The Havana Rumba! Cuban Salsa Party, at the E4 Udderbelly on London’s South Bank, is a mix of Cuban salsa, rumba and raggaeton, danced to a live band direct from Havana. The opening of the performance is instant and almost disorientating with quite so much movement happening onstage, but the energy is infectious and I’m soon enjoying every second. The introductions include small extracts of Cuban history and culture to give context to each piece, which does add to the experience. The journey through the ages and development of Cuban dance is well-thought-through and easy to follow, with or without prior dance or musical knowledge.
The core cast is a group of three male and three female dancers, with no weak members among them. They are complemented by a Cuban salsa band that matches the dancers’ enthusiasm. The dance itself is dynamic and passionate, without ever losing its sense of humour. The stage setting is simple but the atmosphere comes from the performers themselves, and they had no trouble transporting us all to the streets of Havana at night. The costume changes (with the exception of the beach ware) are a little superfluous as the pleasure derives from the performers’ skill and energy rather than any gimmicks, but it does not detract from the piece.
Dancing alongside the core cast is Eric Turro, who performed with the Buena Vista Social Club and is apparently named “the Hurricane of the Caribbean”. He performed a small number of duets with one of the female dancers. Most memorable was his number with all three female dancers, which showed great strength, flexibility and balance that demonstrated why he is known as one of Cuban’s greatest dancers. In spite of this, the other cast members lived up to his standard and kept up the liveliness throughout in the face of some truly exhausting choreography.
The intimate auditorium lends itself well to crowd involvement, and this is used brilliantly throughout the show. The audience clap, laugh and dance with little to no coercion necessary as Cuban spirit overrides British conservativeness. The finale involves the entire audience on their feet and truly feeling included in the number as EVERYONE dances along. ‘Party’ is a very apt name for the performance as it did feel more like a party than a show… although this feeling was probably helped by the rum shots offered to some members of the audience within the first few minutes.
I found myself smiling throughout the performance and it really is fantastic, providing much more entertainment than your average dance piece. Lasting just over an hour, with no interval, I had expected the show to feel a little short. Instead, it feels complete and ends with both the cast and the audience on a high. With weekday evening performances ending around eight, there is also plenty of time afterwards to grab a drink at the colourful Udderbelly before the sun sets.