Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Suddenly, Katey's aware of a perspective other than hers and other Americans'.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Director: Guy Ferland
Cast: Romola Garai, Diego Luna, Patrick Swayze, Sela Ward, Jonathan Jackson, Mika Boorem, Mya Harrison
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-02-27

Wholesome blond Katey Miller (Romola Garai) has just arrived in Havana and she's feeling out of place. "Here's what I know about Cuba: high school Spanish wasn't going to help me," she adds, "Nobody cares what you do here." Her dad Bert (John Slattery) is a Chrysler executive, her mother, Jeannie (Sela Ward), is a prim, tennis-playing society matron, hoping her eldest daughter will take up with well-coiffed prep-schooler and executive-to-be James Phelps (Jonathan Jackson).

The chances of this coupling are actually good in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, as the white folks in Batista's Cuba tend to stick together -- at the alarmingly upscale Oceana Hotel -- making small talk with each other and money off the local government. Katey, being a smart, curious, and moral sort, actually has other ideas, and is less invested in fitting in than her little sister Susie (Mika Boorem). Sitting poolside with the other Yanquis, Susie giggles appreciatively, if unintelligently, at snotty joking by diva-girls Eve (January Jones) and Polly (Polly Cusumano). Competitive for her own good reasons, she goes so far as to laugh along when the snooty girls ridicule Katey's outfit: "My god, June Cleaver is in Havana." While the other girls show off their colorful one-pieces and styley sunglasses, Katie slouches in her cute cardigan, book in hand.

And then Katey finds her cause, when Eve sneers, "Stupid spic." Javier (Diego Luna, perhaps best known as one of the exquisite boys in Y Tu Mamá También) has seen it all before, and so he takes it mostly in stride, even when his boss blames him and docks his meager pay. Katey, by contrast, is shocked, and tries to make it up to Javier by taking the blame herself for a spilled drink. She's surprised again when Javier rejects her offer to "help." Suddenly, she's aware of a perspective other than hers and other Americans'.

The two meet again the next day, as Katey is conveniently lost on her way to school and comes upon Javier dancing in the street, all swivelly hips and nimble leaps. (These sorts of geographic coincidences recur throughout Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, to the point that the kids appear able to walk across town in a matter of minutes.) Katey has her own dance background, her parents being erstwhile ballroom champions and her own moves the result, in part, of pleasing daddy.

Katey's appreciation of Javier's beauty -- her gaze at him -- marks the start of a beautiful romance, as Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights goes on to follow the trajectory of the 1987 first version of the film. Katey and Javier decide to enter a dance contest at the Palace, but must practice on the sly, as her folks would be horrified that she's spending time with an underclass Cuban boy. Jeannie is especially prone to expecting and controlling; resentful that she gave up her career to raise her daughters, she's fierce when it comes to protecting them and orchestrating their futures (the "brain" Katey's destined for Radcliffe): her sacrifice had to be for something, right?

For his part, Javier is supposed to be working, as he supports his family while his brother Carlos (René Lavan) focuses his energies on the coming revolution. This distinction between the brothers is simplistic, much like most every emotional and cultural element in the film. As it adjusts the original's class-ethnic politics to class-race-national politics, Havana Nights relegates the world-altering backdrop of the revolution as background for the impossible love story.

By the time the kids are dancing at the competition, to a tune performed by Lola Martinez (the singer Mya Harrison, taking her next step toward movie stardom, following her few minutes dancing in Chicago), their routine is phenomenally polished, as such events tend to occur in the films about girls and boys sublimating their sexual desire in sinuous, nonpornographic choreography. Even as their performance shocks Katey's parents, the film here achieves its payoff: Katey and Javier delight in each other and their own newfound grace, suddenly mature in form if not precisely in longing. It lasts about a minute: "history," or rather, Havana Nights' strained version of it, intervenes.

It's hardly ever a good idea to remake a beloved movie. Still, the rationale here appears to be that the new incarnation adheres to the life story of its choreographer, Joann Jansen, whose own youthful romance did take place in 1959 Cuba. Currently completing a book based her experience, she recalls for the New York Times (22 February 2004) how she came to know her lover through dancing. This, she says, is what dancing is all about, and the film underlines it by having Katey and Javier practice against a wall on which is projected an 8mm film her parents, gloriously in love, moving in tandem, wholly in sync.

Jansen trained non-dancers Garai and Luna to perform such exchange and intimacy for this film, and she's partly successful. But Garai is not Jennifer Grey (though she possesses her own charms) and Luna is most definitely not Patrick Swayze. Oddly, this awkwardness ends up being more okay than it might have been, because the real Patrick Swayze does show up for a couple of scenes, as the dashing Johnny Castle, Katey's dance instructor at the Oceana. He's surely older, his face tighter and hair thinner. But he can still dance like nobody's business, and his hip swiveling -- athletic, precise -- is still thrilling.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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