Ballet Revolución, a company comprising 18 Havana-trained dancers, is designed to bring Cuban spirit to London. It does so via a mix of dance styles and a live band playing Latin-infused pop music. This ambition is greatly realised in some places, such as a fun mambo-rumba-salsa hybrid routine complete with knowing shimmies and hip rolls, and an understated balletic tango played out in the shadows. There is also a particularly memorable scene in which two couples, under spotlights, bend, fold and twist into and on top of each other, showing excellent strength in their holds, turning the audience into Peeping Toms.
But the concept doesn’t quite deliver. The costumes – bondage-inspired, shiny see-through tops galore – are, shall we say, an acquired taste. The use of contemporary pop songs, including a Beyoncé medley and pop house of the Calvin Harris mould, isn’t necessarily a hindrance, but with one track following another in quick succession, it all feels distractingly episodic. This makes it hard to sustain an atmosphere and impossible for the dancers to convey much of anything at all.
Most of all, the choreography – by Aaron Cash and Roclan Gonzalez Chavez – lets this young company down. Often, the stage is so hectic that, instead of letting the dancers’ personalities shine through, no-one shines at all. Other times, the dancers engage in little more than music video choreography, all handclaps and (unironic) jazz hands in unison.
The most questionable moment came during CeeLo Green’s Forget You. There’s no routine to speak of, just men in glasses taking their baggy t-shirts off to reveal ripped torsos while a girl in innocent, white pyjamas, legs akimbo, quivers with pleasure. There’s really not much more you can say about that.
The key issue here is the over-reliance on “tricks”. This is commonplace in hip hop, where the cheeky one-upmanship element is part and parcel, but it doesn’t work in ballet. On their own, the dizzying pirouettes à la seconde, tours en l’air and daring barrel jumps show the solid technique these dancers clearly possess. But it is stripped of any artistry or lyricism, with nothing to link them together. The whole thing is reduced to a crass “showboating”.
Ballet Revolución is the dance equivalent of a Now compilation – all the “best” bits, a kind of “more the merrier” approach that crams different and at times opposing styles together, with no coherence or context. It is immensely popular – the audience on press night were supremely enthusiastic – but ultimately it does nothing for and says little about dance as an art form.