Choreographer & Director Rosario Cardenas

By Helson Hernandez

Rosario Cardenas. Photo: Grethel Sarabia

HAVANA TIMES, April 10 — We interviewed Rosario Cardenas, a choreographer and the director of her own company, the renowned Danza Combinatoria.  For this artist, dancers are creators as long as they participate actively in the creative processes of their works.

HT: What past experiences do you consider as having been key for your artistic training and development?

RC: The earliest were my training at the National School of Art, the contents of the classes, the performances in different places before the public.  Back then I knew practically nothing about dance.  Plus there was constant interaction between students and teachers from different artistic specialties.  This was from 1966 to 1971, the year I graduated.

Later there was my work in the National Company, where I forged myself as a dancer and began my work as a choreographer.  There we danced unceasingly – in all seasons, on national and international tours, and in diverse settings – from outdoor platforms to many of the finest theaters in the world.  These were facilitated by tremendously enriching encounters with foreign companies, teachers and choreographers.

I suddenly had the possibility to enjoy the Parthenon, the Louvre, the Prado museum, the Temple of the Inscriptions at the Maya site of Palenque in Mexico, the Hermitage and other such outstanding sites of world culture.  Parallel to this there were my studies for my degree in art history at the University of Havana, where I had the luck of having had professors like Rosario Novoa, Adelaida de Juan, Tere Crego, Salvador Bueno, Yolanda Wood, among others.

Then too, there was especially my working relations, exchanges and deep friendship with the maestro Ramiro Guerra.

HT: If we ask about you as a dancer before being a creator, what images come to your mind.

RC: I see that you separate the dancer from the creator, and in my case a dancer is a creator as long as they work with human beings and respect the each individual.  The dancer is a creator as long as they participate actively in the creative process of my works, for which I assume responsibility for the theatricality in the coordination of the choreographic construction implied by the expression of the original idea, as well as the movement and staging language.  I of course assume the overall direction of the dancers and the direction of the stage; that’s to say, the general direction.

I’m therefore interpreting that when you say “creator” you’re referring to the choreographer.

Responding to that question but departing from that concept of the dancer, if put in the place of the dancer, what comes to me is the image of a body completely devoted to the rigor of training, through which is fostered even personal growth and the stimulation of the search for new movements, with the aim of achieving them, and the enjoyment of the risk in the face of a new role that is being interpreted.

I see the fullness that is forged in the growth of that role that one has now performed again and again, that feeling of security, of your maturity.  That measure of you in the interpretation is a state that I call “beyond natural.”  It is one of the concepts of Cuban writer Jose Lezama Lima that I’ve transferred to the language of dance.   In fact, I was first a dancer, fully devoted to the enjoyment of dancing, of preparing my body, of having it ready to face any audacity of some choreographer and I placed that in the center of my aims.  Then came choreography, even while I was still a dancer.

Rosario Cardenas. Photo: Grethel Sarabia

Although the dancer and the choreographer go through similar corporal states and they touch on common points in creation, when focusing and analyzing these works we see how in each one of them, different creative processes are activated from different perspectives.  I as a choreographer express the concept, convey my technique — which contains my language and my poetry — and I propose the points of departure and set the direction of the search, which is artistic since it’s my program.  At the same time, the dancer’s response is stimulated starting from their perception.   As a choreographer I create the codes and I make a flexible space for them.

HT: In your memory, Rosario, starting with what work or circumstance did you begin to feel like a choreographer.

RC: In 1980 I realized my first choreography, “Reflections.”  This was one that staged only one dancer, Perla Rodriguez, and where ten mirrors were hung on the stage.  Each mirror became a different painting between the lighting and the reflection of the dancer’s image in his movement.

My second choreographic piece was “Girón” (The Bay of Pigs), in 1981.  This was a large-scale production performed in the Avellaneda Hall of the Teatro Nacional with 60 dancers on stage and with original music by the Cuban composer Jose Maria Vitier.

The scenery design was conceived by the architect Roberto Gottardi, and in it was united architecture and dance.  It consisted of twenty-four elements, each seven yards high and about five feet wide, which appeared or disappeared according to the scene, meaning that the elements also required choreographic work and in this way achieving a rich wealth of stage movement in all the senses.  This work had the impact of something on the level of a true spectacle.  However, in those two pieces that I mentioned, I still didn’t feel I’d fully succeeded at creating movement.  Aware of this, I decided to put my choreographic creations on the back burner to be devoted to investigate not only the foundations of choreography but, and with greater depth, the study of movement and the road I needed to continue towards these.  From this whole affluence of studies and knowledge, in 1984 my work “Faucet” emerged.  Later came “Germinal,” “Imago,” “El angel interior” and many others…

HT: And with your company Danza Combinatoria…why did you feel you needed to work more independently?

RC: To the degree that my language of movement began to develop, I began to have the need to change some aspects and principles of the training and preparation of dancers according to my works.  It was complicated trying to offer them that preparation being in the national company; there were several of us choreographers and the schedules had to be distributed to each of us.

