The Kings of Salsa, in their Boston premiere, is the product of Cuban choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez, who also sings, dances and MCs the evening. Their performance at Emerson’s decorative Cutler Majestic Theatre – itself a confection of perfection – attracted a respectable crowd on Friday night, with enthusiastic representation from local Latin American communities. “Who is Cuban? Puerto Rican? Columbian?” Chavez called to the audience.
Billed as a show that “combines traditional Afro-Caribbean dance moves, world-class contemporary dance and the Cuban classic forms of Mambo, Rumba and Cha Cha Cha,” their work was short on actual partner dancing and long on production numbers ala a high-energy musical. As one audience member, recently returned from Cuba, described them: “They are more entertainment than fine art.”
Three women and five men make up the young dance troupe, a group as energetic and gorgeous as the eyes can bear. Despite the slightly repetitive choreography, there was always an amazing muscular body to delight in. The costume changes were plentiful and sparkly, with bright colors and sequins adorning skimpy satin designs. Some of the dancers had talent far beyond the work they were being asked to perform, not the least Jesus Elias Almenares. The men were given periodic solos in which to show off their acrobatics, while the women were mainly highlighted in a pair or a threesome.
The eight-piece band pounded out wonderful seat-shaking Cuban music, but the acoustics had a muddy quality that obscured any subtleties. Sporting the added delight of Yaimi Karell Lay – that rare female percussionist - the band held together the long show. Danais Menendez Valdes, the sultry, curvaceous lead singer, who endeared herself as she struggled to keep up her dress, was a knock-out in every way: her vocals, her dancing, and her sophisticated stage presence.
Props were in high evidence – from fans to drumsticks to loud clogs – and no one minded the occasional prop malfunction, like a toppled drum or a dropped item. More worrying were a couple of wobbly dance lifts.
Following the intermission, Chavez invited audience members up on the stage to dance with each other or with troupe members, as he made long love to his microphone. The crowd pleaser was a gray-haired short round guy with a long neck scarf and incomparable booty-shaking skills. Chavez brought up local Cuban musicians to do guest appearances as well as a young woman who had recently won a local salsa contest. This got Chavez so excited that he forgot the order of the program and instructed the band to just resume where they had left off before he had gone all “spontaneous.”
The limited dance vocabulary of Chavez, who stayed in his wrinkled street clothes throughout, became an almost slapstick element as he often inserted himself among the shiny dancers to repeat his same few steps. He combined chest-pops, shoulder shrugs and salsa footwork, while working his mouth and scrunching his face, reminding one of that embarrassing uncle who drinks too much at a wedding, but who the young people adore. Throughout the show, the crowd was straining in their seats with their urge to dance, making for a buoyant bopping rhythmic wave in the surrounding rows. The Kings of Salsa include some queens; once your expectations are adjusted, they provide a raucous evening.
Kings of Salsa
October 13-15, 2011
Cutler Majestic Theatre
This review appeared on EdgeBoston.com.