HAVANA TIMES — Writer, poet and essayist Jorge Brooks is also the manager of “Danza Contemporanea de Cuba” (the Cuban Contemporary Dance company), the most international troupe on the island. Reflecting on the arts, Brooks said, “You have to understand that art is a product that is sold.”
HT: Danza Contemporanea de Cuba experienced a period of very little creation. Fortunately, some time ago it exploded onto the international scene with choreographic work involving primarily foreign creators.
JB: Companies that have been founded for a long time go through different periods, and the Contemporary Dance Company has been in existence 54 years. Like the public was at that time, I was personally very critical of its emblematic works such as Zulkari, Panorama de la Cultura, Faust, which were the highlights of the company at that time and were attacked a great deal. There also came projects that were associated with themes in the performing arts, plus an implosion of graduates from the National Art School.
These events occurred in the 80’s, which allowed new companies to come out from Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, though they sought a direction that was a little closer to Europe. To me this made little sense, considering what distinguishes us culturally, and that was something that had been eroding much of contemporary dance work – without forgetting that this was followed by the worst of the Special Period (early-mid 1990s) economic crisis, which affected us all.
The reemergence of the company dated back to the period 1999 to 2000. As I said, the country went through this very difficult time, which was difficult for all artistic creation, just as it was for all of the Cuban people.
Miguel Iglesias, who at that time had been its director for 27 years, was intelligent enough to plot a strategy to internationalize the scope of his group. This was not a new phenomenon, though sometimes people say that we were losing the roots of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, referring to a stereotype in which Afro-Cuban dance is was very marked, but that wasn’t the case.
Unquestionably, when Ramiro Guerra founded Danza Nacional there was an experimental stage. Actually, founding it was a great invention by Ramiro, and I always say that it was a great contribution by him to Cuban culture. From that time on he worked with people from all parts of the world – Americans, Uruguayans, Argentineans… Maurice Bejart was about to start working with the company, and there was also the fact that we all knew each other.
The departure of Ramiro Guerra from Contemporary Dance of Cuba resulted from him not being allowed to stage his work “Del Apocalipsis,” which was even ahead of what was going to be “Pina Bauch” one or two years later. I can tell you, that in terms of its scenic design and its approach to the stage, I’ve seen very few things like it in the world. For the time, it was really quite an advanced approach.
HT: So you feel that currently the company has turned its nationalist aesthetic in another direction after working with such a large number of foreign artists.
JB: I’m among those who believe that if things don’t evolve…they stagnate. That can be seen outside of Cuba. For example look at what happened with Martha Graham’s company, or with Kiliam’s company most recently, and others. By being groups by the author, they don’t go through stages of exploring and experimentation; instead they develop a common aesthetic. They can become mythical companies that disappear in a moment, but all these examples are gone and we’re still here.
I coexist with dissimilar generations of artists in Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, some who are very old and other who are very young. If the views at any time were somewhat estranged, now they’re converging, since today’s dancer requires other technical influences to able to cope with their work.
What happened to Danza Contemporanea de Cuba continues to surprise the world. Everyone in different cities asks us to give classes on the Cuban technique. That same thing happened in the United States, where we had to teach classes every day.
Sometimes we toured, presenting a very strong program that we presented in theaters, and the next day we would have to continue giving demonstration classes. We constantly surprised them with Cuban art, which has a great deal of fusion of classic works with Cuban folkloric dance.
This was the great idea of Ramiro Guerra. It’s clear that he is an intellectual, a person of ideas. But it’s impossible for us to try to give a class today like we did in the 60’s. The performers are different; they’ve had significant experience with internationally recognized artists.
We’re currently working with a young Israeli woman who lives in Holland. The choreographer Juan Cruz tells an anecdote about when he came to work with us. Seeing the dancers for the first time in his classes, he said he was a little worried because he would have to teach the dancers after having appreciated their potential.
HT: Did you have to neglect your literary work due to your responsibilities with Danza Contemporanea de Cuba?
JB: Yes, really. My studies didn’t have anything to do directly with the world of dance. What I studied previously was economics and marine engineering, but life introduces things to you because of your true calling. But what I never stopped doing was writing.
HT: And how to get into the literary field?
JB: One day a friend of mine sent one of my poems to a competition that was for the 80th anniversary of Bohemia magazine, and I won an honorable mention. This surprised me because I had never presented my literary work seriously. That was definitely a boost.
After participating in another competition that’s very well known here in Havana, the Juan Francisco Manzano competition, I ended up winning first prize there. As life takes you along different paths, one day in Spain someone discovered that I wrote and so I had my first international publication. I’ve had a lot of poetry published in journals in the Canary Islands, ones that make strong criticisms of politics and culture.
HT: Another area that you have explored in literature has been essays on the subject of emigration.
JB: Like anyone who writes poetry, you know that you need other sources to help you step back. I’m a big reader, I read anything, and in this way I came to the issue of immigration. I started dealing with Canarian emigration to Cuba, because at that time I was invited to a poetry reading at a university in Spain. I presented a paper there on a Canarian poet who lived in Cuba, Francisco Izquierdo, an overseas exponent of poetry of the Canary Islands.
I spent two years of my life studying and researching the topic. I combed through the work that he produced between 1917 and 1940. Based on this I edited my first work that was published, which earned me an invitation from the Casa Colon at a university in the Canary Islands where every two years they held an event on Canarian history in the Americas. Later came other work such as La independencia de Cuba vista por los canarios (The Independence of Cuba as Seen by the Canarians).
HT: You introduced into Cuban culture the notion of the management and marketing of the performing arts, which hadn’t been previously done.
JB: Yes, this is an area that hadn’t been explored until then since the commercialization of art was seen as taboo, and it still is seen as taboo for many people. But ultimately you have to understand that art is a product that is commercialized, that it’s sold, but without losing its attributes of beauty, perception, philosophy or its contribution to human beings.
It’s unquestionably a product to be sold, because there’s also a person who pays for a ticket to the theater and devotes their time to it. The stage must become consonant with that demand.
HT: Summarize the major achievements of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba in this last period.
JB: 2010 was a very good year for the company. We were nominated for the Oliver Awards, which in the world of performance in England and are the equivalent to the Oscars Awards.
The Bolshoi Ballet won with Cuban artist Carlos Acosta dancing Le Corsaire, therefore that couldn’t be argued. Later we were also nominated for the most important award granted by the Theatre Association in the UK.
However, we were also surpassed by another great super production, which is to say that we were losing out against the best, or those that were very close to being the best.
Subsequently our performances in New York were complete successes, and most recently we were the first Cubans to perform at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome and at the Teatro Real in Madrid.