The sights and sounds of Cuba erupt onto the stage at Sadler's Wells. Dizzy and exhilarating, Vamos Cuba! is like being scooped off your feet and whirled around with abandon. Without pause for breath, we're launched headlong into the hustle and bustle of early morning Havana. Set in the city's airport, choreographer Nilda Guerra tells the story of Cuba's music and dance through a series of delightful and quirky characters. 

© Johan Persson
© Johan Persson

There are more tassels, glitter and feathery headdresses than you can shake a stick at. Short skirts show off long legs and lubricated hips. This is sizzling stuff. Blink and you can miss it - the speed of the dancers' footwork could give Usain Bolt a run for his money. They are multi-lingual, moving seamlessly between half a dozen dance styles. Their bodies reverberate with the vivacious beat, overlaid with a sweet lyricism. This dancers are at the top of their game.

The recent thawing of political relations between the US and Cuba opens up a world
of possibilities. Guerra's airport setting enables her to explore the desire for travel
and thirst for new opportunities. In the first and second Acts Guerra also evokes the
island's past. Images of Havana's streets are projected onto the departures board and
the lilting rhythms of its folk traditions are captured in the swirling white skirts of the
dancers as they coil and curl through the space.

On stage musicians drive the performance, their fierce rhythms and sun soaked harmonies envelop the auditorium. Singer Geidy Chapman woos us with her sonorous, silky vocals. My school girl Spanish isn't up to the task of translation, but Chapman doesn't need the words to convey the sentiment, her musicality opens up a treasure chest of emotions.    

The pulsating energy is infectious. With the heady mix of live music, this is high octane theatre. But the pace and busyness verges on the chaotic at times. The narrative looses its shape in places and the fantasy sequences jar against the linear storyline. On
occasion, Guerra risks veering into a tourism infomercial. A difficult line to tread
given her theme, but she ultimately steers the production in the right direction. 

Act II finds a better equilibrium. Guerra allows the choreography room to breathe and her characters start to crystallise. The experience graduates from gaudy fiesta to a story with emotional gravitas. Katia Pèrez as Chief of Customs performs a gripping solo, evoking the island's conflicted history. Doubled over, her arms are wrapped tightly round her body. She wrenches herself open, extending both arms sideways, pulled to the edges of her fingertips. Pèrez spins spiralling upwards and releases a guttural cry. The love story between Yoanis Pelaez (the Porter) and Ana Aylen Salazr (Passenger) is tender and charming, and the battle of sexes danced to a traditional Rumba show cases the best of this talented ensemble.

For a late summer pick-me-up Vamos Cuba is just the ticket. Find your inner Latina and get your shimmy on before the nights draw in.