Villa Mina emerged at the entrance of Marianao neighborhood in Havana and adjoining the Zanja-Marianao railroad from the beginnings of the last century. A beautiful suburban property belonging to Regino Truffin, surrounded by a rainforest, it is a daydream setting for a cabaret turned into a whole legend for the world music shows, it was once called “The most appealing and magnificent night club in the world”; we are obviously talking about the mythical Tropicana.
By the late 1930’s, Mina Pérez Chaumont, Truffín´s widow, decided to rent the property out to a group of entrepreneurs headed by Victor de Correa who wanted to set a night club. Sergio Orta, show choreographer and director, suggested Tropicana as the name for this club, he was inspired by the homonymous melody from the flutist and composer Alfredo Brito, whose premiere took place in this place. The club was established as Tropicana during the year 1940’s Christmas celebrations.
Tropicana captivated the wealthy elite really fast. The Cuban enchanted nights, its starry sky, the tropical warm moon, the hot and languid music, those dazzling women (the best of Cuban mulatas, that’s the way it’s been acknowledged) and the exuberant garden gave the visitors the idea of being in an unreal world of exotic splendor.
The musical magazine Congo Pantera launch was a milestone in the 1940’s. By simulating the hunting of a panther in Africa for the first time the show was related to the surrounding vegetation; the dancers came out from and among the plants rich leafage; the lightning on this plants became important and then panther played by Tania Leskova showed up in front of all coming down a majestic tree.
David Litchin who came together with Leskova from the famous Russian ballet of Montecarlo was the director of this production.
In that occasion the night club also counted on the performance of the famous Cuban musician Chano Pozo. The artistic contribution of popular foreign stars such as Josephine Baker, Tongolele, Xavier Cugat and Los Chavales from Spain was gladly received at the club. The same happened with other well-known Cuban artists as Rita Montaner "la única", Ignacio Villa "bola de nieve" and even Alfredo Brito himself. On the other hand, Tropicana was already known as the most beautiful casino in the world and later as the Motecarlo of America.
By the end of the 1940 decade Martin Fox appeared in the scene, coming from the interior of the country. Being born in the countryside he loved the vegetation, so he became its most passionate care taker. Martin Fox didn’t have any instruction but he was very bold and had strong connections with the wealthiest groups which helped him replace Victor Correa in a few years, and join Alberto Ardura and Oscar Echemendía making up the entrepreneur trilogy that would turn Tropicana into one of the most famous cabarets in the continent.
1950 and 1951: With the administration of Víctor Correa are presented the productions Congo Pantera, Siboney and El manisero, with choreography by Sergio Orta and the performance of Rita Montaner, Bola de Nieve, Chano Pozo, Carmita Ortiz and Julio Richard. Music by Eliseo Grenet and participation of the "Chavales de España". 1952: Under the administration of Martin Fox and with choreography and direction of Rodney, the productions Goyescas, Cinderella and La viuda alegre are presented, with the performances of Rosita Fornés, Armando Bianchi and Zoraida Marrero, as well as Orchids for you, With the participation of Zoraida Marrero, Miguel Ángel Ortiz and Ma. Teresa Tolón. 1953: The productions Omelen Ko, with Afro-Cuban theme, and Rhythm and fantasy, are presented, with performances by Celia Cruz, Miguelito Valdés, América Crespo and José Lemat. Choreography and direction of Rodney. 1954: Mayombe, a spectacular Afro-themed magazine that featured the performance of Celia Cruz and the participation of Iremeso diablitos from the Abakuá Secret Society, as well as Carioca Carnival and El circo, the latter with the performance of the Montalvo brothers and other circus stars . Choreography and direction of Rodney. 1955: The production Bahiondo, with the performances of Carmen Miranda, Olga Guillot, Merceditas Valdés, the Quartet D'Aida, and the pianist and composer Orlando de la Rosa. Choreography and direction of Rodney. 1956: The productions Nights of the Tropic are presented, that reunites to Xiomara Alfaro, Quartet D`Aida and Dandy Crawford; Six beautiful Cubans, with the performances of Celina and Reutilio, Ramón and Coralia Veloz, and the trio of the Lake Sisters; And Mexican Fantasia, according to the American art critic Paul M. Brown "... the most spectacular, colorful, interesting and emotionally picture I have ever seen in a lifetime devoted entirely to the critique of all sorts of spectacles," With the participation of Columba Domínguez, the pair of dances of Ana Gloria and Rolando, the Quartet D'Aida, among other stars. Choreography and direction of Rodney. 1957: The production Tambó is presented with performances by Celia Cruz, Paulina Álvarez, Merceditas Valdés, the choir of Paquito Godino and the dance pair of Gladys and Freddy. Choreography and direction of Rodney. 1958: Ritual Voodoo productions with Haitian theme and music and performances by Marta Jean Claude, Rosita Jean Ophilias, Berta Dupuy and the Los Rivero Quartet are presented; As well as His Majesty the Press, created on the occasion of Journalist's Day. Choreography and direction of Rodney.
