One reason for its popularity is that Latin dance evokes the feel-good mood of holidays – a clear winner in chilly Britain especially before the clocks go forward. You only have to see the poster for Havana Rakatan, the salsa show on its fourth visit to the Peacock, to sense the warm summers and imagined passion of Cuba.
Even by the standards of Latin dance, Cuba is prolific. No one quite knows how this small island of just 11 million souls produces so many good movers, be they salsa groovers or classical ballet dancers, but it record outstrips almost everybody.
The explanation usually given is that there isn’t much else for young Cubans to do, added to which Castro established excellent dance schools that offered talented students social status and the chance to travel. Cuba’s multi-ethnic origins, from Spanish settlers to African slaves, is another reason often cited.
Whatever the explanation, the best of Cuba’s salsa, ballet and contemporary dancers are in London this spring. After Havana Rakatan comes Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Cuba’s leading contemporary troupe, and then Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Cuba’s national ballet company still led by the legendary and near 90-year-old Alicia Alonso.
Carlos Acosta is probably the most famous dancer to emerge from Alonso’s company, since when he has guested with The Royal Ballet. This spring the ever-busy Acosta will perform with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, followed by his own show at the Coliseum.
Another attraction of Latin dance is that much of it is based on social dancing, meaning we can imagine doing it ourselves. Even though we know we’ll never match the salsa or rumba we see on stage, we still associate it with good times. You see this in works like Itzik Galili's A Linha Curva, which Rambert is performing at Sadler’s Wells. It is tightly choreographed and cleverly constructed, but it looks like one long street carnival.
The other attraction of Latin dance is that it’s not confined to the young and skinny. Old, young, slim, chubby – flamenco, tango and salsa welcomes all ages and sizes, which is not something you can say of ballet. If fact, flamenco is one of the few dance forms where older dancers have the edge on the young. Their experience gives the dancing an authenticity that audiences lap up. The live music also explains its appeal, with the best musicians often having their own shows, such as the renown flamenco guitarist Paco Peña who brings his follow musicians and dancers to Sadler’s Wells in June. Expect a sell out.
Of course, the appeal of Latin dance is nothing new. An early example is the ballet Don Quixote, which is based on the Spanish novel by Cervantes. It was created in Moscow in 1869 by Petipa to music by Minkus – a Frenchman and an Austrian, so hardly authentic Hispania. However, its good-humour and tip-top dancing mean nobody minds. Bizet’s opera Carmen, first performed in 1875, is another Latin story with a long dance history.
Both are performed in London this summer – Carmen by The Royal Ballet and Don Quixote by the Bolshoi. It’s fitting that these two classical ballet companies should close the long summer of Latin dance – despite their dancing in a refined Latin style, they remind you that no-one can resist its charms.
This summer's many Latin and Latin-themed dance shows include, Flamenco Festival, Sadler’s Wells (until 27 February); Havana Rakatan, Peacock Theatre (until 6 March); Sara Baras, Royal Albert Hall (12-14 March); Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Sadler’s Wells (19-20 March); Ballet Nacional de Cuba, London Coliseum (30 March-11 April); Aracaladanza, Lilian Baylis Theatre (2-3 April); Ballet Nacional de España, London Coliseum (27 April-2 May); The Royal Ballet, Mixed bill including Mats Ek’s Carmen, Royal Opera House (5-15 May); Rambert Dance Company, Mixed bill including Itzik Galili's A Linha Curva, Sadler’s Wells (25-29 May); Festival Brazil, South Bank (19 June-5 September); Paco Peña, Sadler’s Wells (29 June-3 July); Carlos Acosta, London Coliseum (28 July-7 August); Tanguera, Sadler’s Wells (3-22 August); Bolshoi Ballet, Don Quixote, Royal Opera House (6-8 August).
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