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The Chilean-born spitfire that is Isabel Bustos has created a modern dance troop, Retazos, in her own image. Daring, imaginative and creative, it pushes the boundaries in its search for new ways of presenting dance. The dancers may not have the classical background or the physique of other Cuban dance groups but Isabel has certainly inspired something within them.
Retazos is an integral part of the week long festival Havana, City in Motion, which was held for the first time in 1996. What began in two or three museums in the city’s historical center has now expanded to almost every street and square of the Old City. Since 1998, it has formed part of the International City Dance Network whose purpose is to blend choreography with the city’s architecture.
Isabel meets us in Havana with her irrepressible smile, and the obligatory cigarette perched between her lips. The undisputed promoter and guiding light of what she describes as this beautiful madness” began dancing at a ballet school in Ecuador where she spent her childhood. Later she enrolled in the National School of Arts (ENA) in Cuba, where her parents were based as diplomats.
There she was taught by two of what she describes as the “jewels” of Cuban ballet, Loipa Araújo and Mirta Pla. After graduating she went on to join the National Modern Dance Company—today Danza Contemporánea de Cuba.
After visits to Quito and Mexico City, she was granted a scholarship by UNESCO to study choreography in Paris. It was in France that she says she began to explore ways to interconnect the arts to express emotions and feelings.
From Paris, Isabel returned to Havana for good. Here she created Retazos, based at first in the living room of her own home. The name means “bits and pieces,” a concept which, as Isabel explains, underscores its work.
“Our lives are made up of bits and pieces: pieces of other lives, feelings, emotions, thoughts, dreams… We are fragments of a whole, hence our name.”
Isabel says that collaborating with musicians, sculptors, painters and filmmakers is a way of incorporating their own poetry with Retazos, putting together all their “bits and pieces.” Buildings too, she says, can provide inspiration:
“We can bend to the suggestions or to the visual and emotional values of an old wall, of an arch, vibrating in harmony with passers-by. It is an improvisational exercise that fuels our creativity and enriches the experience of the audience.”
Isabel and Retazos have become an integral part of Old Havana’s cultural life. Long live the madness of beauty.