‘It makes us vibrate, makes us feel’: The Power of the Drum from the Cuban Movements Dance Academy. A review

Raydel Martinez Portuondo, Ingrid Díaz Céspedes, Nathan Ouellette in The Power of the Drum, Cuban Movements Dance Academy. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s no coincidence that Afro-Cuban drumming doesn’t involve drumsticks. It’s hands-on, literally and metaphorically. The power of the drum, as the show of that name onstage at the Westbury Theatre tells us, is that it shares a heartbeat, a pulse, with us. 

It’s “a connection with the divine,” as one Cuban drummer puts it, in the fascinating set of on-location Havana interviews that Cuban Movements Dance Academy present onscreen at the outset. “The hands reach into the divine.” With the drum, says another, “we tap into vitality, health, energy….” Another says “it makes us vibrate, makes us feel.” 

With a testimonial intro like that, the drums, and the drummer, have a lot to live up to. And they do.

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Nathan Ouellette, at a raised dais of diverse instruments, some free-standing, some in a bank, is a sensational performer. In the show that follows, three Cuban dancers invoke in movement the Orichas, Yoruban gods and goddesses of the rich Afro-Cuban culture that arrived in Cuba with slaves. “They brought with them the power of the drum,” says the narrator (writer/director Cecilia Ferreya), who is “the soul of the drum.” 

She tells us that theirs is “a story of hope over despair, of fierce determination, cultural identity and traditional values” that enabled them to survive terrible conditions.

The Power of the Drum, Cuban Movements Dance Academy. Photo supplied.

The Power of the Drum, is the first of RISER Edmonton’s 2022 series, the debut national offshoot of an initiative by Toronto’s Why Not Theatre to support indie artists. And on a bleak windy winter-coat spring weekend in Edmonton, there’s something startlingly warming about the production: hot colours, hot expressive movement (choreographed by Cuban Movements Dance Academy’s artistic director Leo Gonzales), hot vibrations in your ribcage that make your feet move.

It’s not a play per se (it’s more an illustrated documentary imagined in motion). But it’s highly theatrical. Gonzales’s choreography for the cast (which includes himself), conjures five deities in sequence, with powers, specialities, and distinctive personalities. One of them, Eleguá, a trickster god, a figure of benevolent, quicksilver mischief, who breaks through the fourth wall and places his sparkly red hat on a member of the audience. And there’s an escalating, whirling, full-body energy about all of them, as framed by annotations from the narrator. 

Leo Gonzales, founder and artistic director, Cuban Movements Dance Academy. Photo supplied.

There are powerful warriors, including machete-wielding Oggún and Changó, a splendidly regal figure in red and gold who commands thunder and lightning. There’s Yemaya, the life-giving goddess of the sea, who moves in waves. The costumes are intensely colourful; the music invites physicality, and the movement is, to say the least, visceral. 

The desire to communicate and connect is everywhere in this hour-long show, which takes us into the culture of the African diaspora in Cuba and its life-affirming sense of community. We’ve been a couch-bound bunch: give yourself a jolt of energy. 

Check out the 12thnight preview interview with Cecilia Ferreya and Leo Gonzales here.


The Power of the Drum

RISER Edmonton 2022

Theatre: Cuban Movements Dance Academy

Written, directed, produced by: Cecilia Ferreya

Choreographed by: Leo Gonzales

Starring: Leo Gonzales, Raydel Martinez Portuondo, Ingrid Díaz Céspedes, Nathan Ouellette, Cecilia Ferreya

Where: Westbury Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barn, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: through April 17

Tickets:  tickets.fringetheatre.ca


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