These regular hi-energy dance parties have come to provide the staple fare for Sadler’s Wells’ second theatre in Holborn. In fact, the format of this show (if not, the title) was very similar to Rasta Thomas’s Rock the Ballet, which played here in the early summer. As so often happens – then and now – the standard formula appears to start slowly, ratcheting up the momentum number-by-number, to finish on a series of encores that seduce the audience into a standing ovation, if not actually dancing in the aisles. Ballet Revolución – making its third visit to the Peacock Theatre in consecutive years – obliged on every count.
The biggest bonus in this all-Cuban entourage is the superb eight-strong band that plays live onstage (or, rather perched on a platform – mostly in the dark – at the back of the stage) throughout the show. They provided an eclectic musical soundtrack ranging from a mix of effective “covers” of well-known pop songs (by artists such as Beyoncé, Ce-Lo Green, J-Lo and the man formerly known as Prince) to more authentic Latin rhythms. For those familiar with the Strictly Come Dancing phenomenon this was a Cuban equivalent of the Dave Arch house band, featuring an excellent female singer (Noybel Gorgoy) and a highly talented percussionist (Luis Palacios Galvez) whose admirable freestyle solo on the congas was easily the highlight of the first act.
Many of the same numbers from earlier iterations were repeated (Beyoncé’s ‘If I were a Boy’, Enrique Iglesias’s ‘Hero’ and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ are all recalled from 2012) but the show still seemed fresh even after this hat-trick of visits. It certainly takes a long time to get going with the prelude of a ballet class (interrupted by the bobbing heads of an annoying stream of latecomers taking their seats) and early choreography that is largely bland and so forgettable that I struggle to remember it the very next morning. There is no doubt that the second act is far more exciting than the first, although it continues to have the flavour of watching a “Greatest Hits” compilation of pop videos being performed live on stage.
This Music Channel effect is saved from cliché by the remarkable range of dance skills provided by the 18-strong dance group, each of whom has trained at one of the two national ballet and dance schools in Cuba. Several share their job at Ballet Revolución with a more traditional ballet career – dancing in companies such as the Ballet Laura Alonso in Havana – but there are also excellent salsa and mambo dancers (of course), commercial, contemporary and jazz artists and – perhaps more surprisingly – performers – including those trained in classical ballet – who have embraced world class breakdancing and other hip hop and funk dance skills, such as popping and locking.
The most diverse of the male dancers is Jesús Elías Almenares, to whom the eye is continually drawn. Here is a ballet dancer whose exciting virtuoso skills in the classical discipline are aligned with the ability to explode into dynamic and acrobatic hip hop somersaults and horizontal body spins. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that Don Quixote and Diana and Acteon are in his repertoire. The eleven guys are an interesting mix of upright ballet dancers with strong pirouettes, fouettés and piercing, high jetés and others of a more gymnastic, almost nonchalant, commercial disposition. The closing ‘Purple Rain’ solo by contemporary dancer Yuniet Menses Solis had all the disciplined strength, control and balance of an excellent gymnastic floor routine allied to the innate musicality of an outstanding dancer. It ticked every box.
The seven girls – with a more-or-less even mix between ballet and contemporary styles – provided a more homogenous corps, having less solo input (although the two dance routines I liked the best were a simultaneous pair of chair-based heterosexual duets and a pas de six for three guys and three girls). Perhaps because she was the only blonde, Jenny Sosa Martinez – currently also the lead soloist ballerina in Laura Alonso’s ballet company – was clearly evident in all the group dances, possessing a fine balance in the balletic, Latin and contemporary styles.
The later numbers were more varied in their choreography and structure and the interaction between dancers and musicians also gained momentum (especially when the latter were visible) so that the final encores were like a battered vintage Pontiac hurtling down the Malecón (the broad avenue that runs alongside the seawall on the Havana coast). There isn’t much intellectual challenge involved in the enjoyment of Ballet Revolución (well, none at all, really) and – apart from the players all being Cuban – the show itself could originate from anywhere in central Europe (interestingly the production company is based in Mannheim) or central and south America.
It is far from ballet and even further from being revolutionary, but the live music makes all the difference in ensuring that the impact of these successive dance routines – delivered by a charismatic and exuberant group of dancers – succeeds in providing a lively and fun workout for tapping fingers and toes.