This month in Cuba, the events calendar is as sizzling as the high temperatures themselves, and to show Cubans are not at all afraid of heat, many of the seasonal activities taking place in the island this August are right on the street! Of course, you don’t have to melt under the sun to enjoy the many street festivities taking place islandwide, as the majority of these kick off in the late afternoon, carry on in the evening and continue well into the early hours of the next morning, when things are much cooler.
But there’s also plenty of indoors shows to enjoy, from two seasonal dance productions (one of which is by Carlos Acosta’s dance company) to cinema screenings and art exhibitions, all of which can be enjoyed in the comfort of air-conditioned spaces. For more details of what this August brings to Cuba’s cultural scene keep reading below.
Parrandas de Chambas in Ciego de Avila (1 to 31 August)
Ciego de Avila’s traditional summer festivities known as “parrandas” light up the small town of Chambas every August and they do so for the entire month! These people really know how to keep the party going, with elaborate floats, never-ending parade, light shows and fireworks.
Much like the more famous Remedios’ parrandas in Villa Clara, the parrandas of Chambas split the town into two sides that are two different neighbourhoods: Gallo and Gavilan. Coincidentally the neighbourhoods’ names stand for two birds: a rooster (Gallo) and a hawk (Gavilan) and the fight ensues as the two battle it out to see who does the biggest, brightest, loudest parades and festivities. This gives you a rare and unique opportunity to immerse in provincial Cuban life through one of its oldest, most picturesque celebrations. The best bit is that with a whole month of festivities you’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch Chambas’ parades and nightly parties all throughout August!
If you ever needed an excuse to visit Ciego de Avila (other than its stunning keys; Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo), this is it, take it!
Cienfuegos Carnival (8 to 12 August)
In case you hadn’t noticed, August in Cuba is big carnival month and the month’s second week sees the kicking off of the Cienfuegos Carnival. The city’s Plaza Cultural will be the main centre stage for all the carnival action and the place to head to if you want to follow the parades or join a comparsa. In addition to the daily carnival festivities, evening parties and live concerts, many local restaurants and nightclubs will have carnival-themed offers and recreational activities.
This year’s carnival theme will celebrate Cienfuegos’ bi-century in a variety of ways. It all starts with an opening gala on 8th August at the city’s Plaza Polivalente, with the performance of local music groups and dance companies, as well as a concert by the Wil Campa y Su Gran Union orchestra. Street parties will spill out into most corners and neighbourhoods of the city, while the set-up of over 30 pop-up stalls will offer snacks and bites like fried chicken, pork sandwiches, beers and soft drinks.
In the afternoon of Friday 10th August, the Carnaval Infantil (Children’s Carnival) will parade down the Paseo del Prado, with the traditional kids’ comparsas, while on the following two days five floats will liven up the atmosphere every night, with different themes that reflect Cienfuegos’ culture and identity.
If you want to enjoy the festivities from a good vantage point, in the vicinity of Cienfuegos’ sea-walk different areas will create a hosting space for carnival-goers with live acts from a number of local bands performing music to dance along to.
Danza Teatro Retazos presents two new pieces (10 and 11 August)
Havana-based dance company Danza Teatro Retazos, under the direction of choreographer Isabel Bustos, winner of the National Dance Award 2012, will be debuting its new production, “Mensajeros” (Messengers) on Friday 10th August and Saturday 11th August at its headquarters, named after the company and located on Calle Amargura, #61, between Mercaderes and San Ignacio streets in Old Havana.
Alongside this new production, the company will also perform another piece from their repertoire - “Formas” (Shapes), from Miguel Azcue and the result of a collaboration from Memory Wax dance company in Sweden and Retazos.
Retazos’ works are like documentary testimonies highlighting the struggles in the culture of our time. They approach the individual being from an existential base, using movement as the tool to create vivid imagery and changes in the atmosphere corresponding to different mood changes. Their deeply-thought-out pieces are rather special and definitely worth checking out.
