an overdrive of brilliance with Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’; not only in that the singer was so uncannily accurate that it seemed the Columbian pocket Venus had turned up for a surprise guest appearance; but suddenly the choreography turned from a bland pot-pourri of jazzy pirouettes, jetés and fouettés into a routine that seemed to lose the high-velocity sameness and suddenly gain relevance, flair and personality. As the singer says, it was as if they “never really knew that (they) could dance like this”. My hips stayed put but my fingers and toes certainly didn’t lie. This new-found originality gained even more credence as the excellent musicians (who had been unseen for much of the early numbers) were illuminated and showcased. An impressive freestyle conga solo by Luis Palacios Galves accelerated the show’s creative awakening and I continued to be impressed by the excellent vocals of Kristin Hosein.
The “pop video” effect was superceded by a more authentic, freer style of Cuban dance which reached its best effects in the two numbers immediately after the interval. Unfortunately, It didn’t last through to the end since the finale of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ was a relapse into the moribund world of staged MTV. The effect of this downpour was at least absorbed by two planned encores, which had the desired effect of getting many of the audience onto their feet.
The dancers and musicians of Ballet Revolución are superb and this will be a fun evening for anyone who wants to see a Now That’s What I Call Music compilation album brought to life by K-Tel in a toe-tapping cabaret dance show. It’s a big tick in the box for an office party or a hen night. But, if you prefer your dance to come in a more challenging or thought-provoking package then this is probably not for you.