HAVANA TIMES — Dance teacher and choreographer Bertha Casañas is the director of an artistic project that has already made a name for itself among young, Cuban dance companies. “I also have a dream. I would love to have my own venue, a space where the soul of America can dance,” she tells us in her interview for Havana Times.
HT: How would you summarize the company’s 20 years of work?
Bertha Casañas: Total commitment, daily sacrifice, very intense work, constant creation, many sad moments and a million happy ones.
HT: Tell us about how your company emerged.
BC: Danza BB Compañía was founded in September of 1993. My work with the Spanish dance companies based in Cuba wasn’t satisfying enough for me. I needed more and, in the days of the intense and profound economic crisis, I let go of the reins of my creative needs and this company came about.
HT: What was BB Compañía before, and what is it now?
BC: Danza BB Compañía emerged as a dance ensemble that was to include children and teenagers who had not yet completed junior high school. They would receive dance training during this time. Some who completed the ninth grade decided to stay, however, and others who completed high school would come back. At one point, without realizing it, in addition to children and teenagers, we had groups of young people who had artistic rigor and creative preoccupations. At the beginning, our group was made up of little girls and teenagers who had artistic aspirations. Today, our group is made up of young people, teenagers and children who can point to artistic results.
HT: You have rescued and revived different folklore traditions.
BC: I am a very curious person. Even though I was trained in Spanish dance traditions, at some point I decided to look into those of the Americas. I had the fortune of being able to receive many teachers from Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru. As I got to know that world, I began to fall in love with its folklore, its dance art. I felt I had to offer the dancers in my company the pleasure of getting to know these and taking them to the stage, and that Cuban audiences could also enjoy them. They are highly varied dances with a lot of character, a lot of feeling. They even have their own vocabulary. For instance, for most people, a cat is merely an animal that meows. But it is also an Argentinean dance, to mention just one example. In recent times we’ve also worked with European dance cultures, such as those from Portugal. We staged a fado, mixing contemporary dance with Portuguese folklore.
HT: What did you do before becoming the company director?
BC: I started studying dance when I was 10. I was given the opportunity to enroll at Havana’s National School for the Arts (ENA) to study contemporary dance, even though I preferred ballet, but I chose to study Spanish dance at the Concepcion Arenal Student Society. It was the golden age of Spanish associations in Cuba. My teacher was Olga Bustamante. I danced a lot, first as part of a group and then as a soloist.
When I was 16, I danced as a soloist at the Havana’s Gran Teatro. That is the point where I feel my artistic career began – the theater was mine, it is an indescribable feeling. When I finished high school, I studied maritime transportation engineering. I was an engineer for 10 consecutive years, but I never stopped dancing.
I traveled to Spain for work-related reasons and met Trini Borrull, a dance teacher, dancer and choreographer. She invited me to her classes. First she offered me important parts in the performances her company staged. Later, she urged me to design choreographies for her. The three I put together were very successful, so, when I returned to Havana, I set out down this difficult path. It wasn’t clear to me what working with children would be like. My daughter was born and that helped clear up many things. I knew then combining little girls and boys and dance was something entirely possible, and that’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years.
HT: Any specific thoughts on teaching Cuban children and young people to dance?
BC: Working with children requires a lot of commitment and discipline. You’re always a role-model for them, even after they grow up and become adults. There are unfortunately many tendencies that lead to inartistic and occasionally vulgar models. Work with children is often undervalued. Support for such work talked about but often not taken to practice. It is considered a lesser undertaking and that makes our work all the more difficult.
HT: What do you see in your company’s future?
BC: Work, a lot of creative work. We owe it to ourselves to last an additional 20 years. New folkloric and contemporary shows, working with many children and young people to lead them into the special world of dance. I also have a dream. I would love to have my own venue, a space where the soul of America can dance.