You don’t have to go looking for dance in Havana. Dance grabs hold of you and sends you spinning a contratiempo into the midst of the jubilant crowds in the city’s nightclubs, performance spaces and ballet theatres. And then there are the carnivals, street festivals, Santeria rituals, family celebrations and house parties, where choosing not to dance makes as much sense as choosing not to breathe…
Dance has been an essential component of Cuban life since the first West African slaves were brought here in the 16th century. Contemporary dance, however, is a relatively recent development, beginning in 1959 when Ramiro Guerra founded the Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna (National Modern Dance Group). Guerra, who had danced with Martha Graham’s company in New York, moulded the Conjunto’s repertoire into a uniquely Cuban blend of modern American theatre, Afro-Caribbean dance styles and classical European ballet.
The company’s name eventually changed to Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, but its quintessentially Cuban spirit remains intact today. Some 60 dancers are drawn from the Escuela Nacional de Arte, Cuba’s national art school. A number of them have gone on to form their own smaller, experimental companies after dancing with Danza Contemporánea de Cuba.
Under the direction of Miguel Iglesias, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba presents its dancers with exceptional opportunities and with exceptional challenges as well. Along with the physical discipline required by a gruelling training regime, Iglesias places a premium on a dancer’s spontaneity and intellect. “The grammar of dance, the words of dance, is movement,” Iglesias explains, “but a choreography must have a central idea, an intention. We must provide a dancer with the intellectual means to turn all this sophisticated technique into the language of dance.”
New faces are constantly appearing at Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, and Iglesias sees that as another of the company’s assets: “Our approach always stays fresh. Each new member brings new experiences, feelings, intentions… They are young faces and bodies, some very young, but they are always extremely talented. Not all of them get to be stars, but we try to make sure everyone is playing the right role.”
With more than 70 works in its active repertoire, Danza Contemporánea de Cuba has toured throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. And this despite an annual budget that seems ludicrously small for a company of this stature. “We often lack the resources to make some productions happen,” Iglesias admits. “A choreographer needs money to materialize his dream. But let’s face it, sometimes the dreams are so great that no amount of money could make them real!”