This was increasingly sharpening in me the need to work with the performers, giving them more time and dedication, given the number of hours of staging required for the level of experimentation and for investigating the elements of theatricality, staging, technique, of movement along with my need to realize another type of formation – even for me as a dancer.

I needed to invite and interact with other artists, projecting the spectacle from another dimension, from another viewpoint, from my contemporaneousness.  Of course, this involved opening up a new road, and meant risk.  In the national company I had a recognized career path, but everything ceased being enough for me.  I relied on my experience and desire to pursue my way of dance.

With the passing of time I no longer look at that step as a rupture, but as continuity.   My stage experience and the development of my concepts led me to change.

These days we speak naturally about companies and their being accepted, but it wasn’t like that back then.  That wasn’t so common in Cuba.  Only the national companies of ballet, folklore and contemporary dance existed.  It was on us to initiate them, found them and to defend them with absolute conviction.

HT: More than the name that identified it for years as your company, Danza Combinatoria also turned out to be an artistic concept, let’s say a “term” to define your dance aesthetic.

RC: Danza Combinatoria was my concept and point of departure.  It was created by me and as such, I had to deconstruct it and base it on my own practice.  It’s like when you visualize a building and its environment; you know that it can end up coming into being, but you have to conceive it to build it.  And in that construction you begin with the most basic, and then you work until it’s complete.  It’s a road that was imaginary but not yet put into practice.

A spent hours studying in my living room, working daily to put into place corporal explorations, instructions and devices that meticulously began to interweave and define the degree to which they could be applied in practice.  At the end of 1989, after the premiere of my work “Dedalo,” performed by the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba troupe, I created my company Danza Combinatoria.  Through it I also created a way of researching dance instruction and creation, where I begin to structure my conceptual platform.

With the aim of choreographic creation, I’ve developed a road corresponding to the training and preparation of the dancer, and another to creativity and expression on stage.  Within the genre of contemporary dance, my dance troupe is combinatorial in terms of a way of doing dance.

The mathematical terms of permutation, variation and combination of a combinatorial are present in the combinatorial of my system.  The component elements of movement, the conditions of space, the concepts of the poetic system of the writer Lezama Lima transferred by me to the language of dance, and others who compose it, are constantly mobilized in the spiral of creation, to be exchanged, combined or varied… with all the flexibility to assume something new.

I have believed in this concept and in its practice.  I’ve created it, I’ve worked it and I’ve developed it in my manner.

HT: But I understand that Danza Combinatoria is no longer the name of your collective.

RC: In 2002, after years of experience and intense research, I began calling my Danza Combinatoria company Compañía Rosario Cardenas de Danza Combinatoria; on the one hand this was to blend the names, and on the other it was to identify Danze Combinatoria as a style within contemporary dance.  This correspondeds to its artistic focus, which implies processes of healing, and a holistic concept of the body, keeping in mind that Combinatoria has become a style; it is a means of corporal preparation and of creating dance.

Combinatoria is the aesthetics of the company; it is my aesthetics.

Zona Cuerpo. Photo: Xavier Carvajal

In 2010 I decided to go with “Compania Rosario Cardenas” as the name, leaving the identity of danza combinatoria defined as a way of doing dance.  The company is a place of action, of creation, of exchange, a place of interaction, a place of well-being, a place for learning and a place for anyone who wants to make known their experimental and research works.

HT: Let’s talk about the members who make up that group today.  Do they come from traditional artistic educational backgrounds or were they trained under the methodology of Danza Combinatoria.

RC: They come from artistic institutions, which means that each person who is a part of the company has to be nurtured in our aesthetics and must prepare themselves to participate in it.

Among other processes, for example, they go through that of developing the capacity of directing their attention towards the perception of the manner in which the body (soma) begins to cross a path of liberating itself from automatisms, so that the evolution and flow of its movements are by choice, as well as by its own being and behaviors, by choice and not by imposition, in the search for an alignment with its own values.  A deeper knowledge of oneself is necessary, individual work of their bodies, of themselves, with others and in the environment.

There’s no doubt that in the company we grant an indispensable place to learning and the upgrading of knowledge.  For us, what becomes a constant beat is the conjugation of individual and relational development, as well as the importance of knowledge and of general culture.

On this path of a research-action trajectory and of continuous exploration, we think that, given its objectives and aims, my dance merits a place in art.

HT: The international scope of your work has been very rewarding.  Can you summarize the performances that you consider significant for Rosario Cardenas outside of the island?

RC: Sincerely, it would be difficult to distinguish between them since all of my works have had deep meaning to me in my development.

In 1995, I was invited to the 12th annual meeting of the National Performance Network in San Antonio, Texas and to New York for the Dances Theater Workshop for an exchange of experiences between choreographers.

At the Dance Theater Workshop in New York, I had the opportunity to dance my solo piece “Noctario” and to present my choreographic system to teachers and American choreographers who had met previously in Mexico in 1993.  This encounter and relationships facilitated me in even bringing a group of American choreographer-educators to Cuba.  These were those who I organized — along with maestro David Zambrano, in 1994 and 1995 — the first and second International Workshop for Dance Professionals in Havana.  Through this, the most contemporary techniques in movement were introduced in our country.

