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Lady Salsa

Written and directed by Toby Gough
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
(2007)

Production photo

This is a history lesson like no other – the turbulent history of Cuba brought to you by Trinidad Rolando Portocarrero, known as Lady Salsa, a lady who has lived through oppression and revolution and finally has the freedom to travel the world to tell her story.

It would be impossible to separate Cubans from their music, and the story begins over five hundred years ago with the Spaniards who brought guitars and the intricate rhythms of flamenco. An island of sugar cane and tobacco needs workers in the fields, so African slaves were imported, their culture of worship conflicting strongly with the Catholicism of the Spaniards, but their drum rhythms mixed in well. By the end of the eighteenth century half of the population was composed of Africans – they had come to stay. Trinidad’s father was African and her mother a Spanish gypsy dancer – a fine mixture.

By the end of the nineteenth century slavery had been abolished – at last – and Havana-born poet and journalist, Jose Marti, formed a coalition of peasants, blacks and Creoles and – with the aim of creating a Cuba free of racism and oppression - launched an assault on the Spanish regime. Marti, killed in an early battle, is now revered as the father of Cuban independence and began an era of revolution which, in 1959 had Fidel Castro and Che Guevara leading an uprising to overthrow the corrupt puppet dictator Batista who was in the pay of the American mafia. Oh yes – America had added its music to the rich mix and jazz too had found its way to Cuba.

It was the Americans who now took over the sugar and tobacco industry, forcing the Cubans from their land. Trinidad’s father’s farm was burnt down and she had to move to Havana to find work, where she found the mafia in charge, running casinos and prostitution, creating a playground for the rich and famous while the Cubans were kept ignorant and poor. The work she found was in the famous Tropicana nightclub, creating costumes for the glamorous dancers, but she always dreamt that she too could sing and dance on stage. “Follow your dream,” she says. “Now here I am in Woking!” and, seemingly to her surprise and wonderment, she has travelled the world with her show, a show which, beginning in 2000 at the Edinburgh Festival, has been on continuous tour ever since and shows no sign of slowing down.

Rodolfo Jiminez Espinosa keeps the party rolling as MC, as well as bringing life to the infamous mafia boss Lucky Luciano

Breathtakingly vibrant, exciting, spectacular, and bursting with indefatigable energy and flamboyance – the only cool things about this show are the white linen suits and panama hats worn by the nine-strong on-stage salsa band. The dancers (who obviously have no restricting bones in their gorgeous bodies) burn the floor in a sizzling, scorching sensational dance extravaganza with exotic costumes to match – and I defy anyone to sit sedately still with that music insisting that you get up and dance. Many of the audience were up on stage for a short dance lesson, and everyone was on their feet at the finish for another.

An evening of pure enjoyment, with the indefatigable dancers seemingly deriving as much pleasure from their performance as we did.

Touring to Stoke, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sunderland, Jersey, Sheffield, Southend, Hull, Canterbury and Poole.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor