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Dance and Identity: Costa Rica, Mexico. The Dance Thinker, Issue #26
March 13, 2014
The Dance Thinker
Issue # 26, March 13, 2014
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If you didn’t read our two last issues, you may not know that I’m publishing a series of short articles about dance in Latin America with emphasis in the figures who have tried to create identity through dance. Today’s turn is for Costa Rica and Mexico.
You can read the introduction of the series here:
And the second part, about Argentina and Venezuela here:
This series about dance and identity in Latin America started in a previous issue of ‘The Dance Thinker’. If you wish to better understand the content that follows, please read the introduction of the series here:
The second part of the series is located here:
It is important to mention that Costa Rica, unlike other countries in Latin America, has used the classical technique as a training method mainly and hasn’t had the aspiration of creating a national company that represents the country. Therefore, there’s not a national ballet in its history but only figures that, with their careers on stage, have written the Costa Rican dance history.
Choreography as an art arises in this country at the end of the 1930s with the modern dance pieces of Grace Lindo. She is formed in classical technique and in the school of Isadora Duncan, and directs the ‘Ballet Josefino’.
At the beginning of the 40s, one of her students, Margarita Esquivel Rohrmoser, who has a significant influence from Martha Graham and studies at the Columbia school, creates the ‘Ballet de Tico’ and directs it from 1940 to 1945. Her choreographic research focuses on creating her own philosophy of dance, which she calls ‘Técnica plástica’ (Plastic technique). It is said that “it pointed towards the development of a choreographic vocabulary of great dramatic accents. For her, the technique and the body should function for a vocabulary that could reproduce the tragedy and search for identity of the human being on stage (Fernández**, 1994, p.55). She also creates her own notating system for dance with which she records her ballets, and for which she is remembered as “…the first choreographer to try to turn dance into a genuine form of expression…” (Ávila***, 2006, p.96).
After her, the figure of Margarita Bertheau appears. She studies in Cuba with Alicia Alonso and works as a teacher at the ‘Tico Ballet’. Involved in fine arts as well, she collaborates with Esquivel in the creation of sets and costumes for her pieces.
In 1945, after Esquivel’s death, Bertheau creates the ‘Ballet Pro-Arte’ with the goal of pursuing the work started at the ‘Tico Ballet’ and hoping to give the dancer a wider education through the study of other arts. This lasts till 1948, when she looses the working place and decides to close the ballet. For that reason, Teresita Orozco and Nidia Naranjo, two of her most outstanding pupils, go abroad to continue their studies in dance.
In 1953, the ‘Conservatorio Castella’ is created by Arnoldo Herrera, who takes over the task of forming dancers with a high technical level. Those dancers spread and develop dance in the country since the 70s, with their involvement in several institutions like the ‘Ballet Moderno de Cámara’ or ‘DanzaCor’. This last one, directed by Rogelio López, makes emphasis in expressivity and exploration over technical purist skills and worries about social issues too. That is recognizable in some of his pieces like ‘Tiempo de vibraciones’ and ‘Gente del sol’.
In 1958, Mireya Barboza, who has studied in Mexico, Europe and the U.S., arrives to the country and settles in San José. She produces modern dance pieces in which she participates as dancer. This, and the creation of the first contemporary dance school of Costa Rica is possible thanks to the support of the Office of the Arts and Letters. Barboza, who shows the modern dance technique to the country for the first time, treats issues like “identity, social violence, loneliness and lack of communication…” (Fernández**, 1994, p.58) in her pieces.
The National University in Heredia creates a dance degree under the direction of Elena Gutiérrez in 1974. There are currently under graduated and post graduated programs offered in the institution, which is in charge of teaching professionals in the field of dance.
Several independent groups are founded also around the middle of the 70s. ‘DanzaCor’ and the ‘Ballet de Cámara’, for example, which treat social and political current issues of the country in their choreographic pieces.
In 1981, the ‘Compañía de Cámara de la Universidad’ (‘Chamber Company of the University’) is created and Jorge Ramírez takes over its direction. The company creates pieces with as few as sets as possible which are easily performed in any type of stage.
A ‘Festival of Young Choreographers’, opened to any choreographer of the country, is founded that same year. After several years, it changes its name to ‘International Festival of Young Choreographers’ and accepts all dance genres. It is given great importance for being a showcasing platform for new choreographers and a potential initiator of audiences.
Víctor Hugo Fernández makes the following approximation of the choreographic art of his country:
“It is not possible to talk about a Costa Rican dance, (…) but there’s indeed a consolidated movement and there are national choreographic shows that involve research, both in national matters as in issues that are related to movement” (Fernández, 2009, p.599).
The development of dance in Mexico occurs in varied forms during the twentieth century, both for the different genres of dance as for the teaching, which already exists there through the system of academies.
It is important to point out that Mexican choreographers and dancers have been in a constant search for using topics that identify them, whether they’re historical, cultural or from the daily life; and this interest is noticeable in all Mexican dance modalities.
Dancers and choreographers of this country are inspired by the Mexican revolution of 1910 and show situations of a national character in their pieces, in a resonance with artists from all fields who show interest in making a Mexican art.
With the arrival of modern dance, other shapes and themes are explored. They move away from “...any folklorist attempt to induce the creation of expressive and forceful choreographic events that lean on the figures of Mexican legends, poetry, painting and social life” (Dallal**, 1994, p.108). The choreographer Guillermina Bravo, who founds the ‘Mexican Dance Academy’ and the ‘Mexican National Ballet’, stands out among the figures of this trend.
Nowadays, contemporary dance artists usually turn to universal topics that are easily identifiable everywhere, like war, social differences, aids, and so forth.
One of the most important contemporary dance companies of the country is the one of Tania Pérez-Salas, founded in 1994. There’s also the company ‘Delfos’, founded in 1992 or the company ‘Quiatora Monorriel’, founded by Evoé Sotelo and Benito Gonzáles, which bases its search in a form of highly improvised and critical dance that is uncomfortable both for the dancers and for the audience. Other companies of a similar importance are ‘Antares danza contemporánea’, directed by Miguel Mancillas, ‘El Cuerpo Mutable’, ‘Alicia Sánchez Compañía’, ‘Apoc Apoc Danza’, ‘Contempodanza’, ‘Barro Rojo’ and ‘Contradanza’, which searches a contemporary language that may rescue the Mexican popular culture.
There’s an outstanding figure of the Mexican dance that has to be mentioned: José Limón. Born in Culiacan, Sinaloa, in 1908, he is Doris Humphrey’s pupil and has a tight working relationship with her, till her death in 1958. Limón has a special interest in topics that are related to the Mexican feeling and being. Some critics have attributed his charm to his specifically Mexican sense of shapes or to the values of his Latin-American heritage. Collaborating with various Mexican artists, he creates choreographies including his perception of being a Mexican, like ‘Los cuatro soles’ or ‘The Emperor Jones’, for which he works with the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos. In an interview by the American magazine to Betty Jones, who was an important dancer of Limón’s company and is remembered for her role of Desdemona in ‘The Moor’s Pavane’, she is asked about the Limón technique. After naming technical issues like the fall-recovery and the successiveness of movement, she emphasizes that Limón encouraged them to find their own ways of moving and that those shapes should contain a meaning that would talk to them.
**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.
***Ávila, M. Panorama de la danza contemporánea (enero-marzo, 2006) (N139), La Habana.
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