'Havana Blue': Finding inspiration in Cuba

  • Pin It
'Havana Blue' rehearsal

Jessica Wolfrum, left, and other members of the River North Dance Company rehearse for "Havana Blue," which unfolds in six movements with two musical interludes. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune) (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune / March 29, 2013)

“Or Cuban dance,” adds Chaves.

“It's about how Cuba inspired us,” says Davis. “It's the feeling of Cuba. I think even in Cuba itself, especially with the young musicians, there's a sense of moving forward.”

So Chaves and Davis sought to create a work that shows American artists drawing from Cuban sources but not mimicking them. “Havana Blue” unfolds in six movements, with two musical interludes. The first several sections evoke the people, flavor and geography of Cuba; the finale bids a kind of farewell to the nation, just as Chaves' family and so many others once did, while celebrating the enduring global influence of Cuban culture.

Whether all of this coheres on stage won't be known until Saturday, but certainly the rehearsal shows great promise. The dancers move with the grace and nobility one associates with folkloric Cuba, but these gestures are embedded in a broader, contemporary dance perspective.

Davis' music, too, bristles with Cuban rhythmic accents and turns of phrase, but also with a 21st century American jazz sensibility. All of which, though, raises an unavoidable question: Will audiences care half as much about Cuban culture as Chaves and Davis do? And should they?

“Cuba is so close to the United States, and it has been a forbidden land for all our childhoods,” says Auditorium Theatre executive director Brett Batterson, who brought Chaves and Davis together for the Cuban experiment. “We heard the stories about the great casinos and the great musicians. We've seen the dance, the ballet.

“So I think there's a fascination with what's so close and so far away. … The whole influence of American organized crime in the '50s, and how that was just ended in one night. They made movies about it. And Castro came to power, and none of us could go there anymore,” due to the U.S. embargo (though many have visited on academic, cultural and journalistic missions). “I think Cuba's history is tied to America in so many ways.

“I think that soon, in our lifetimes, the relationships (between the two countries) will become normal again,” adds Batterson. “And the more we understand, the easier that transition will be.”

In the meantime, “Havana Blue” will try to bridge the gap, offering two cultures speaking to one another in motion and music.

'Havana Blue'
8 p.m. Saturday
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
$32-$76 at 800-982-2787 or auditoriumtheatre.org

hreich@tribune.com | Twitter @howardreich
  • Pin It

Local & National Video