It’s slightly ironic that this hugely productive troupe refers to itself as ‘the mother of dancing on the island,’ given that its founder was the pioneering Ramiro Guerra (born 1922). Having trained in New York with major modern dance artists like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, Guerra returned to his native land and cooked up a hybrid approach to making and thinking about movement that forever influenced the directions in which Cuban dance would grow.
‘Before the Revolution there was Ramiro Guerra’ is how Margarita Vilela, one of DCC’s long-standing rehearsal directors, pays tribute to this iconic figure. She and the sixty or so current company members are the inheritors of Guerra’s breakthrough vision, a pungent blend of Afro-Caribbean expression, classical European ballet and American modernism that proved to be as revolutionary as the work of Alicia Alonso and her contemporaries at Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
‘This company has a distinct style,’ agrees DCC’s present artistic director, Miguel Iglesias, ‘and this style is intertwined with how we do things in Havana. Cubania – the Cuban nature – isn’t just a fusion of Spanish and African. It’s also a statement, a way of life. I don’t think that you can talk about dance without talking about a philosophy of life as well. And Cubania today is about the freedom to act, and the willingness to openly express personal opinions.
‘I express myself any way I can,’ Iglesias continues. ‘I learn about it and use it, like a necessity.’ A volatile mix of affability, experience and sheer grit, Iglesias is loaded with opinions – especially when it comes to DCC. As well he should be considering that on April 4, 2010 he will celebrate a quarter-century as the company’s leader. Under his guidance DCC is doing everything in its power to assert itself on the international stage.
‘Contemporary dance changes all the time,’ he says, ‘but breaking from the past doesn’t mean that you can forget about where you come from. It’s these roots that make you unique on the global contemporary scene, and help you retain your own personality.’
Cubania - the Cuban nature - isn’t just a fusion of Spanish and African. It’s also a statement, a way of life.
As Iglesias sees it, DCC is ‘a complementary group of people with different opinions, physiques and mind-sets who are all moving in the same direction. There’s harmony in the dissimilarities. That’s what I look for. There are founding members who’ve stayed because they have the same point of view. We were companions on the stage, passionate, egocentric but dignified and unified by our love for dance. Now the older ones have taught the younger ones. One way or another this aesthetic is interwoven through the movement of many cultures revolving around not just one creator, but several choreographers.’
Iglesias himself doesn’t choreograph. He is instead a dedicated hunter of talent, actively seeking since 1999 to forge links between what he refers to as ‘European conceptualism and Cuban spontaneity.’ Hence the works commissioned from prominent young choreographers like Rafael Bonachela, or securing a piece from someone of Mats Ek’s stature. Both of their dances are part of DCC’s first major UK tour, along with pieces by Jan Linkens and the company’s gifted resident choreographer and dancer, George Céspedes. ‘I’ve tried to select choreographers by looking at the needs of the group,’ Iglesias explains. ‘How can I take parts of different things that the company can keep? I’m looking for diversity and completion. I’m not looking to conform.’ No surprise, then, that among the names near the top of his wish-list are Jerome Bel, Wim Vandekeybus and Lloyd Newson.
Iglesias takes just as much, if not more, care in choosing dancers for the company, about two dozen of which will be touring Britain. The majority of them have entered the company via the dance department of the National School of Art, where they learn a range of styles including modern and folkloric dance. Naturally, and rightly, Iglesias sings their praises. ‘They identify themselves with an art that is rich but without monetary rewards. They’re exceptionally well integrated, with so much quality. They aren’t selected because of how they can kick their legs, but how they make me feel. If they’re not truthful they don’t have a place here.’
Home for DCC is a few studios and cramped offices tucked inside the National Theatre, a large, streamlined edifice looming in one corner of Havana’s vast Plaza de la Revolucion. It is, of course, a key location in Cuban history. With that, perhaps, comes a certain responsibility both to the state and to a society Iglesias characterises as full of ‘magic realism’ – with all the contradictions that implies. ‘Contemporary means something different to each Cuban,’ he elaborates. ‘For me it’s a series of difficulties, and a daily fight about what we’re trying to achieve. It’s about how Cuba finds herself as part of today’s world. The life we have here is very complicated, and at the same time very simple. There are so many problems, and so many needs.’ And yet for all that Iglesias remains both optimistic and outward-looking. ‘As a company I’m becoming more interested in us representing people who are not necessarily Cuban,’ he says, ‘but citizens of the world.’ Surely one of the best ways of doing that is by ensuring that DCC continues to be a catalyst for the kind of world-class dance that UK audiences will see in 2010.