interview

In Conversation with Nilda Guerra and Rodney Barreto from Vamos Cuba!

Set in the crazy chaos of Havana Airport, Vamos Cuba! is a spectacular celebration of Cuban dance and music, currently playing at The Peacock theatre. Choreographed by Nilda Guerra, who was also the creator of the smash-hit Havana Rakatan, the show also features a live band led by acclaimed Cuban musician Rodney Barreto and a cast of Cuba’s most talented dancers and musicians. We caught up with Nilda and Rodney to talk about the show’s strong musical influences and how Vamos Cuba! perfectly expresses the Cuban spirit of optimism.

How did the idea of Vamos Cuba! come about and what was the inspiration behind it?

Nilda Guerra: We wanted to explore the idea of being in the airport, and how that is quite a controversial thing for Cuba. It’s a struggle for Cubans, because we cannot leave the country, so we wanted to create something for ourselves. Our cast are just waiting in the airport, so that they can communicate and tell stories with each other.

We have been working on this project a long time and we wanted to bring it to England, as a contemporary production with Cuban music from the 1950s until now, and working with Cuban artists and English producers. We all have an idea of Cuba, that it’s all about mambo and cha-cha-cha, but we felt that we really needed to show more than just the commercial part.

The show has undergone a little bit of a transformation since you last performed it at Sadler’s Wells, can you tell us about what has changed and what audiences can expect?

Rodney Barreto: We have new songs in the show! This isn’t just traditional music, we also included different Cuban genres, like straight ahead jazz. The audience can also hear timba and the evolution of salsa.

Can you tell us a little bit about the casting for the show?

NG: I really am a lucky woman with this cast! Right now we have nine of the best Cuban musicians in the band. For instance Rodney, who has worked with famous Cuban musicians such as the pianist Chucho Valdés. We didn’t know we were going to have such a beautiful cast! There are 14 dancers, and interestingly 12 of these are the principal dancers, when normally you only have four.

Dance seems to be hugely significant to Cuban culture. How do you represent this and other elements of your culture in the show?   

NG: The dancing and the music has a connection. Music and dancing is ingrained in family heritage, in Cuban life. In Cuba dancing motivates the musicians to create a different type of style, a rich style. We have influences from Spain, Africa, and America. That’s why I always try and bring the musicians and dancers together because I cannot see the dancers dancing with just recorded music, that’s really safe for the producer but really bad for the show, because it doesn’t have a life. It is the connection with the dancers and the music that is the most important element to the show.

RB: Within the show we also wanted to include something about the folklore and religious element of Cuban culture. It’s a big part of many people’s lives there, being closely connected to religion and praying. There’s a special vocal part in the show which really focuses on that.

We feel that we have all the Cuban cultural styles in the show, which is shown in the change in music, like the cha-cha, blues, reggae, mambo, timba, it’s all included.

What is your favourite thing about this new production?

NG: I think for me the music plays an important part. The way it moves through the audience and the sensation of it is probably my favourite element of the show. It’s a history show so it’s complicated for the dancers to express that drama, but I think the music helps and really gives you all the energy and emphasises the emotion of the show.

How would you sum up the show in three words? 

NG: I would say maybe ‘Cuba for now’.

RB: Yeah, I would maybe say ‘The Cuban Reality’. This is the way things happen in Cuba, maybe not for everybody. Cubans often make the best of the situation. Even if, for example, we found out there was a flight delay, maybe we’d be a little upset, but 5 minutes later we say ‘whatever’ and we find something to do, deal with the situation, maybe make some friends. That’s the Cuban lifestyle that we wanted to show our audience.

NG: The Cuban way of doing things, even if we dream about travel and leaving the country, is just to laugh and have fun!

RB: It is the meaning of the show. We cannot show every problem that we have, but we do want to portray the optimism that Cubans have. If we have a problem, we have to laugh. We share with people no matter what.

Vamos Cuba! plays at The Peacock theatre until 11th November. Book tickets here.