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<I>Dirty Dancing</I> Grooves to a New Beat

22 Feb, 2004 By: Robert Cashill

Seventeen years after its release, Dirty Dancing, a surprise theatrical success and a home video bonanza ever since, has spawned a followup.

Not a sequel, but rather a second take on the original concept, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is, like the first film, inspired by the reminiscences of one of its filmmakers, in this case, co-producer and choreographer JoAnn Jansen.

Diego Luna (the Mexican star of Y Tu Mamá Tambi?n and Open Range) and Romola Garai (I Capture the Castle) shimmy, sway and salsa to the rhythms of the night in a star-crossed teen romance set in Cuba in the late 1950s, with the Castro revolution waiting in the wings as the Batista regime crumbles.

“I watched the video of Dirty Dancing loads and loads when I was growing up,” said the 21-year-old Garai.

Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein tapped into her memories of summers at Catskills resorts in the early 1960s and came up with box office gold with the original Dirty Dancing, a coming-of-age story set to cool period tunes and hot choreography that turned Patrick Swayze into a star. The film led to a popular concert tour and an evergreen afterlife on video. It is one of the biggest-selling home video titles in the Lions Gate library. A two-disc Ultimate Edition of Dirty Dancing debuted last year.

Lions Gate and Miramax are collaborating on Havana Nights, a long-gestating project that opens theatrically Feb. 27. After the crumble of Vestron Pictures, plans for a sequel languished among subsequent rights holders and foundered on unworkable scenarios, such as a Vietnam-era reunion between the characters played by Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

Havana Nights clears the slate with new styles of Cuban-inflected dance and music, and a fresh story drawn from Jansen's experience, which she said she has been asked to relate on a commentary track proposed for the DVD.

“My parents were champion ballroom dancers,” she said. “Later in life, my dad became an executive at Reynolds Aluminum, and the company moved us to Cuba for six months. During that time I fell in love with a Latin boy who introduced me to the culture, and then the revolution broke out. I've never seen him since.” Their brief relationship lives on, however, in this adaptation, which was shot in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and features the music of Mya, Santana and Wyclef Jean.

Fans of Dirty Dancing may want to have their DVDs ready for the second serving. There are several “fun, and we hope appropriate, homages to the first film, which ours is like a love letter to,” said director Guy Ferland. Spanish-tinged melodies from the Oscar-winning song “(I've Had) The Time of My Life” waft through the soundtrack, and a certain dirty dancer turns up in an extended cameo as a dance instructor at the swank hotel where Katey and her family reside. Said Jansen, “Dance is Patrick [Swayze's] soul, and people go nuts when they see him in Havana Nights. He's that person who shows you how to find your heart.”

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