Cuba comes to Covent Garden

There was a time, now sadly long gone,  when Irakere’s visits to Ronnie Scott’s provided my annual dose of quality Cuban music. Those were the days when everything from a Dave Brubeck standard to a vintage danzón would be given the virtuoso big band treatment. We still have Buena Vista Social Club for a little while longer, of course – the band’s farewell tour is coming up in the autumn – and I enjoyed pianist Roberto Fonseca’s appearance at Jazz à Vienne earlier this month. But as far as prestige London performances are concerned, Cubanía, Carlos Acosta’s dance extravaganza at the Royal Opera House, will be the nearest thing to a trip to Havana this summer. Contemporary dance is pretty much a closed book to me, so I have to admit that most of the first half of the evening passed me by. Although the discreet arrangement on “Derrumbe” by that versatile guitarist Ahmed Dickinson provided  local colour,  the other pieces left me with the sense I was eavesdropping on a tortuous private conversation in a foreign language. (The curse of modernism?) After the interval the arrival of a band including violinist Omar Puente and singer Gerardo de Armas raised the temperature. The populist choreography on “Tocororo Suite”, provided by Acosta himself, reminded me of the ballet sequence in “Singin’ in the Rain”: wide-eyed country boy finds himself adrift in new surroundings but finds salvation with the the help of a good woman. A hokey storyline, all in all, but the energy and athleticism of the dancers was quite stunning. What a pity, I thought, as I made my way through the stalls at the end, that there seemed to be so few Cubans or people of colour in the audience. I scanned each tier in turn. No joy. And it was the same in the foyer. But then Covent Garden has always been another country.

The Independent’s review is here.

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