Videodance in Cuba: A World to Explore

Irina Echarry

Laura Domingo filming.

HAVANA TIMES — Many believe it is a kind of experimental cinema that only a select audience could understand. Despite Cuba’s Videodance Festival, the majority of Cubans know nothing about this genre of dance music. Is it a filmed choreography? A film in which the characters tell the story while dancing, as in a musical?

To dispel some of these doubts, we approached filmmaker, dancer and choreographer Laura Domingo, who believes videodance does not demand that the audience have any specific knowledge of art – only that spectators have sensibility.

Laura Domingo: We’re not talking about recording a dance performance, but of linking the two artistic expressions and aiming them in the same direction. Cinema is a multi-disciplinary art. Dance is perhaps one of the last to become incorporated into film and to have achieved such a central role within it, that’s why it still prompts misgivings. On the other hand, today there’s talk of trans-media art, where the imbrication of different artistic manifestations takes place to yield a single piece.

Contemporary art reflects social processes, globalization, the intermingling of cultures, the tearing down of many barriers and concepts. In my experience, we tend to construct the axis of our story on the basis of two elements: space and emotions. We distance ourselves from conventional structures, archetypes, Aristotelian models, but not from poetry. Our aim is not to shoot an arrow at spectators, but to surround them, move them, make them (re)live certain experiences, draw them in and finally reach their hearts.

Filming in the Colon Cemetery.

HT: Could one speak of a videodance movement in Cuba? Is there any institutional support or do videodancers shoulder all of the costs of coordinating, filming and promoting the piece?

LD: I don’t know whether a videodance movement exists in Cuba or not, but I know there are artists working with enthusiasm in the discipline. I believe more and more interested artists will gradually join us. There’s very little institutional support. As far as I know, there’s only the Videodance Festival, sponsored by Cuba’s Retazos dance company, a festival I have enjoyed immensely. If we want to take part in universal, risky, irreverent art, the country’s cultural policy also has to open itself up to these disciplines. I believe videoart, experimentation, ought to have the same importance than dramatic or documentary cinema. Havana’s Young Filmmakers’ Festival, for instance, could accept and screen videoart and encourage the production of these pieces.

HT: Do you believe a filmmaker wishing to explore the genre ought to have choreographic skills? Was being a dancer and choreographer of help to you?

LD: Yes, my dance and choreography knowledge was very important, but I don’t believe someone who makes videodance materials needs to be an expert on either of these. In this connection, I believe in multi-disciplinary groups where people complement one another and work in the same direction. I’ve worked next to Felipe Rodriguez, Nikolas Jurgens, Alonso Viquez, Ana Alejandra Alpizar and others. I believe in having diverse groups in which different points of view and even cultural traditions are debated, where everyone works towards the same goal and gives their best to reach it as a group.

HT: You participated in the recently-concluded Havana Videodance Festival with a piece titled Otoño (“Autumn”). Tell us about this piece.

From Otoño (Autumn)

Otoño was born of spontenaiety, illusion and even a bit of danger. In 2012, I premiered the choreograph Lo que no dije con palabras (“What I Didn’t Say With Words”). Felipe Rodriguez and Nikolas Jurgenes, then script and directing students at the International Cinema and Television School in San Antonio de los Baños, attended the performance. Nikolas said something about the set design and the combination of colors in the wardrobe. During the conversation we had that night, we came up with the idea of producing a videodance. We worked hard to put together a script.

The first thing we did was distance ourselves from the choreography and come to the understanding that we weren’t going to stage it live in Havana somewhere. We were creating a new work of art that had a completely different subject matter and aims. Otoño sought to express the melancholy of a city trapped in time, in oblivion, in death, even. One of the texts spoken by the dancers on stage in a way became a reference for the videodance project also: “Let autumn come, let the leaves confirm the benefits of death, let there be cold and rain, and plenty of both. Let the voices of silence tear themselves up, let it be autumn every time – forever.” The shoot was an adventure. We did it with our own equipment. We worked with twenty dancers, which wasn’t easy. During the editing process, the dedication of Leo Dolgan, Alonso Viquez and Felipe Rodriguez was of the essence. We are also grateful for the support of the International Film and TV School, particularly to Rafael Rosal and Daniela Sagone. Another institution we are also always grateful to is the National School of Ballet and their board of directors, headed by Ramona de Saa and Martha Iris Fernandez.

HT: Videodance pieces are generally shot in places that are not conventional dance venues. What location did you choose?

LD: We had decided to avoid Havana’s postcard places, though we wanted to shoot in the downtown areas. The richness of Havana’s architecture was very important for us. Havana is a city of strong contrasts. We wanted to make use of these and also transform different settings into artistic images. We also wanted to highlight the presence of the sea in the life of Cubans. In addition, we were attracted by highly-frequented areas where we could capture people in their daily activities. In other cases, we tried to be very discrete in our filming so that passersby wouldn’t become inhibited by our “intervention.” We relied on spontaneity a lot during the shoot.

From Otoño.

HT: What do you come up with first, the plot, the choreography, the music, the setting? How many videodance pieces have you made? What festivals or competitions have you participated in?

LD: Emotions are the foundation of my videodance pieces. I then start to think about the locations, the compositions, the choreography, the music – that’s how the piece starts to take shape in my mind. Things tend to change a lot sometimes, it’s a question of having the entire crew look in the same direction. Otoño has just started to be screened, we released it this year. To date, it’s been selected by the Valparaiso Videodance Festival, the Cluj Shorts International Film Festival in Rumania, Brazil’s Dance em foco and Havana’s DVDanza.

We’ve also made The Unbalanced, which is a different kind of videodance piece. It is a short piece with a virtuoso editing style. It features music by Ariannys Mariño, a young composer who graduated from Havana’s Higher Institute for the Arts (ISA). We also put together a videoart piece which was projected with my choreography Dulce es la sombra (“Sweet is the Shadow”), performed by Cuba’s National Ballet in July of last year.

HT: How much has Havana’s DVDanza Festival contributed to the development of the discipline in Cuba?

LD: The support of the festival is immensely valuable. The festival not only affords us a space where we can divulge our work, but also for conceptual debates among filmmakers and the public in general. The organizers, particularly Roxana de los Rios and Andres D. Abreu, have shown considerable interest in encouraging the making of videodance pieces in Cuba, on the basis of gatherings where interested people can share their experiences. These efforts help the genre become incorporated into the international market.

Laura Domingo has other ideas in the works and will soon start shooting again. For her new piece, she plans on collaborating with visual artists. Right now, she tells us, “I would be unable to stop making videodance pieces. There’s much to be done still…”