I may have to discontinue the blog if I don’t start going to see other bands. At the moment it’s a paen to Havana D’Primera, Elito Revé y su Charangon and Pupy. For all the options there were on Christmas Day (Combinacion de la Habana, Azucar Negra, HdP, Salsa Mayor), I only ended up doing one, even though in theory I could have seen probably three of them if I had wanted to. But the catarro had me by the throat and I whittled it down to - guess which? - Havana D’Primera at La Tropical. Feliz Navidad, baby.
I went down to the farmacia to buy vitamin C, going by San Rafael which was all buzzy cause it was Saturday. The “park” (it’s really a cement square with a few trees) hosts stalls from the nearby Fin de Siglo artesan market now, and on weekends there are also stalls selling food and drink. There were a lot of people just hanging out; had a nice vibe. Further down I saw one of the productores of Manolito. He was handing out flyers for the matinee larga and gave me a bunch to distribute. It finishes at 1, so I guess they’ll be on at 11 or so. I gave one or two to a couple of startled foreigners. Now I know how I look when Cubans accost me in the street.
On the way back I bought some prawns from the pescaderia on Neptuno but the veggie market on San Rafael was closed - for Christmas, I guess - so I had nothing to cook with them. Slung em in the freezer for another day.
I needed a nap but the crazy Canadian, who is here for three months and doesn’t seem to do anything much but play dominoes and listen to loud music, was blasting a Miami radio station on the terrace right next to bedroom, so that was out. Gave up, got up, cooked a boniato tortilla and headed for La Tropical.
Streets were pretty quiet for a Saturday - I guess everyone had overdone it the night before. La Tropical was probably a bit more than half full, but it was the weirdest thing: everyone was crowded into the back half. The reggaeton was blaring, but nobody was really dancing, and there was a huge empty space in front of the stage. The DJ might have got people moving if he had played something else but we’ll never know because he didn’t. Not once. Not for the 30-40 minutes until the band came on.
They blasted out to Resumen de los 90 then - the front of house audio died. They kept going oblivious, till it finally dawned. They stopped playing, and stood around until it was fixed. Then: bum-bum - off they went again. Alexander was clearly stoked to be playing to the pueblo. Giving it everything like he usually does and maybe a little bit more. He was going so hard there was actual steam coming off the top of his head for the majority of the gig. He changed the song selection as requested and it suited me just fine - no Ony Ony or Niña bonita (Confiesle was among the songs instead). About 1.15 as Cuando el rio suena was drawing to a close, the power - both on stage and off - cut out and the band stopped. But the crowd kept singing. The power quickly returned, and the band resumed, when it happened again, and again, and again, they just kept playing as if nothing had happened. It continued like this into the closer Levanta las manos la gente que son de primera.
It was actually quite fun. The crowd was fully into it. It was an awesome night.
Even if we did have to walk for miles to get a taxi home.
Lead dancer Viengsay Valdes in previous Alonso production of Giselle. Pic: Juventud Rebelde
Sunday was cold and rainy. The only thing I had committed to was the Cuban ballet at the Gran Teatro. Alicia Alonso appeared briefly on the mezzanine balcony briefly before it began and I must admit to a little thrill at seeing a living legend in the flesh.
The female dancers of the company opened the performance - perhaps 20 or more, in short stiff tutus, dancing to some very flowery music with striking precision. They were beautifully in sync - quite marvellous when you consider how many of them were on the stage at once. The same could not be said of the two couples that came afterwards: the males rarely hit their cues at the same time throughout the entire piece - it was maddening.
The third piece was the one that had been written in the largest curly letters on the cartelera, La muñeca encantada. It was two guys dressed in Pierrot outfits, and a woman in a lovely little short pink corseted number. All danced brilliantly, especially the young lady who did a bunch of turns on pointe towards the end that capped a terrific performance.
Pas de deux can either be very beautiful, or a little dull - the one on this program was just lovely. Beautifully danced by both partners. It was light, shimmery and elegant.
There was an intermission, then the company returned in black and white bodysuits, dancing to electronic music that, at its best recalled Kraftwerk, and at its worst, Vangelis. This choreography was clever and comical. The section was only about 15 minutes long and there was another intermission which seemed unnecessary, but when they returned for El Papillon, I saw why. The stage had a new set (the rest had just been backdrops) with elements that allowed the dancers to convert it from a class room into a stage, and then, when a scrim dropped, to show the dancers on stage seemingly form the wings. It was cleverly constructed and the dancing was very pretty but the story was totally naff and the supporting female character - the teacher - was pathetic.
Still it was an excellent afternoon’s entertainment, and I’m kicking myself for having come to Havana so many times before and not seen it more often. What was I thinking?
Oh right, timba. Yeah. More of that anon, no doubt.