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The building is the site of the Centro Asturiano, one of the regional Spanish associations that in the early 20th centruy provided charitable assistance to the numerous emigrants from Spain residing on the Island. There is a grand reception area on the ground floor with splendid mirrors, photos of the association’s founders and an image of Our Lady of Covadonga. There is also an Italian restaurant. The third floor has a restaurant serving grilled foods. Right in the middle, on the second floor is the Havana Gourmet Restaurant. We’ve arrived early and it’s almost empty. People start getting there around 9 o’clock so as not to miss a second of the show and to take advantage of the deal which includes a tapas table or gala dinner and, after the show, recorded music to dance the night away.
We’re introduced to Rosario García, choreographer and director of the dance company that makes some 20 music videos every year and has won the important Premio Lucas (something like the MTV awards) in the category of best choreography three years running. Rosario is charming, elegant and high spirited. She was a dancer and choreographer of the prestigious Cuban Television Ballet until she founded her own company called Havana Queens. “Queens” came from the fact that at the beginning the group’s members were all female; nowadays it has grown into a heterogeneous show taking in the most sabroso Cuban rhythms, guajira music, pop, hip hop, disco and nueva trova.
I talk with the dancers in the improvised dressing rooms overflowing with colorful costumes and mirrors. The troupe comes from different backgrounds—from contemporary and folklore dance school graduates to street performers ready to show off the acrobatics they learned in city parks. Some of the girls, like Rosario, are from the TV ballet company. I see a gorgeous mulatto doing some unbelievable stretches and a short-haired girl runs in, just in time to get ready. When we see her on stage later on we are entranced by her expressiveness that sets her apart from the others.
The show starts at 9:30 and it’s organized into segments that alternate with the voice of Yuliet Abreu, known by Cubans as “La Papina.” She’s the daughter of one of the members of the legendary vocal and percussion group Los Papines to which she also belongs. Number follows number onstage and the audience is getting excited with the frenetic hip movements of the dancers. There is one contemporary dance number that could favorably compete with anything being presented in any great theater in the world. There is break-dancing and clog dancing (an odd feature of this is that the girls wear the clogs on their hands, not on their feet!) in syncopated rhythm. The audience is really warming up to these rhythms, it doesn’t matter which part of the world they are from. The show ebbs and flows, something like the universe until we believe that it is the universe itself; nothing exists beyond this room, this euphoria, this strength and the dedication of such tireless bodies. The choreography is impeccable, daring and, at times, challenging. The dancers are enjoying every moment and the audience bursts into applause and cries out. And when you think the show is over, it isn’t, because the artists stay and go on dancing just for the love of dancing and so a whole other show is created, a spontaneous show that is new every single night, unique.
When we are leaving, the lights are still on in the second floor windows. Everything will begin anew tomorrow. Maybe you too will get to enjoy these queens and their kings who light up the Havana nights under Rosario’s steady, loving hand. Prado No. 309 is the address for rapture. It’s the Havana Queens Party.
April 2015 This article formed part of the March 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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