Cuba raises more home-grown dance talent than almost anywhere on the planet, so it takes a peculiar level of ineptitude to produce a show as tedious as Nilda Guerra’s latest production.
Vamos Cuba! is a follow up to Guerra’s popular hit Havana Rakatan. Yet while that show had verve and conviction to compensate for its basic, formulaic structure, the choreography here is weak and the live band fails to rock.
The action is themed around Havana airport, a place apparently rife with oversexed flight crews, insanely quarrelsome passengers and perilously unreliable planes. The flirtations and reversals of two sets of lovers form a slender thread of a plot, around which circle a number of desperately tenuous scenarios. A delayed flight prompts a rum-soaked cha cha cha; a cockroach escapes from someone’s luggage prompting hysterical shimmying from the women and comic grimaces from the men. While passengers pass their time swapping memories, the stage comes to a standstill and images of Old Havana and Fidel Castro are projected on to it.
Despite this last injection of touristic nostalgia, Guerra has said that she wants Vamos Cuba! to portray the youthful, modern spirit of her country. But as a choreographer she flounders to find a language equal to her task. Her attempts at narrative are cliched and cumbersome. And in many of the ensemble numbers, the sumptuous, rhythmic variety of Cuban dance is reduced to a brash, pumping monotone: all snake-hipped prowling for the men and all pose and strut for the women who, constricted for much of the time in miniskirts and high heels, tend to look offensively over-sexualised without being remotely sexy.
There are saving moments: a joyously debonair male solo that shuffles hip-hop and jazz; a standout reggaeton section with belting heft and energy. Singer Geidy Chapman is superb, a big sensual presence with even bigger vocal range. Yet this show feels like a feebly commercial enterprise, and while the audience do their best to party, the temperature in the theatre remains tepid.
•At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 21 August. Box office: 020-7863 8000.