Cuban diva at Norwich theatre

EMMA LEE Cuban diva Trinidad Rolando’s amazing career has seen her rub shoulders with Nat King Cole and Carmen Miranda and is the inspiration behind the colourful dance extravaganza Lady Salsa, in which she stars at Norwich Theatre Royal. EMMA LEE met her and spoke to the show’s producer about his Norfolk links.

EMMA LEE

Sitting on a leather sofa in a café-bar in Richmond, London, wearing a casual checked shirt, jeans and a beaming smile, it's hard to imagine singer and actress Trinidad Rolando being a stage diva.

Speaking through an interpreter, she is telling stories about her time working at Club Tropicana in Havana, Cuba.

She gets a twinkle in her eye as she recalls meeting velvet-voiced crooner Nat King Cole while she was working as a dresser to the performers.


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“I said to him, 'You can sing, but you can't dance', and I taught him to do the rumba,” she laughs.

When she's on stage, it is easy to see why she is a renowned performer in her home country.

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Dressed to the nines in a slinky red sequinned dress, with a huge cigar in her hand, she oozes glamour, and the audience is powerless to resist her charms.

She tells her stories in English and, amazingly, considering the amount of energy she puts into her performances, she's in her seventies - and is showing no sign of slowing down.

“I love the show, I love telling my stories,” she says.

The Lady Salsa show came about when writer-director Toby Gough and production manager Jon Lee travelled to the island in the Caribbean to research a new show to take to the Edinburgh Festival.

Interest in Cuban music was already growing thanks to the release of the film and album Buena Vista Social Club, named after a members-only music club in Havana that was at its height in the 1940s.

In the late 1990s, director Wim Wenders made a film about some of the musicians who played there, on the initiative of musician Ry Cooder.

In the production notes, Gough describes the island as a “living museum” - old 1950s Cadillacs rumbling down potholed streets with exquisite architecture, but in a terrible state of decay.

Both of them found the people's spirit, music and dancing infectious.

“Beautiful people were dancing in clubs til dawn,” Gough says.

They travelled to Havana, Santiago, Matanzas and Guantanamo.

Lee says: “We wanted to tell someone's story, and we found Trinidad.

“She has lived an amazing life.

“The first part of the show tells the story of Cuba's history through music and dance; the second half is based on Trinidad's life.”

In the show, Lady Salsa - as Trinidad becomes - tells of how she was the daughter of an African soldier, who fought in Cuba's war of independence, and a Spanish Gypsy dancer.

She grew up in the mountains in the east of the island and in the 1950s moved to Havana to look for work.

In those days, Havana was in the hands of the Mafia, notably Lucky Luciano, who ran the bars and the casinos. It was made easy by President Batista - a corrupt dictator.

Lady Salsa got a job backstage at the outdoor nightclub Club Tropicana where she dressed Carmen Miranda and became a good friend of the king of Cuban rhythm Benny More.

But secretly she aspired to perform on stage rather than behind it - when she met revolutionary Che Guevara, he told her to follow her dream.

The show, whose cast all come from Cuba, is lively, colourful, and transports the audience to the island, where according to the show's choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez, “people are always dancing - they are dancing in the streets”.

And audience participation is definitely encouraged.

The music that comes from the island - not just salsa, but the rumba, the mambo and cha cha cha, to name just a few - reflects Cuba's colourful, and at times very dramatic, history and is a melting pot of different cultural influences.

It was discovered by Columbus, has been plundered by pirates and pillaged by the Mafia.

It has been shaped by one of the world's longest surviving revolutions and isolated from the world for 45 years by a trade embargo that is still in place.

Its port and climate, which is perfect for cultivating tobacco and sugar, have brought many different people to the island as masters or slaves.

Africans, Spanish, French, English, Portuguese and Americans have all played their part in Cuba's musical evolution.

Adam Speigel was approached to produce the show - and the approach was uncannily timed as he himself had just returned from a trip to Cuba.

“There's an amazing cultural vitality, all these different influences and an extraordinary diversity,” he says.

It debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in 2000, and has gone on to play in London's West End and tour the world, including Malaysia and Singapore.

Pop star Kylie Minogue is reputed to be among the show's famous fans.

Spiegel, right, - who has also produced Fame The Musical and Saturday Night Fever, says he gets a buzz when people enjoy his shows.

“It's very exciting. Standing at the back of the audience and seeing the audience getting up and dancing is a fantastic thrill.

“The thing about theatre is that it is a live experience and I think that makes it more exciting than TV or film. I get a real kick out of it,” he says.

Spiegel has a home in Norfolk, and says he misses the county when he's away.

“I spend half my life in Norfolk: my wife Gay's family are from Cockley Cley near Swaffham,” he says. “I have just converted a barn in Gooderstone.

“I'm a huge Norfolk fan, I'm completely in love with it. The epic skies. It's unspoiled, and when I talk about it I get all misty-eyed.

“I've got a three-year-old girl and my wife is eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Norfolk is great for kids. London is no place to bring up children,” he says.

Lady Salsa opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on Monday, September 12, with shows until Saturday, September 17. Contact the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk for information about times and prices.

SALSA'S ORIGINS

t Salsa music is a fusion of traditional African and Cuban and other Latin-American rhythms that started somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s and mixes many styles and variations.

t The dance steps currently being danced in salsa music originate from the Cuban Son, but has influences from many other Cuban dances. It also integrates swing dances.

t There are no strict rules of how salsa should be danced, although there are a number of distinguishable styles, including Cuban, Colombian, Los Angeles, New York and Puertorican.

t According to Lady Salsa choreographer Rocland Gonzalez Chavez, salsa - which means 'sauce' in Spanish - is always evolving.

t By the 1990s, timba, which originated in Cuba and incorporates hip hop music, had grown in popularity.

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