Then there was the premiere of my work “Noctario” at Town Hall at the 1994 Sydney Arts Festival, where I shared the stage with choreographer and dancer Germaine Acogny.  Then there was the first tour of the company to Mexico.  Later we participated in the Adelaide Fringe Festival in the Apron Theater in Australia (1996), where Cuba was represented for the first time.  We also presented our work at the Madrid Dance Festival and in the 1998 Valladolid International Festival in Spain.

We performed in the Seventh International Festival of Contemporary Dance in Seoul (2004) and in the Zsiget Festival in Budapest (2005), where our presence also marked Cuban participation in these festivals for the first time.  We also danced in Kingston and Montego Bay in Jamaica, where we were invited by the prime minister of that country.

Likewise, I worked with the Vanaver Caravan Company, based in Rosendale, New York (2010); the Bangarra Dance Theater Company, Sydney, Australia; the “Aldanza” company and Ballet Concierto of Puerto Rico in San Juan; also with the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, Amalia Hernandez, in Mexico City.  The Compañia de Danza de Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; the Compañia Nacional de Danza de Nicaragua and folkloric companies from different cities of that country, and the dance company of Origin de Monterrey,” in Monterrey, Mexico, among others.

HT: How do you define yourself as woman in the Cuban dance world, keeping in mind the manner in which you confront the practice of your profession?

RC: I consider myself persevering and risk-taking.  I try to be consistent with myself.  Now, with respect to “defining myself,” I prefer not to do that because I believe that “definition” closes the door on possibilities for change.

HT: Expand on the staging of the most recent work of your company.

RC: My most recent creation is “Zona-Cuerpo.”

In this work the body is an image.  It signifies and supports signification, and the dancing body is in turn a significant body.

Zona-Cuerpo. Foto: Xavier Carvajal

“Zona-Cuerpo” is a call for the re-awareness of the body.  It proposes a reconciliation of the unified body, leaving behind the Cartesian concept that separates the body from the mind.   The body reveals itself here as the body-subject, charged with emotion, bringing it closer to the person.  It is a body seen in the entirety of its somatic condition.  Understanding the concept of somatic as a living body that feels, thinks and that is related to others and with its environment.

In “Zona-Cuerpo,” movement is in search of the expressiveness of that unified body.  Here there is no linear story, nor a central theme.  The creation takes place broken into fragments in its becoming between what would be the image of the body, the image of the male or female advertising model and the human being that they are.

The sonorous world of original creation is interpreted live, in the visual arts, video art, the corporal dramatization of the imaginary body, the irradiant metaphor of the body itself, actions and situations of human relations, its psychosexual development, affections, postures, the struggle of the body against the force of gravity, aspects of psychoanalysis, therapeutics, of bio-de-codification, among others

In summary, “Zona-Cuerpo” proposes a reflection on the notion of the “body” as well as of the notion of the “person.” Our body places us in the world.  It is a source of emotions, of affections, of relationships, of wisdom.  It worries me — it worries us — the way in which we perceive our own body, our deep gaze and the understanding of others.

HT: This new year, 2011, what expectations are there for Rosario Cardenas.

RC: We intend to maintain and strengthen our newly created spaces: “Té-Danza-Video,” ”Punto Fugaz” and “Danza y Salud”, where in 2010 we organized the first Bio-dance conference in Cuba as well as a series of forums led by Dr. Pedro Sastriques on “How to Understand the Body.”

The Company has opened other paths of work.  Starting in April and going for six months we will put on a show in Turkey in which dancers, models and circus artists participate.

In September we are invited to a festival in the city of Valencia, in Venezuela, and we’re also awaiting the confirmation of our participation in a festival in Switzerland.

In October the company will go on tour in Spain, where we’ll participate in several festivals.

Parallel to all this, I’m in the process of preparing my new creation “2011,” which I plan to premiere in November in Havana.

HT: You, who have confronted your specialty with an international vision, what opinion do you have of dance being done in Cuba currently.

RC: Based on my experience, I think, that on one hand dance in Cuba is still greatly influenced by classical ballet, and on the other this is the dance form that has spread most across the country

While we’re not aware of it, while we’re not capable, with all the respect that it deserves, in transforming that prevailing view it will be very difficult for us to open up to the true understanding of other ways of how dance is done, and even more so how to do it.

Although in Cuba the dancing that is folkloric, traditional, from cabarets, from shows, like the ones that are named here, have extended in their practice, their professionalization still continues to be governed by that look for perfect and symmetrical manners and by conservative positions.

Personally, I think it’s necessary to be more self-reflective about artistic practices themselves, about the structures from which they are created, about the codes that shape them.  Reflections generally remain in the plane of talk and the codes are never analyzed.

Would it be convenient then to assume diversity and to accept differences, even if it’s not possible to classify or label them?

I would like for us — independently of tastes — to be open to the diverse manifestations of art, to the different manners of being and existing in the world.