The Wedding Dance @ Greenwich Theatre

Say It Loud

★ ★ ★ ★

Prime time television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, have made salsa dance in the UK more popular than ever. A testament to that fact is the number of people who have been inspired to learn salsa to try and become the next Latin dance god and goddess. However, many salsa disciples are likely to be ignorant of the god, Sango and his three goddess wives Oshun, Oba and Oya, and the central importance of the Orisha spirits to the Cuban music and dance tradition.

The Wedding Dance, written and directed by Felix Cross, expresses salsa’s Yoruba origins through the story of Jose, a salsa teacher who is enlisted by Miranda to teach her the wedding dance for her forth coming nuptials. Jose soon finds himself overstepping a familiar boundary, which unfortunately proves to be one step too far. Performed by Nitro Black Music Theatre, the play boasts a strong cast, led by London based performer Tristan Temple, who is devastatingly convincing as the sexy, arrogant Cuban lothario women are helpless to resist. Josie Benson also radiates as his beautiful yet savvy, long suffering dance partner Ife.

A vibrant score by renowned Latin composer Alex Wilson, brings to mind hot sticky dwellings in Havana and sets the scene for choreographer Debra Michaels’ fast paced, nifty footwork and intricate dance patterns. The swaying hips of Ife and Jose, as they writhe sensually together during one of their many dance interludes, sets pulses racing. However, Cross’s play is more than just a dance spectacle, it is a thought provoking and intelligent drama, raising questions about contemporary issues – from life under the Castro regime, to stereotypes about dancers and their profession. When Jose’s wife Rita pleads for him to forget his dreams of opening a salsa academy and return to his studies as a doctor, I am reminded of the numerous occasions I’ve heard it said that dancing is not a real job and the torment felt by anyone trying to balance their life’s calling with everyday responsibilities.

Cross also addresses issues surrounding our roots as black people and the importance of authenticity when reconnecting with our heritage. Do we still pay attention to our heritage and find ways to preserve our culture, in an age where making money is often our most immediate concern? How do we relate to, respect or disrespect each other as a people of one colour, against the myriad of rituals practiced within the African, West Indian and British cultures? It is thanks to the director’s genius that while the audience is engaged with these concerns they are never drowned by them. Cross’ writing is refreshing with characters that often delight the audience with their humorous and witty exchanges.

The Wedding Dance is an extremely entertaining ‘salsa musical.’ However, I also believe it is a touching and important piece of theatre that should be experienced by many, regardless of race, gender or age.

Reviews, 1 October 2007