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Dance and Identity: Cuba and Brazil. The Dance Thinker, Issue #24
January 13, 2014
The Dance Thinker
Issue # 24, Jan 13, 2014
Those of you who are new to ‘The Dance Thinker’ (our e-zine) may not know that...
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Those of you who are new to ‘The Dance Thinker’ (our e-zine) may not know that I’ve been absent for a good while. Since the beginning of 2013, I’m sending the e-zine to you just occasionally, due to offline, dancing, reasons.
But here I am. I’m starting this year off with a series of short articles about Dance and Identity in Latin America. I hope this content will balance the lack of information about the history of dance in this part of the planet, which I know our history section is short of.
You’ll find the starting text of the series below, as usual. Today’s one is about Cuban and Brazilian dance, but you can expect texts about dance in Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia. Those will arrive in the next issues of ‘The Dance Thinker’, month after month from now on.
I’ve gathered some good information at this section of the website, but it would be great if we all contribute to it. There’s a simple form located at the end of the page. You can fill it in if you have knowledge of a contemporary dance festival that hasn’t been listed yet. Thanks in advance from all the visitors of contemporary-dance.org!
Before starting with the topic of our interest, I want you to know that the texts that I’ll be publishing about Dance and Identity in Latin America were originally written in Spanish by Yudy Lorena Jiménez Sánchez*. For her graduating project at the University of Antioquia, Yudy analyzed a choreographic piece created by the Colombian choreographer Beatriz Vélez. The work focused on the piece’s way to build identity, so the author wrote a contextualizing chapter about choreographers that have done similar things in Latin America. That chapter is the content that I have revised and translated, in order to share it with you.
Yet, the text is long so I decided to divide it in several issues of our e-zine. You’ll see that the current issue is about Cuban and Brazilian dance, but Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia are on its way.
Last but not least, I always prevent you as readers when sharing information about dance history: this content is really general and does not describe movement. I’m conscious of the weird shape of general dance histories: they tell things about everything excepting about dance itself (its shape, its qualities, its rhythms, etc.). However, this general information is the support of part of our collective memory and it may be useful as an informative mean and for first, general researches.
Being scarce and all, this history may also help the world remember that dance as an art is alive in Latin America.
From now on, you’ll be reading Yudy’s words...:
“… the expression of their most autochthonous values, together with the appropriation of techniques and valid modes, to put on stage universal aspirations.” Paulina Ossona**
I’ll start this path with Cuba, which is a country that has a large history of producing dancers and dance.
From the very beginnings, Cuban dancers work incessantly in the task of searching their ‘own’ or ‘national’ ways of expression. Three pioneers are renowned for this: Alicia Alonso, Fernando Alonso and Alberto Alonso. Each one of them, at her/his own time as dancer or choreographer and by the means of their specialty (which was ballet), tries to take distance from classical narratives. Instead, they focus on topics like social exploitation in their country or stylize popular, folkloric and afro-descendant dances like “… the rumba columbia, the bolero, the bote, the conga de carnaval and the bailes de los lremes or diablitos of the Carabalí culture” (Ossona, 1994, p.70). In this way, they mix Cuban customs with ballet, with the goal of rescuing and showing off Cuban culture and its richness.
Since 1948, Cuba starts giving shape to what is known today as the Cuban School of Ballet. Its main company, The National Ballet of Cuba, searches to express the autochthonous manners since its very foundation. “This, understood as a necessary issue to attain identity, has been achieved thanks to a solid believe in the idea that the national spirit reaches its highest goal in a cultural movement, once it accomplishes to manifest itself through universal aesthetical shapes” (Ossona, 1994, p.70).
That type of identity is considered as a national and unique Cuban identity. It aims to show the ideal of highlighting Cuban distinctiveness through the topics of art and its technique. One example of this way of proceeding is noticeable in The Ballet of Camagüey, which creates ballets from legends, poems of Cuban writers or about renowned figures of the island. Consequently, topics of ballets are taken from writings by José Martí, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda or José Lezama Lima; compositions by Manuel Mauri, Amadeo Roldán or Félix Guerrero serve as music and paintings by René Portocarrero, Servando Cabrera Moreno or Mariano Rodríguez appear on stage. All their artwork is used to build the ‘Cuban made’ dance.
Other recorded examples are the ballet ‘Dioné’, which is the first ballet with music composed by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes or the ballet ‘Despertad’, inspired in the Cuban revolution, which is choreographed by Alicia Alonso to music by the Cuban classical composer Carlos Fariñas.
The path of identity is also followed by the renowned modern choreographer and dancer Ramiro Guerra. Ramiro studies with Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey in New York and then directs the company ‘Danza Nacional De Cuba’ at the time. He is given the merit of having introduced this modern dance style in Cuba and is known for his interest in Cuban topics during a period of his choreographic career. Examples of it are his pieces ‘Mulato’, ‘Mamb’í, ‘El milagro de Anaquillé’ and the ‘Suite Yorubá’. Here are some of his words:
“To explore myths of the island and foreign ancestors (…) to look at the past with tools from the present to build a future. To raise an individual shape into an universal character but without loosing color (…) our dance, our shades, qualities and focal points. Only we, through an own language, can reveal it” (Ossona, 1994, p.85).
