February 2018 in Cuba starts off with a bang and then seems to slow down by mid-month. At least this is the panorama at the time of writing, but Cuba is known for not giving much advance notice when it comes to festivals, concerts and activities, so there is still time for things to be kicked up a notch as we get past the month´s first couple of weeks.
For now, do take a look at the top cultural events lined up so far, from the biggest annual celebration of the written word to the spectacular dance acts kicking off the month with style and swagger.
Havana’s International Book Fair 2018 (1 to 11 Feburary)
The biggest event in the Cuban calendar this month is Havana’s International Book Fair which takes place at its official headquarters in the Morro-Cabana fortress, as usual, but also expands to many other areas throughout the city with pop-up book stands and markets. Over 600 new books, 4000 titles and 4 million copies will be available for visitors and book-lovers to peruse, with plenty of options for all ages and all genres. Whilst most books will be available in Spanish there will be a number of in English and other international languages, so it presents a fine opportunity to get your hands on a rare copy you aren’t likely to find sold outside of Cuba. Examples include the newly launched Raul Castro y Nuestra America, comprising a curated selection of 86 speeches and illustrated with photographs old and new - from his time in the guerrilla to his presidency.
This year, China is the invited guest of honour, and as such a special selection of Chinese literature will be on sale with a variety of seminars and lectures programmed during the fair’s duration. The fair will be dedicated to the figure of Dr Eusebio Leal Spengler, the man behind the restoration of many of Old Havana´s historic buildings and the Historian of the City. After the book fair comes to a close in the capital on 11th February, it will move on to other parts of Cuba to spread the joy and excitiment to all of the island.
Danza Contemporanea kicks off the season with two productions (9, 10 and 11 February)
The second weekend of the month will see the onstage presentation of two of Danza Contemporanea´s latest productions, thus kicking off the company´s season with a big bang at the Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso”.
On one hand the audience will be able to enjoy the launch of “Mas Alla del Polvo” (Beyond the Dust) a new production by Miguel Altunaga, a Cuban dancer-turned-choreographer who now resides in the UK and who was one of the contemporary mentors for BBC Four´s Young Dancer of the Year Award 2017. He has worked on pieces like “Memoria” and "Derrumbe”, both of which he created for Carlos Acosta, as well as being commissioned by the Royal Ballet to create “Dark Eye” for the Deloite Ignite Festival 2014. This latest piece produced in Cuba and for a Cuban audience speaks of a sentiment of longing and yearning.
The other production is performed on the same weekend and at the same theatre is “Equilux” by British choreographer Fleur Darkin, a piece that debuted last November at Teatro Mella as part of the “Creative Islands” project founded by the British Council in Cuba. This is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch it again!
Both productions will be performed together on the same day; one after the other, so a ticket will give you full access to “Mas Alla del Polvo” and “Equilux”. Curtain call is at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Mitos by Acosta Danza at Teatro Mella (9, 10, 11 February)
Can you believe it? The best and freshest of Cuban dance all happening on the same weekend? You´re in incredible luck if you´re a contemporary dance enthusiast and you happen to be in Cuba between 9th and 11th February, because you´ll have not one but three amazing acts to catch! One after the other.
We´ve just covered the two great productions taking place at the Garcia Lorca hall in the Gran Teatro de la Habana. Now it´s time to introduce you to Carlos Acosta´s newest presentation - a collection of four different dance productions by a quarter of talented choreographers from the world over; namely Maria Rovira and Goyo Montero from Spain, Sidi Larbi from Belgium and Christopher Bruce from the UK.
On one hand, we have “Impronta” by Spanish choreographer Maria Rovira, a two-piece production that recreates the dance of Cuban deity Yemaya and the life of one of Russia´s dancing legends, Vaslav Nijinsky with “El salto de Nijinsky”.
Next up is the presentation of “Mermaid” a duet piece by Sidi Larbi, specifically created for Carlos Acosta, who will take to the stage accompanied by one of his company´s most talented dancers, Marta Ortega, who won the UNEAC´s Premio de Interpretacion 2017.
Acosta will return to the stage for “Rooster”, an uplifting piece by British choreographer, Christopher Bruce, with music by Britain´s legendary band The Rolling Stones.
Wrapping things up is “Imponderable” a production by Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero, inspired by the lyrics of Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodriguez, who recorded poems for the staging of this moving piece.
Comprising these four stellar pieces, “Mitos” kicks off its islandwide tour in Havana´s Teatro Nacional, at the Sala Avellaneda Hall, before bringing this exceptional collection of evocative dance pieces to the rest of the country. A chance to enjoy a multi-production performance by Carlos Acosta is rare, so grab the chance if you can!
Rumba en La Habana - All Star (10 and 11 February)
Celebrating the fact that Rumba has earned its place as a UNESCO “intangible asset”, Cuban band “Rumba en La Habana All Star” will be doing a national tour with plenty of performances lined up for this year. The first of these will be staged at the Teatro Mella over two music-tastic evenings.