Havana Carnival (17 to 19 August and 24 to 26 August)
Taking over the capital’s famed Malecon seaside promenade, Havana’s annual summer carnival gets a reboot this August to mark a very special occasion - as a prelude to the city’s 500th-anniversary celebration. With ornate floats, bright costumes and lots of conga rhythms, the Havana Carnival will revive the city with not one but two different weekends of carnival action. 23 y Malecon is the place to be to catch all the carnival action and perhaps join a conga line or two.
The dancing starts close to sunset and everything kicks off on Friday 17 August with the parade of the floats and "comparsas" (a masked group of street dancers and singers in Cuban carnival processions who move to the sound of African beats and folk songs of Afro-Cuban origin), making their way down to the city’s seawall from Calle 19 in the Vedado neighbourhood. But this year’s carnival will extend to more municipalities than ever, and although the Malecon will be the main focal point for many tourists, the carnival parties will reach many other neighbourhoods in the city. After the parades are over, the celebration continues with nightly concerts and a variety of live performances, from salsa to rumba.
Keeping alive the city’s heritage with one of its oldest traditions, Havana’s Carnival 2018 will have 19 comparsas, 10 floats and 12 shows, all themed after the 110th anniversary of “El Alacran” (The Scorpion) comparsa (unsurprisingly, the most famous) and “Componedores de Batea” (The Pan Composers).
You can get tickets to the capital’s carnival from 13th August, although the sale points haven´t been announced yet (last year they were sold at local cinemas ´ticket offices and at a special kiosk set up in the Malecon). Tickets give you access to seats from which to better take in the parades, with the price varying according to how close you are to the action.
Municipal Parties in Holguin (16 to 19 August)
Summer season in Holguin means the city coming alive with a variety of recreational options for locals that tourists too can enjoy. For the course of four days, there will be ample live concerts, cultural shows and a variety of street performances, as well as street food and drinks to keep hunger pangs at bay and quench thirsts. More details will be revealed as the date nears.
Children’s Carnival in Holguin (28 August)
While the dates for the special children’s carnival in Holguin has been announced no further details have been given. Watch this space for updated information once more information is released.
Acosta Danza’s Summer Season performances (17, 18, 19 August)
Treating Cubans to a summer of international dance performances, Acosta Danza has teamed with choreographers from Spain, Cuba and the UK to bring audiences a spanking fresh production with elements of existing pieces, like Ben Stevenson’s End of Time and Maria Rovira’s Impronta. Under the direction of Acosta, a version of Alexis Fernandez’s Maca will be restored and re-designed, this time with the name “De punta a cabo” (from end to end) and featuring images by Cuban multi-faceted artist and musician, X Alfonso (the man behind the opening of the now super famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a.k.a. FAC).
Staged at the Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso”, the production also includes the world premiere of Satori, with choreography from aspiring young dancer, Raul Reinoso, who drew inspiration from Buddhism to create a piece about the search for spiritual enlightenment. Tickets will be very coveted, so getting your hands on one as soon as possible is a must. You can purchase tickets at the theatre’s ticket office, but be prepared for queues. It’ll be worth it in the end!
Timbalaye - Ruta de la Rumba (17 to 31 August)
If Cuba’s dancing folklore, declared by UNESCO a World Intangible Heritage in 2016, fascinates you then you’re in luck this August, as the 10th International Festival: “Route of the Rumba” by Timbalaye kicks off in Old Havana this coming 17th August and continues on a nationwide tour, stopping at nine different provinces, namely Pinar del Rio, Matanzas (great news if you’re in Varadero!), Cienfuegos, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.
This year’s tenth edition of the festival will launch in the less trodden Plaza de Belen, a quaint little square in Old Havana oozing character and charm. To start things off, a theatrical piece by Rita Montaner will take to the stage first, followed by rumba groups and performers of “punto cubano” a folksy, country style Cuban music genre. There will be concerts, talks, dance workshops and master classes by renowned personalities, like Isidro Rolando, a dancer, choreographer and winner of the National Dance Award.
Ruta de la Rumba is a project by Timbalaye, an organisation that has spent the last 17 years promoting Cuban culture through rumba and its African roots. Its foundation has community origins and its aim is to motivate cultural exchanges, raise awareness of Cuba’s unique dance traditions and help cement cultural identity among locals. If you can, don’t miss one of their amazing public performances this August.