Well, it isn’t ballet and it isn’t revolutionary but it is fun. The Peacock Theatre is home for the next three weeks to 20 dancers from Cuba who present a slick, high-spirited and entertaining dance show with live music from an eight-piece band. The movement is mainly an audience-friendly version of contemporary dance with some street-dance moves thrown in and a nod to a few of the flashier ballet steps here and there. The music includes covers of anything from Prince to Beyoncé.
The dancers are as fabulous as we have come to expect from Cuba (especially the men) and deliver the material with terrific gusto and skill, and they all look like they are having a terrific time on stage. If the choreography in some of the sections sometimes seems a tad predictable and less stellar than the performers, the format of short numbers means there’s always something else coming along in a minute. The show is two hours including an interval and there is little time for the experience to sag.
Many of the numbers are fast and upbeat with only the occasional slower item, but that does play to the dancers’ strengths. Most of them trained in ballet or contemporary dance at Cuba’s Escuela Nacional de Ballet or Escuela Nacional de Arte. The ballet training is visible: the entry of a group of men, each with one arm aloft, suddenly evoked a memory of the proud matadors entering in the National Ballet of Cuba’s Don Quixote. But only for a moment.
The company includes more men than women, and they are more impressive. All are demon turners. They are able to whiz through endless pirouettes, which they can speed up or slow down at will, perform back flips or hurl themselves in sideways somersaults through the air. The women seem confined to a rather more decorative role, sometimes in sequinned miniskirts, ready to be hoisted aloft or twine themselves sinuously around their partner. All the dancers register very strongly as individual personalities and you soon start to look forward to seeing someone again who has caught your eye – the shorter guy with the curly hair and sly grin, or the assertive blond girl stabbing the floor with her black pointe shoes.
The band is positioned at the back of the stage. It is good to be able to see them even if it compresses the space for the dancers a little. They were very well received by the audience. Even a lengthy solo on the congas was met with cheers. The band’s version of No Woman No Cry seemed a rather pedestrian take on the song but most of the music succeeded on its own terms. Certainly the band and the dancers knew exactly how to crank up the volume and exuberance for an exuberant and energetic closing number.
It’s not a subtle or restrained performance but it is a feel-good show for a night out, particularly for a girls’ night out. There are some impressive physiques on display. A huge squeal erupted from the audience when a line of men tore off their T shirts and hurled them towards a prone female dancer. By the time of the encore singing along to the music had become mandatory. Ballet Revolución continues at the Peacock until 23 March.