The new rhythm of contemporary Cuba

Blending dance and music reaches the core of the Cuban experience, says Havana-born guitarist Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas

I relish being able to do my part to reinvigorate the classical music scene and bring the traditional works of my native homeland of Cuba to UK audiences. This year, I’m performing alongside Carlos Acosta in Cubanía at the Royal Opera House. The collaboration happened completely by coincidence. My friend Miguel Altunaga (who dances with Rambert) had listened to some of my recordings and found some pieces he wanted to choreograph. Carlos invited him to choreograph some scenes for Cubanía, but also charged him with finding suitable soundtracks. Miguel played some of my tracks to Carlos and he thought it would be interesting to have me playing live on stage.

Music and dance have always been entwined, so the idea of blending music and dance was easy to comprehend. The exciting element of these particular pieces is that they’re contemporary Cuban, a genre largely unknown among UK audiences. To me, the music alone has a high aesthetic value – it’s almost cinematic. There were some passages that had to be modified in order to marry the vibe and discourse of the dance, but I think the end result is fluid. There have been a lot of opportunities to improvise and adapt things to fit with the feel of the music, and the freedom to have creative license has only made the whole process more thrilling.

The work is essentially a love story. It takes snapshots of everyday Cuban life and collates them into a narrative showing different stages of a couple’s relationship. Musically, I draw on influences from several contrasting genres, from classical and Afro Cuban rhythms to rock and much more. It is music of passion, tenderness, frustration, anger – all the emotions lovers can feel. Miguel’s choreography effectively blurs the lines between classical and contemporary dance. Carlos brings a real power to the performance by seamlessly flowing between the two styles.

The show brings to life many aspects of a cultural landscape that has propelled and nurtured many Cuban artists. I hope people get a more accurate, and if anything, eye-opening vision of how eclectic Cuban culture is. Carlos, Miguel and everyone involved created something that makes me feel truly connected to my Cuban roots, and I’m proud to be part of it.

Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas
Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas

Everyone knows that Carlos is one the most gifted and charismatic ballet dancers of his generation, so working with him has been an absolute honour. Imagine such a powerhouse dancing just 10 feet away from you – it’s electrifying. I found sharing ideas with him and Miguel during the creative stages really inspiring. The whole process of putting the show together has been a humbling experience and watching the evolution of an abstract concept take form into a physical movement is fascinating. Acosta is a true intellectual, which I think has been the key to his unique success. It’s shame that he’ll be retiring soon, but he leaves behind a great legacy to the world of international dance.

Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas will appear alongside Carlos Acosta in Cubania at the Royal Opera House from 21-23 July.