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To learn about the origins of this already traditional celebration, we headed for the modern company’s base in the renovated stretch of Amargura Street between Mercaderes and San Ignacio, where in the little time left over from rehearsals and the thousand details that she insists on attending to personally, we were received by Isabel Bustos, a woman who transmits energy through the light of her eyes and the sweep of her hands.
The International Dance Festival in Urban Landscapes: Old Havana, City in Motion, was first held in 1996. Prevailing over all scepticism, the festival has been held twelve times already, and what began in two or three museums in the Historical Centre has expanded to almost every institution of the Historian’s Office, to its main plazas and streets, with the presence of hundreds of guests both from Cuba and abroad. Since 1998, it forms part of the International City Dance Network, whose purpose is to link the choreography with the city’s architecture.
Chilean-born Isabel, undisputed promoter of this “beautiful madness”, as some critics have called it, first began her love affair with the world of dance in a ballet school in Ecuador, where she spent her childhood, and later in the National School of Arts (ENA) in Cuba where her parents travelled as diplomats.
I studied ballet at the ENA taking lessons from great masters, including Loipa Araújo and Mirta Pla, two of the “Jewels” of Cuban ballet. Afterwards, I joined Danza Nacional de Cuba, directed then by Cuban choreographer Ramiro Guerra, where I had the chance to dance in some of his works.
After visits to Quito and Mexico City with temporary stays in Havana, she was granted a scholarship by UNESCO to study choreography in Paris which would serve, above all, to reassert her Latin American identity and the need to interconnect the arts to express emotions and feelings beyond technical virtuosity. From Paris she returned to Havana for good, captured by the magic of its lights, its colours, its people, and went on to create Retazos, based at first in the living room of her own home, modelling throughout the years an aesthetics that sets her group apart from other dance companies in the Island.
Our lives are made up of bits and pieces (retazos): pieces of other lives, feelings, emotions, thoughts, dreams… We are barely fragments of a whole, hence the name of our company founded in 1987 with five dancers. At first, we danced wherever we could?the foyer or ninth floor of the National Theatre, Teatro Estudio, Miramar Theatre, Patio de Maria?under the principles that guided our work then and still today reign over all our actions which, thanks to the exceptional sensitivity of the City Historian, Eusebio Leal, are not confined solely to our Amargura headquarters: they stretch out to hospitals, schools, workplaces, our workshops with the children of the community, and, of course, the wonderful streets of Old Havana.
The work carried out by Retazos these last 20 years has been supported by two main pillars: the sublimation of emotions, of the subconscious, through a technique that is formed by theatrical elements as dance-theatre and contributions by creators such as Stanislavski, Barba, and others, serving the purpose of expressing and communicating the universal sufferings and dreams of people through the poetic values of the art of dancing; and the interrelation with other arts: visual arts, music, cinema or literature, making the Retazos headquarters a creative workshop.
Working with musicians, sculptors, painters, video and filmmakers is a way of incorporating their own poetry to ours, of putting together our bits and pieces. Architecture also motivates us. Making up a story for a balcony, giving in to the suggestions or to the visual and emotional values of an old wall, of an arch; vibrating in harmony with passers-by…is an improvisational exercise that fuels our creation and, at the same time, enriches the audiences’ spiritual and intellectual world.
April 2015 This article formed part of the March 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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