Revolución in the making

Physically, Ballet Revolucion is as dynamic and effortless as in previous years.

Pirouettes to popping, sweatpants to sequins: Ballet Revolucion is a moving feast for the eyes. Direct from Cuba, classical and contemporary dancers selected from thousands of talented hopefuls, showcase ballet’s versatility, moulding it to a cocktail mix of rumba and Rhianna – fitting with a dash of Havana Club.

Choreographed by Australian Aaron Cash and Cuban Rocland Gonzalez Chavez, this is unashamedly a commercial show. While the opening scene nods briefly at classical roots, featuring ballet barres and pointe shoes, the rest lies somewhere between flashing lights, dramatic dips, dives and breakdancing. Not surprising from Chavez, a trained musical comedian and ex-TV presenter.

Ballet Revolucion is on another, unobtainable, universe for we lesser mortals. The colourful outfits, their bright and sultry expressions as they narrated with their bodies and explored every angle, lift and beat soon won over the slow-to-warm audience.

By the second half, the Caribbean heat pervaded and we were noticeably more voluble. The best routines were quite possibly the simplest in both lighting and numbers – two couples, under the spotlight as opposed to the full cast. The passion and execution of their explosive bodies carving up stage and space was an impressive feat of both athleticism and artistry.

Only the first three songs echoed against the theatre walls, with distinctive Cuban sounds of the congas and timbales. Everything else was a chart-topping hit. In some cases, such as Hozier’s Take me to church and Sting’s Roxanne, the fusion of ballet and pop songs elevated the aesthetics of each. The mood and dancing was immediately severe and fluid, the lighting perfect. However, in others like Lorde’s Royals, the choreography had more MTV than meaning. It lacked depth and lyrical connection.

Physically, Ballet Revolucion is as dynamic and effortless as in previous years. Musically, it left its heart in Havana along with veterans Omara Portuonodo and other members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Considering the wealth of musical reserve at their disposal, its exclusion seemed a waste.

Still, the show manages to remain distinctly Cuban. The Afro-Cuban style of performing close to the ground took me back to when I first fell head-over-Cuban heels in love for one their most famous exports: salsa. My sense of rhythm was reasonable but, for most in my class, the Cuban way of dancing ‘on the two’ was a jumbled universe of beats in which they groped their way blindly.

The modern tapestry of flight and funk seemed to paint a future for Cuban dance as equally exciting as its political front. US relations are not only thawing with the island nation but its visitor numbers in the 2014 high season were the biggest on record, according to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. What this means in concrete terms for the Cuban people will be interesting to see.

Despite Cuba’s fundamental economic problem – that it lacks industrialisation to produce high-value goods for export – its music and dance, at least for now, seems to be the most mobile and widely sought-after commodity, judging by the audience’s standing ovation.

Perhaps the real Revolucion is yet to come.