Cuban contemporary dance choreographers have also explored the topic of the Cuban lifestyle and its daily life as creative and compositional ingredients. Gestures, manners, experiences and explorations of roots and customs appear in choreographic pieces.
A representative figure of this is Lorna Burdsall, who creates the company ‘Así somos’ (‘This is how we are’) and several pieces with that kind of topics. “Her working trend, influenced by Nikolaïs and Cunningham, combines geometry, plastic suggestion and humor, to lead the audience into a reflection about the being and doing of Cubans” (Ossona, 1994, p.91).
In the same way, the choreographer Isabel Bustos and her group ‘Retazos’ (created in 1987) have gone through a research for capturing the Latin American spiritual being and, as they call it: ‘a reflexive and vital dance’.
Caridad Martínez, who was a main dancer at the National Ballet of Cuba, tries to create a group for searching new ways to reveal herself to the audience. The folkloric and modern dancer Rosario Cárdenas creates the project ‘Danza Combinatoria’ in 1990, and experiments her own movement technique “… with the goal of researching into the daily life movement and contributing with new aesthetic values to the dancing speech” (Ossona, 1994, p.92).
Finally, there’s the group ‘Teatro Danza del Caribe’, which emphasizes in history, legends and traditions from the Caribbean region. And ‘Danza Abierta’, which explores the natural gesture and the Cuban conflicts.
One of the first innovative companies of Brazil is the ‘Ballet Stagium’, which is founded by Márika Gidali and Décio Otero in 1971. Working on modern ballet, they reach great approval of the audience and make important contributions thanks to their interest in creating a Brazilian dance that could reveal their national identity. However, their originality lies in their aesthetical perspective and not in their technical approach. “Their seal was the will of producing a Brazilian dance that would be different from the ‘imported’, classical dance” (Navas, 1994, p.36) **.
To reach that goal, the ‘Ballet Stagium’ uses the classical technique of dance, expressive theatrical tools and music and topics from their country. “They were searching new ways of structuring choreography to express their ideas, which were engaged with the Brazilian reality (Navas, 1994, p.36). At this point, identity is still understood as just one national identity.
Social and political changes in the eighties show how that identity, which is imbued of nationalism, evolves into multiple identities that embrace minorities or groups within one same city. At this time, contemporary dance companies do not approach the topic of identity from the viewpoint of the exoticism of their culture or the national features. Instead, the research focus on finding own signs. It is believed that the body must be trained with different dancing techniques so that the dancer has a creative body that is not tied up to a topic or a specific music.
Several choreographers follow this working trend. Mariana Muniz, for example, touches features of her culture, without being literal, in her 1989 piece ‘Paidiá’. “… She represented the specificity of the Maracatú of the Pernambuco… Paidiá rebuilt the ceremony of carnival processions in fragments” (Nava, 1994, p.44).
In the same way, Antonio Nóbrega creates figures of his own culture into inexistent characters, without pretensions of doing a dance that would represent a national identity.
Finally, several Brazilian companies show interest in exploring new ways of creating and composing dance that include folkloric dances and other features of their culture. Among those is the group ‘Corpo’, created in 1975 by Rodrigo and Paulo Pederneiras in Belo Horizonte. With the first piece ‘María María’, ‘Corpo’ achieves great approval by the audience and starts being seen as a company with a creative and different way of expression. The group becomes important because of its exploration into an own language, which, after experimenting with classical ballet, folkloric dances and urban dances, defines itself as ‘own and non fitting’ into any of those definitions.
The path is also followed by the company ‘Quasar’ and Deborah Colker, who try to integrate arts in their pieces and make their own dance through different means.
That trend resumes somehow the search of the current Brazilian contemporary dance. Topics like hybridism, dialogue with other languages, the own body, the otherness, identity, new technologies, movement and/or non movement, are increasingly treated. And at the same time, artists enquire into the moving peculiarities of the Brazilian body and what the Brazilian culture has to contribute to the previously mentioned concepts.
*Jiménez, Yudy Lorena. Análisis del proceso creativo de la obra de danza contemporánea “Comunabenilde”. Hacia la creación de un lenguaje propio. Trabajo de grado para optar al título de Licenciada en Educación Básica en Danza. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, 2013.
**Ossona, P., Navas, C., Fernández, V., Cabrera, M., Dallal, A., Paolillo, C.. Itinerario por la danza escénica de América Latina. Editado por CONAC, Caracas, 1994.
Well, that’s it for this issue… but the text continues with dance history of Argentina and Venezuela in our next ‘Dance Thinker’ (next month). I hope you enjoyed this start. Till soon…!
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