top of page

The Cuban thing; danger zone.

by Marianela Boán


I start from the premise that everything I create is Cuban and that consciously proposing a Cuban final result is useless because in any topic I deal with, be it universal or abstract literature, Cubanness will be there, despite me. However, the problem arises when I have consciously chosen to “manipulate” what is Cuban.

Working on this plane means trying to find a balance between two very dangerous extremes; on the one hand the powerful clichéd image of what is Cuban and on the other the avant-garde clichés of what is Cuban as taboo.

In four moments of my work, I have been confronted with the Cuban as a concrete material in the creation process: Mariana (1980), Retorna (1992), The Fish in the Tower Swims in the Asphalt (1996), and The Tree and the path (1998).

Like any operation in an area of extreme danger, I have required a careful strategy to carry it out. Here are some reflections on my experience in this regard.

With Mariana, I wanted to make the theater smell like bushes, and talk about homeland, heroes, and hyper-known and manipulated stories while maintaining balance so as not to fall into pamphleteering or abstraction. How to revitalize a historical and Cuban tradition, take the viewer to a level of emotional awareness, keep artistic values safe from the ancillary, and evade both the closed-in symbolic hieroglyph and the clichés to which we are accustomed in the treatment of these themes.

We had to start by de-stereotyping the characters. One of the ways was the well-known humanization of them, revealing their weak and human side. Mariana must have cried a lot when they couldn't see her. It's not that she didn't cry, but that she dared to do it hidden and go out with a shining face to push her next son towards war and death with a smile washed away by tears.


Another way was to create a syncretism between these characters and the Afro-Cuban Yoruba pantheon, a discovery that arose in the process. Mariana-Yemayá, Marcos-Ogun, Antonio Maceo-Changó. The moment when I went to choreograph the scene in which Marcos teaches his children to handle the machete, I realized that the dance of handling the machete already existed in Cuba for millennia and is the dance of Oggun, god of metals and that it was much stronger to rework information that is part of the collective consciousness of the Cuban than to invent a machete dance out of nothing. From that moment on I would begin to look for an obvious Yemayá in Mariana, mother of all the gods, the mother par excellence in our culture with her sea steps that rock the creatures and her unique way of saving what is around her, putting it safe in his big skirt. And Antonio Maceo? The great warrior was also already created, he was Changó.

At that moment I was able to confirm that what was Cuban, in this case, what was Afro-Cuban, could complete or feed a character and a plot if it was assumed in its essence. Marcos in symbiosis with Oggun led to the emergence of a character superior to both that illuminated the essence of each one, the poetic and dance richness of Yoruba mythology put to coexist with the historical and human nature of the characters in question.

In Retorna, a work whose theme is directly a reflection on the space we give to what is Cuban in life and in art, the characters appear dressed exaggeratedly elegant, bordering on the corny and trying to appear a total acceptance for the drums. They appear not to want to dance to Cuban music but the rhythm is stronger than them and takes them on a frantic and uncontrolled path despite the constant struggle between the poses they want to maintain as an appearance and the hips that are dragged beyond all possible control. appearance of class, culture, or personality.


Both the moment in which they embody the “fino” and the moment in which, after fighting against their own appearance, they are carried away by the “gozadera” are ironized by the gestures, dances, and postures not only typical of the cliché Cuban, but even of the bufo, elements that I consciously use to show the grotesque and caricature this attitude of false acceptance. When the characters undergo catharsis and are aware of the transgression, they try to hide it. At that moment they begin to whisper the song Retorna by Sindo Garay and through different relationships that are established between them and the song, little by little they abandon the masks, the clichés begin to collapse, the grotesque subsides and the work ends in the performers They sing the song with four voices, leaving behind the tone of parody with which the Cuban has been treated during the work.


The interesting thing about this process was having managed to put together a dramaturgy that allowed me to use the very clichés of what is Cuban too, taken to the extreme, draw attention to other possible points of view of what is Cuban, which, far from taboos, open a reconciliation with

that world for those who already considered it useless.

In The Fish in the Tower Swims in the Asphalt, a work whose theme is the Cuban in the midst of a crisis, the reflections on what is Cuban mark the entire first part: contemplative capacity, little resistance to pathos, search for immediate catharsis, refuge in exorcizing humor, etc... I had to assume typical elements of our culture such as a rumba or the Cuban gestures and the option was to elaborate them without losing substance in the process of estrangement.


The rumba, when mixed with the contact technique, which is one of the postmodern techniques that the group usually uses and which is based on mutual stimuli in the body, in the space produced by the design of the body and in the energy lines, gave as The result is a discourse of movement where the essential steps of rumba appear with all their force but emerging from other sources. This allowed me to enter a traditional popular genre from a new perspective, and revitalize a technique such as contact, which is a foreign assimilation originally developed by North American postmodern dance.


As for the gestures and gestural signs of the Cuban, they were also choreographically elaborated. But from his own denial, that is, assuming the myth of the hyper-gesturalizing Cuban and using all that famous gesture to hide things, gesturing so as not to have to say or be able to secrete, gesture, an apparent weapon of communication, turned into a weapon of dissimulation. of the illicit, since the scene where the gesture is worked in the work is that of prohibited businesses. When elaborating on the Cuban gesture, something that has been done a lot in our scene, the decoding nuance was achieved by ironizing, and betraying this procedure.


At the beginning of The Tree and the Road, the dancers arrive late for the performance, each due to various daily problems. They try to start dancing with the same clothes they brought from the street and backpacks on their shoulders after arguing among themselves, with the choreographer, and with the audience to try to save the situation since the music of the overture has continued and the curtain has closed. started to open. They try to dance unconcentrated, loaded with “everyday reality,” the first scene of the play, which is nothing less than paradise. Of course, the paradise-scene-art expels these performers who are still contaminated with hell-everyday-reality and does not allow them to evolve on the stage, the action is paralyzed, they are desperate, they attack each other, they don't know what to do until one of them, he begins to invoke his Yoruba gods, falls into a trance and infects the group with a ritual of dispossession of Cuban Santeria, the group is “cleansed” in this way and already “stripped” of hell-daily life-reality. paradise-scene art allows them to begin the work.


The Afro-Cuban invocations and songs that appeared in the heat of a casual action, in this first part, will continue to be used throughout the entire work with different subtexts, always as a symbol of the ritual, spiritual, religious, and natural, within a plot whose Literal multiplicity is based on the opposites society-nature, social project-individual project, social ritual-religious ritual.


I needed a purifying ritual so that the characters could go from the present to a state of total harmony with the environment and with each other, and that ritual in Cuba has a name: dispossession.


Like the Oggun dance, in which Marcos Maceo teaches his children to handle the machete, I preferred not to invent a ritual but to elaborate the purification ritual par excellence in Cuban culture and thus take advantage not only of its ancestral strength but also to inaugurate in the work " “ritual” from a ritual typical of our culture.


Not all countries have the living and interactive culture in all levels of existence that Cuba has, it has always seemed to me that living while ignoring the enormous energy that the incorporation of elements of our popular or folkloric culture can breathe into contemporary expression is a great banquet. In my opinion, that culture is in itself insurmountable and that is why when dealing with it I always do so with an enormous level of self-awareness, as if I were putting my hands inside a living body from which living organs must be extracted without lacerating it.





bottom of page