Lizt Alfonso and her dance company fill the New Victory stage with the sights and sounds of the Caribbean.
It's probably no accident that Americans' fascination with Cuba has been growing of late now that the island's relations with the States have begun to open up. While Broadway audiences are whetting their appetites with On Your Feet! at the Marquis Theatre, a kaleidoscopic, megawatt extravaganza called Cuba Vibra!, performed by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, has taken over the stage a few blocks south at the New Victory Theater. With a dozen or so vignettes told solely through dance and music, Cuba Vibra! offers children and adults alike an eye-catching, kinetic glimpse into Cuba's diverse people and culture.
Lizt Alfonso founded her LADC company, as well as a dance academy geared toward children, over 20 years ago in Havana. Cuba Vibra! seems designed to draw kids into that terpsichorean world with its vibrant, exciting choreography, which is brilliantly executed by more than 20 accomplished hoofers (three men and the rest women), all wearing colorful costumes designed by Alfonso. The fiery music ensemble, led by Ernesto Hermida, supplies supercharged background beats for the up-tempo numbers while also treating the audience to Latin standards such as the popular song of longing "Quizás" and the romantic "Bésame Mucho," featuring Rachel Pastor's earthy vocals.
Each segment of the production provides a window into Cuba's past and present. Alfonso shows off her penchant for the style of the 1950s in ebullient numbers like "Tea Party," which spotlights the company's female dancers. Wearing '50s-style swing dresses that swirl up and out, the women twirl with dizzying speed under the hands of the macho male dancers, who are clad simply in khakis, T-shirts, and suspenders. The show changes pace with numbers like "Spirtuality," featuring the entire company in the all-white garb of Santeros, the healing priests and priestesses of the island, as they move to music infused with rhythms that pay homage to Cuba's African heritage. (Audiences who have attended On Your Feet! will recall a similar scene from that show.) The first half of Cuba Vibra! ends with the whole company "shaking it out" with the rumba — the well-synchronized company gives the Rockettes a run for their money.
Following the intermission, the show takes on more serious themes in routines such as "Blackout," which tells the story of a young Cuban man called to war and the young woman he must leave behind. Wearing Army fatigues, the company performs a militaristic tour de force with a dramatic ending. Ultimately though, Cuba Vibra! keeps things on the lighter side with scenes like "Enamorados," featuring Yadira Yasell and Jerlandys Milián, clothed in delicate, sky-blue outfits, gracefully gliding across the stage in a balletic love story. The show culminates with drum-beating pyrotechnics, heightened by Erick Grass and Oscar del La Portilla's variegated lighting: The "Rumbatucada" fuses the rhythms of rumba with the percussive stylings of batucada, and the finale, "Cuba Vibra!," gets everyone out of their seats and clapping with the music.
The show runs somewhat longer than its advertised 95 minutes; at almost two hours, little ones may get fidgety, but there's enough high energy onstage to keep kids ages 6 and up entertained. It's certainly a must-see for families, and there's plenty of room for everyone to rumba.