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A Bailar: Dance at The Center Opens with "Havana Rakatan" at New York City Center
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A Bailar: Dance at The Center Opens with "Havana Rakatan" at New York City Center

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A Bailar: Dance at The Center
Havana Rakatan
in association with:
Sadler’s Wells London and Congas Productions
(Havana Rakatan Web Page)

Presented by:
New York City Center
Arlene Schuler, President & CEO
Mark Litvin, Sr. VP & Managing Director

Directed and Choreographed by Nilda Guerra

An Ensemble of Dancers & Vocalists & Musicians

Set Designer: Camilo Rosales
Costume Designers:
Castano Claevl - Eva Ferran
Rolando Rius – Lorenzo Urbistondo
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare
Sound Designer: Gaston Briski
Musical Director: Rolando Ferrer Rosado
Scenographer: David Chirino
Dramaturge and Creative Advisor: Stephen Rayne

Press: Helene Davis Public Relations

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 18, 2015

Prior to the Opening Night performance of Havana Rakatan at New York City Center, a fascinating Cuban Arts panel took place upstairs in the gorgeous Moorish lobby. Prominent Cuban and Cuban-American dance artists led a packed, standing room only discussion, on the evolving relations between the United States and Cuba. They took audience questions on the expanding arts and cultural exchanges between the two countries. One of the speakers was Pedro Ruiz, a friend, a choreographer and dancer. In the audience, was Elio Villafranca, also a friend, a jazz pianist and composer. I chatted with both after the panel.

Sadler’s Wells London and Congas Productions produced this exemplary program that spans the history and roots of Cuban music and dance. Nelda Guerra is Choreographer and Director. Fourteen dancers, two vocalists, and seven musicians were onstage in various groupings and ensembles for the two-act show. Act I included five different scenes, with the mellifluous ocean motifs, African tribal dance, early Spanish flamenco, Cuban marital dance, Cuban “son”, musical dramatization of fiestas, street fights, Havana “solar” (slum), witch doctor, fortune teller, drunks, a pimp, gossipmongers, and more. The focal point of Act I was a stage relationship between two dancers, as they flirt, become engaged, party, marry, and ward off would-be lovers who try to seize each in street competition. The wrestling brawls are credible and percussive, man against man, woman against woman, guarding their territory. Later on, the lady witch doctor puts the husband into some kind of monster spell, where his body takes on the Frankenstein look, led by the shoulders, shaking like he’s possessed. But, it’s the live musicians, the bright palette of costumes, and the enormously warm and vibrant personalities that carry this persuasive scenic drama. The Vocalists, Michel Antonio Gonzales Pacheco and, especially, Dayme Arocena Uribarri drew huge vocal adoration from the highly enthused crowd. The musicians, on guitars, congas, bongos, trombone, and trumpet, were earthy and contagiously rhythmic.

Act II took the audience on time-travel, from decade to decade, with scenic dance and song from the 1940’s (Mambo, Bolero, Cuban popular music), 1950’s and 1960’s (the Cuban woman of the 50’s, jazz and postmodern dance), 1970’s (Rumba), and Modern Havana 1980’s to present (Salsa, Mambo, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Latin Jazz, Folk Dance). The second act was styled somewhat on Broadway Latin shows, like Forever Tango and Burn the Floor, with dancers in quick-change costumes and increasingly feverish music, entertaining the crowd. With the more contemporary stylings came ensemble choreography, all of which was magnetic and enchanting. Eight different scenic dances played out, with my favorites the first few and the last two. “Mambo Ay, Ay, Ay” brought the house down, while the Bolero and Cuban pop were sensual, then comic. “Bésame Mucho”, which everyone knew, was an audience favorite. “Rumba En Luyano” included three styles - sensual, vivacious, and raucous. Notes call attention to the Rumba’s African roots. But, the finale, “Salsa Rakatan”, should have had everyone in the aisles. Maybe next time, upstairs. Actually, “A Bailar” offered a variety of free dance lessons, in the upstairs lobby, as part of the series. The post-show mood evoked dreams of Cuban travel.

Kudos to Nelda Guerra, as well as Musical Director, Rolando Ferrer Rosado, and Scenographer, David Chirino.

The cast of "Havana Rakatan"
Courtesy of Johannes Granseth

The cast of "Havana Rakatan"
Courtesy of Johannes Granseth

The cast of "Havana Rakatan"
Courtesy of Johannes Granseth

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at