Habana Compás astounds at the Straz

Emotion wrought by talent and passion from a small island.

You remember that one part of the show I Love Lucy where Ricky would play and for a glorious moment you were in Cuba and everything sizzled with tropical undertones and overtones?

Habana Compás is like that, only better, because this isn't Hollywood, it's real, and from the moment the show starts until you — along with the rest of the audience — stand to show your appreciation for — finally — witnessing Cuba's heat and passion and glory, you are in awe of the men and women who bring a slice of the islands to Tampa, Cuban's long-lost sister.

The talented women and men who comprise the dance company blend their moves with the music of the band: Slitheythe Fernández's glorious voice and Raul Rodriguez's primal drumming remain the constants as other musicians interweave with them and the company. This style evokes images — real or imagined — of 1950s Cuban nightclubs, where tables, chairs and whatever else was nearby became part of the show, used as percussion instrument, and dance surfaces. The heat of the show pulses through the house and the performance carries the audience along. At the show's end I have few words to describe it because this is a show comprised of feeling above all else. I cannot explain why, when the dancers appeared in t-shirts bearing an image of the Cuban flag, I had tears in my eyes, but I did. He who feels it, the saying goes, knows it.

Friday night at the Straz, every person in Ferguson Hall felt it. And what we felt was a mixture of passion and skill; art and culture fused with raw emotion.

The Straz described this show as a blending of Spanish dance and Afro-Cuban rhythms, but the beauty and appeal of Habana Compás lies in the story of Cuba the performance itself tells: Americans have not seen this style of nightclub-esque performance since we cut off relations with Cuba.

These young Cuban dancers, along with the musicians and general director Liliet Rivera, do more than bring a dance show to Tampa; they're bringing back the Cuba we all lost when the US severed relations in 1961. Certainly, Cuba has changed in those 55 years, but for those of us in the audience Friday night, the Cuba of our dreams lives on in these young men and women.


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Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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