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Cuba vibrates in Gran Via, near Sol

Someone once told me that the shock of having just arrived in Madrid goes away when you feel that Gran Vía no longer excites you. It takes years for that to happen, especially because for a music lover like me Gran Vía always has something new: a trumpet solo with a bolero that the echo of the narrow street multiplies; street musicians with unconventional instruments; the chorus of people; the dance wheels; the marquees with as many proposals as little time to cover them. Gran Vía is very cosmopolitan, to succeed on its stages means to have passed that subject that is Hispanic Europe, as familiar as it is demanding.

In the vicinity of Sol, when evening falls, the marquee of the EDP Gran Vía Theater, the former theater of La Luz, is busy with an event that brings me back home. Cuba Vibra I read it and the first thing I think is that the title bores me, the Cubanness linked to joy, to the carefree, those things that are no longer so much so. Then I remember that I am in a European capital where the marketing strategy and advertising are designed differently and I forget. Cuba attracts, like a myth that is fed with each staging that shows the joy of a country that has had to reinvent itself.

Lizt Alfonso is in Spain with a team of thirty people to premiere a show that has a lot of novelty: a journey through the sound universe of the country since the 50s of the last century -more or less when this theater was inaugurated- to the present. A journey through time where, unlike the mythical shows of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, music is the protagonist. The show arrives in Madrid with more than 200 cities in the five continents, part of a celebration of 30 years since the company was founded.

At the door I am greeted by Juan Carlos Coello, the group's manager, who tells me a little of what is not seen: how tiring it is to travel for extensive tours; how they manage to stay in hotel rooms, in apartments; the relief of being in Spain, how much of a home Madrid is. He talks to me about the benefits of staging Cuba Vibra for three weeks, detained in the city for a time that will allow them to recharge their batteries. "This time we rented houses with kitchens, a sign that we will have some time and space to rest." Still, Juan Carlos works while the boards light up. We comment briefly on how the company's audience has mutated, which usually attracts more locals than Cubans and that, precisely, is what their show seeks: "if we are in New York it is full of New Yorkers, it is always full, it is a luxury we are not afraid of"; but this is probably the first time they notice so many Cuban faces, so many familiar faces, friends who come to say hello or new people in search of nostalgia. For whom do you dance outside Cuba, with Cuban costumes, Cuban dances, Cuban music? An answer that mutates, a country that is changing.

The third bell rings and the immense crystal chandelier above my head goes out. On stage three musicians: Jonathan García on piano, Yenly Medina on bass, Yandy Chang on percussion and the voice of Yaíma Sáez, the common thread between music and dance, the protagonist of the night. Cuba Vibra does not appeal to nostalgia, although it brings us back to the classics of the Cuban repertoire, chachachá and mambo, son, rumba and guaguancó. The staging narrates the mixtures that have shaped the Cuban identity; the Spanish dance that has sealed the company since its foundation this time is mixed with African drums and some North American sonorities, with brief irruptions of jazz, swing and rock 'n roll.

Photo: Josep Guindo

They turn on the lights and on stage the flying skirts tight to the waist, buttoned shirts, lace, red lips, bright colors. Cuba had its own ballroom dances, the middle class of the Island is the one on the stage dancing chachachá, mambo, danzón, a Cuban tea party... or habanera. Live music is joined by a cello, tres, guitar, plus percussion at different times, with musicians Efraín Chibás, Dayron Echevarría, Ernesto Hermida, Juan Pablo Solas, Yuniel Rascón; with the participation of Carlos Alfonso, Consuelo Veláquez and Lizt herself in the arrangements and sound design, together with Armando G. Sin. Sin. The dancers accompany the voices, in white costumes and an arrangement reminiscent of El Benny's Banda Gigante, and the clamoring of the nine dancers on stage, who imbue the tea party with the particular white, bourgeois gaiety of the Republican years.

The bolero marks the turning points of the staging between choreographies; the great bolero singer Yaima brought us a song that is close to us: "whenever I ask you when, how and where...".

Photo: Josep Guindo

The moment of the Spanish dance arrives and the dancers appear with white flowing skirts, hoods and candles in their hands, barefoot, without faces. The pianist introduces the cajón and the skirts are once again the most colorful part of the choreography, with shapes reminiscent of Wingsa show premiered by the company at the Gran Teatro de La Habana in 2006. The wings, in Lizt Alfonso's choreographies, symbolize growth, spirituality, the search for high flight, mobility. Perhaps that is the reason for the sails and the absence of faces. Among the flights appears a black dancer, one of the two that I can distinguish among them all, also dressed in white, to sing and dance to the black gods, to the rhythm of African drums, rumba and guaguancó. Afro-descent cannot be missing in the Cuban musical narrative nor the Yoruba pantheon in our spirituality. Rumba leaves its original rites and enters the solar. There the broom and the chancleta await, the women wear pants and the tumbadoras become protagonists of this dance that eroticizes the rejection of women towards male sexualization.

This Sunday's performance had something exceptional: the dancers from the company of Sara Martín, teacher and flamenco dancer, were invited to the stage. Decorating their own story with the traditional Spanish tailed gown, thick, red and black polka dots, and heels on the tablao, they faced the Cubans, also with their traditional dresses and wooden flip-flops; contrasting the percussive sounds in a choreography that honored the roots of each company. de novo is an original choreography by Lizt Alfonso, versioned by Sara Martín, which they shared on stage for the first time.

Photo: Josep Guindo

I liked one scene above all. This time the frilly dresses were waves, an unruly sea and, above it, a couple trying to force it, to tame it. The woman is in obvious distress, he struggles against natural forces to reach the other shore, or so it seems. This time the black body is him, his clothes are poor, torn, misery takes him from the island and throws him into the sea. Percussions and prayers create a hostile environment that is immediately recognizable: the migration through the strait that has swallowed so many Cuban lives that pursued the dream of Florida; also that of our protagonist who, despite the struggle, dies under the waves, under the white and blue skirts that play with the disordered lights.

Photo: Josep Guindo

The history of Cuba cannot be told without the movement of its music and its children, with its many origins and to so many different destinations, far away as to invoke the country that we know by heart, but that belongs to us in its complexity. Yaíma's voice returns to make the audience shriek with its Perdóname concienciastanding ovations for her last sustained notes, the same ones that have seen the great Cuban bolero voices: a tribute to La Lupe, Elena Burke, Moraima Secada, Olga Guillot, Celia Cruz.

Again the lights come on and Sunday becomes clearer, and you leave your country to Gran Via, to Sol, but not before running into the thirty or so young people chanting, shouting and clapping outside the theater, and toasting themselves for photos on a huge poster that swears that, despite everything, Cuba vibrates in its own way, in any city.

Photo: Josep Guindo

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