Besame Mucho - a Cuban musical to celebrate love (14, 15 and 16 February)
Just in time for Valentine’s Day a global hit that toured the world returns to Cuba to delight audiences with a stellar performance that speaks of love, passion and contemporary Cuban day-to-day realities. The “Besame Mucho” musical returns to the Teatro Mella in Havana for three days of shows, joy and laughter. Coming back to the stage that made it famous after almost seven years since it first debuted, this legendary, instantly successful, this show will not only regale you with the best of authentic Cuban music, dance and folklore but will also give you a full taste of Cuban society today.
Split into two 45-minutes acts and ambienced with Cuban music, cocktails and crafts markets, the musical is an invitation to venture into a typical Havana neighbourhood and get to meet its lively characters. According to musical creator and founder of Yoldance dance company, Besame Mucho tells the story of contemporary Cuba in all matters of love and life with a nostalgic nod to the music of her grandfather, namely bolero classics like the one the show is named after.
In her own words: “Besame Mucho unites comedy, dance, theatre and music”. Come to enjoy the paradoxes, love triangles, jealosuy and passion that pervade the parallel love stories told. It’s on at the Teatro Mella in Havana on 14th, 15th and 16th February, though for exact timings you’ll have to head to the ticket office and find out.
Brutal Fest - An international Rock Extravanganza (16 February to 2 March)
Organised by Brutal Beatdwon Records in partnership with the Agencia Cubana de Rock, Cuba’s biggest annual rock festival takes place this February (with a second edition planned for summer in August), and it’s not confined to just one place or city in the island, but it goes island-wide with an electrifying 12-day tour bringing non-stop rock performances from six different international bands to five different cities in the Cuban archipelago, from east to west.
It all kicks off in Bayamo on 16th February before moving to Holguin; where it stops for not one but two days of concerts (on 17th and 18th February), continuing in Camaguey on 20th February, arriving in Santa Clara on 22nd February, making it to Cienfuegos on 23rd February and ending it all with one last big concert in Havana on 25th March. Participating bands are: Hypno5e, Point Mort and Man’ n Sin (all three from France), Los Bluejays (from Mexico), Convulsif (from Switzerland) and a sextet of Cuban bands - Sex by Manipulation, Trendkill, Crampus, Breaking the Silence, Limalla and Espoleta.
Litz Alfonso debuts “Alas” at the Gran Teatro (17 February)
Prestigious dance company Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, famous for having featured in many award-winning shows and music videos (from Enrique Iglesias to Marc Anthony and Gente de Zona) returnts to the stage this year to present audiences with a new seasonal production. Debuting at “Sala Avellaneda” of the Teatro Nacional, the new “Alas” dance piece will be staged over two days, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday 17th February and 5 p.m. on Sunday 18th February. This is contemporary dance at its finest. Don’t miss it!
Guantanamo’s Cultural Week (19 to 24 February)
The 39th edition of Guantanamo’s Cultural Week (Semana Cultural de Guantanamo) kicks off on 18th February and celebrates what would have been the 140th birthday of local poet Regino Eladio Boti as well as the 123rd anniversary of “La Confianza”, the day that marks the city’s incorporation to the fight in the Cuban Independence Wars. The festivities will include rumba sessions, folkloric dancing, live changui performances, concerts, children’s literary workshops, recreational community activities, panels, exhibits and lectures. The official headquarters of Guantanamo’s Cultural Week is the Plaza 24 de Febrero square, which will be at the heart of many of the events planned and will host the opening and closing ceremony; a duty it has performed since 1979.
It is indeed a great time to be in Guantanamo and discover a one-of-a-kind Cuban jewel that very few tourists take the time to get to know. Even better when it will be showcasing its most colourful traditions and unique musical assets, from “changui” to “tumba francesa” from Santiago de Cuba and artisan crafts (at the Feria Municipal de Artesania).
International Salsa Festival 2018 (21 to 25 February)
The third edition of Havana’s International Salsa Festival is to be celebrated in the Cuban capital city starting Wednesday 21st February and giving way to a series of dance lessons, dance workshops, street parades, concerts and shows. Presided by young Cuban musician and director of the band Salsa Mayor, Maykel Blanco, the festival will have a full calendar of events including four daily live concerts by local salsa bands held at the Parque Metropolitano from 9 p.m. onwards. Participating bands include legendary ones like Los Van Van, Paulo F.G. y su Elite and Adalberto Alvarez y su Son.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba presents “Giselle” (23 to 25 February)
Havana’s ballet season kicks off in style with the presentation of a classic. Under the direction of legendary prima ballerina Alicia Alonso, the Gran Teatro gets ready to welcome back on stage “Giselle” the timeless ballet production that attracts audiences of all generations. It brings a unique chance to enjoy a classic with the performance of one of the world’s most famous and most prestigious ballet schools. Titled “Giselle, Love, Passion and Betrayal”, this production will be staged over February’s last weekend, at 8:30 p.m on 23rd and 24th February and at 5 p.m. on Sunday 25th.