By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Mi Habana Querida (Westbury Theatre)
The idea is intriguing: a cultural survey of Cuba in a dance musical. And so is the Romeo and Juliet theatrical premise, a tale of lovers, one Cuban and one American, separated by the Cuban Revolution.
None of this, however, prepares you for the startling explosion of colour, the riot of gorgeous costumes (don’t get me started on the shoes) and the sexy moves that set them in non-stop motion, the irresistible music, and knockout dance numbers of Mi Habana Querida.
It’s a veritable extravaganza of romance, brought to the Fringe by Cuban Movements, the Edmonton dance company founded by Cuban-Canadian artistic director/choreographer Leo Gonzalez (they’re the recipient of the Fringe’s 2021 Mowat Diversity Award). And the operative word is hot, in all its implications, including a reminder of the perpetual summer we only dream about (did I mention the shoes?).
Mi Habana Querida is, you will glean, on a production scale you just don’t expect to find at the Fringe. It unfolds like a Cuban fan (fans are big in this show) in a sort of collage of dance solos, pas de deux, and ensemble numbers, fleeting dramatic scenes, flashbacks, and large-scale projection footage of seminal cultural events: the capital’s lavish pre-Revolutionary nightclub scene, the carnival, street parties, Afro-Cuban choirs, an impassioned revolutionary speech by Castro (who was, in case its slipped anyone’s mind, a great orator).
Madrina (producer Cecilia Ferreyra) presides. She’s the engaging proprietor of the title Havana club, a self-styled “hopeless romantic” who introduces the scenes, narrates, plays yenta, joins in, or shoos everyone off the stage when the police are raiding. When the Revolution comes, it is, says Madrina, “the end of life as I know it.”
The natural rhythm of the numbers for the men, Gonzalez and Raydel Martinez-Portuondo, seems to be escalation — faster, higher, more and more acrobatic. The women, led by Amalia Cameron who plays half of star-cross’d pair of lovers with Gonzalez, are graceful, elegant, balletic.
The show pays tribute to Cuba’s Afro-Cuban culture, too, and its distinctive musical and choreographic personality, in forceful, visceral solos (and an entirely different set of costumes).
In the end, Ferreyra tells us sadly, “life is hard in Cuba … especially for the Afro-Cuban population.” Some day, says Gonzalez, Cuba will “get the smiles and the happy back.” The Revolutionary mantra of “Nation or Death” will cede to “Nación y Vida,” Nation and Life. And there’s a big flamboyant finale as a demo.
If you’re up for going out, try to see them live. It’s a treat.