Fabulous performances where the splendor of luxury and creativity is evident in decorations and costumes, endless rows of beautiful women, fantastic and impeccable choreographies, musical arrangements of fascinating rhythms and formidable folkloric productions of intense force and color, have given universal recognition to Tropicana . In the conception and creation of all this world of wealth and splendor have played a role of foreground the creators, true geniuses of the imagination and the professionalism. One could not speak of this concept of the overproduction put into practice in Tropicana, without reference to Roderico Neyra (Rodney), considered the best choreographer and director of shows of this genre in his time. Thanks to his success as a choreographer and artistic director of the Sans Souci cabaret, the man who began as a dancer in the Shanghai theater - a place destined only for "productions for men" - and later created the famous quartet Las Mulatas de Fuego, Be hired by the Tropicana administration at the dawn of the 1950s to become Rodney the Magician. From that moment, his imagination, fantasy and authority caused him and Tropicana to merge into a single and indivisible whole. He directed dozens of shows that were the talk of the press and each new show, expected as a national event, exceeded the precedent. He brought to Cuba famous luminaries of the time to alternate with the artists of the patio and with that he transformed Tropicana, definitively, into a cabaret of international reach, emulating the best among the best in any latitude. In 1959 he was chosen the most outstanding show producer in Cuba, moving to Mexico where he continued his career. Heirs to Rodney's productions have been the fantastic shows due to the artistic direction of Joaquín M. Condall, Santiago Alfonso and Tomás Morales, as well as the choreography of the latter two. Joaquín M. Condall studied management and production in New York, began in the world of entertainment in 1950 and became the most quoted TV director in the country. In 1970 he is responsible for the artistic direction of Tropicana, where he remained for 19 years. With the aim of rescuing the best traditions and surpassing all expectations, he expanded the stage and traveled all over Havana, recruiting dancers and models, until he succeeded in producing superproductions like Los Romanos were like that, considered one of the greatest spectacles of all time. One of Condall's contributions was the introduction of the "total show" in Tropicana. By dancers and models dancing among the tables and rebuilding small platforms inside the room, which came to join the main stage and the side walkways, mixed the audience with the stage action and increased in this the feeling of being inside the show. Among its merits is also the creation of the Dance School of Tropicana, destined to the professional training of its body of dance and models. With Joaquín M. Condall Tropicana begins his international presentations. The cabaret would stroll around the world and would have practically one cast in Havana and one on tour. Among his most important performances abroad are those at the Casino de Montecarlo (Monaco) and the Beacon Center in Broadway, New York. In the 90's, the artistic direction of the cabaret passed into the hands of Santiago Alfonso, who began as a dancer, later dedicating himself to choreography at the companies National Dance of Cuba, Conjunto Folklórico Nacional and Ballet de la Televisión Cubana. In 1964 he joined the ranks of Tropicana, forming himself as stage manager and choreographer with Joaquín M. Condall, Joaquín Riviera and Amaury Pérez García. Santiago is the creator of the Tropicana superproduction: The glory is you, where the range of Cuban rhythms is crossed with mastery, elegance and sensuality. He has been professor of the most important artistic figures of the cabaret and mounted diverse theatrical spectacles. He managed to take the cabaret's life to the cinema with great success and under his leadership, Tropicana continued with a series of annual tours throughout Europe and America, especially after the creation of Tropicana Marbella, a successful project of presentations by cities of Spain and Other European countries. Tomás Morales began his artistic life as a dancer of Cuban television and is also a singer and choreographer. He was the founder of the Experimental Dance Complex of Havana and has performed as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Tropicana, with whose shows he has toured several countries in Europe and America. The wonderful show of Tropicana, Drums in Concert testify to its masterful work in the world of entertainment.
On December 29, 1994, the legendary nightclub Tropicana is enthralled. Night is too short to detect the presence of all the famous faces among visiting in the place; journalists and photographers compete for interviews and pictures. A swift figurine, whose image has traveled the world together with the name of Tropicana, is now also a trophy. Its author, prize-winning sculptress Rita Longa, i among those receiving this small replica based on the Ballerina she made for the nightclub almost half a century back...
Rita Longa had known Tropicana when she was very young. It was then Villa Mina and belonged to the Truffin family. In her early youth, she even partook with Marcial, Doña Mina's son, in parties and other entertainment, which they sometimes attended together since, both being ratehr tall and slim, made a nice couple. As years went by, Rita channeled her vocation as a sculptress and became an important figue in Cuban visual arts, with much success among critics and the general public. Her graceful deer were at the entrance to the Havana Zoo, La Virgen del Camino would soon be venerated and young architect Max "Maxito" Borjes Recio, to whom Martin Fox has entrusted the task of finding an image for Tropicana, asked her to make the sculpture for the best well known Havana nightclub.
She started her work immediately and on December 31th, 1949, the sculpture was placed a few yards from the main entrance to the old estate. It was a slender Ballerina -the name its author gave to it- standing on her point in the middle of a small pond where water lilies grew and surrounded by a lawn.
The figure should make people want to turn around it; therefore it stands in a pose which inspired compliments such as this: "Her gesture, a nice ballet position, is an invitation to love in the happy atmosphere of the enchanting casino".
The desire of viewers seeing it from all sides was fulfilled, since cars move around it when coming into the place and again when they leave.