At the dawn of contemporary dance in the United States, creators strongly reacted against ballet’s established norms, rejecting and questioning values that were considered essential for this art such as its standards of beauty, perfectionism, narrative methods, classical techniques, etc. Later, starting with Cunningham in the sixties, the notion that dance had to be abstract started to prevail. However, as time goes by, the idea that choreographies don’t necessarily have to be disconnected from reality has gained ground. After the influence of German dance-theater, pure abstraction constitutes today only a fraction of dance as a whole. An overview of the contemporary dance currently made in Spain serves to illustrate this.
Many trends have been followed, as it is demonstrated by national artists who feel that their dance is connected to our current times and environment. Aging, social rejection, relationships, and the role of women in our society acquire a poetic sense in unique creations. The long-standing project Las muchas, developed by Mariantónia Oliver from Mallorca, constitutes a clear example of this. She has achieved great success with this workshop, carried out in every city she is invited, summoning female neighbors aged over 65 who ultimately join her onstage to tell, from their untrained but wise bodies, the truth about being a woman, the passage of time, the vitality of their inner selves, and how society stigmatizes women and the elderly.
In the stylistic spectrum, totally opposed to Oliver’s, Valencian creator Yoshua Cienfuegos and his company also deal with the issue of aging women in his satirical new creation Viejas. This humorous piece constitutes a radical change in his recognizable line of work, consolidated after a long research process, mainly focused on issues inherent to dance itself such as its composition and technique.
With authentic gentleness, the young Canarian creator Carmen Fumero takes a step forward after her successful duet Eran casi las dos…, presenting her trio Un poco de nadie, a proposal that delicately addresses social rejection, the need to build relationships with others, and the impact of not being accepted. Also about the ephemeral nature of relationships and the volatility of feelings is the retro nostalgic piece El ultimo verano, a choreography by Raquel López and Anna París for her Andalusian/Catalan company La Casquería which, with a seventies summer beach atmosphere, talks about the happiness of three friends who have just met and vainly believe that those bonds and intense emotions will last forever.
With the current rise of feminism, there are plenty of allusions in our dance to the social role of women, usually taking the form of protest or denunciation. The personal work developed by Milagros Galiano, former dancer at Víctor Ullate Ballet, appears forceful and direct in pieces such as Bruja II, Akelarre, where she plays with the ambivalent meaning of the word “witch” (magical, astute, powerful…), and La resistente, about women’s strength to endure physical aggressions, constituting all of these works, at the same time, a denunciation, a protest, an appeal to our consciences, and art. Meanwhile, Galician creator Rut Balbís alludes metaphorically to the Barbie doll in her creation Plastic to depict the stereotype of the woman as an accessory. This piece has been recently staged for the company of Paula Quintas, an artist who has always worked in the fields of dance, theater, and circus, the latter of which is clearly visible in her outstanding work Analepsis.
With a more introspective character, choreographer Mercedes Pedroche, also working on the borderline between dance and theater, has produced Artificios y leopardos, portraying the idea of freedom through a woman trapped in her confinement, forcing audiences to reflect on the limits of their own freedom within the social machinery.
How we are, how we communicate, or not, and how we look at each other are concerns that have inspired Israeli choreographer Dana Raz, who reflects on these ideas in her works Golem, dealing with our own identity and the image that we have of ourselves, and Wolves, exploring how new technologies have affected human relationships.
The great mysteries of mankind seem to be the concerns of Martín Padrón and Gregory Auger, developing their creations at Centro Coreográfico La Gomera’s company in the Canary Islands. In their piece Should They Maybe, they formulate questions about the complexity of the human being, while The Show Must Go On? makes us reflect on the growing chaos that affects universal values in our society. Meanwhile, in El contexto, el sujeto y lo demás… they inquire about the soul; all of these topics evidencing their interest on human problems.
Human behaviors and the way society works have been an important source of inspiration for a group of contemporary dance artists committed to describe, through body movements, the world which we live in. Ingenuity and creativity determine how this world is represented by different choreographers. Entomologically appearing, the work of Elías Aguirre in Madrid emerges full of flying and marinebugs. At first glance, some of his works such as Entomo, Shy Blue, and Pez esfinge, seem to use dance as a tool to mimic the military organization that rules mosquito communities, schools of fish, and flocks of birds. The eloquent title of his new creation, Insecto primitivo, seems to point out in the same direction. However, a second look at his speech reveals that his interest is focused on the social organization of the human being, the consequences of deviating from the binding rules, and other reflections that are very distant from the entomological world.
Using animals to talk about society has always been an effective artistic resource (Orwell’s Animal farm, for instance) and Roberto Torres, with his Compañía Nómada in Tenerife, knows that. His creation Dulces bestias, a trio danced by Daniel Morales, Paloma Hurtado, and Paula Quintana, three of the most promising creators in the Canary Islands, is a good example, with characters that appear like animals; wild beasts that ultimately allow him to talk about the human condition.
Modern choreographers have always been interested in spirituality, beliefs, and faith. These subjects seem to connect with the ritualistic and mystical halo that, historically, has been so inherent to dance. De Profundis, a new creation by Fueradeleje, group led by Iñaki Fortún in Navarra, serves to illustrate this. As explained by its author, this intimist creation depicts a danced prayer inspired by Psalm 130, becoming an exaltation of spirituality and a call of hope.
Israeli Sharon Fridman’s company in Madrid has developed very personal and dazzling works, also closely linked to spirituality and rituals (e.g.: Free fall, All Ways). His new creation, the duet Dose of Paradise, digs now into the quest for happiness, an ever present dream for human beings. In this intense duo he explores topics such as dependence, trust, fear of loneliness, and fear of the void of Paradise, as he calls it.
Ceremonies and rituals are featured in the visually suggestive piece Sacra, as well as in the experimental Rito, a striking performance with an ancestral atmosphere, both created by Asun Noales for her company OtraDanza operating since 2007 in Alicante, which has also addressed the issue of gender inequality in the very feminine piece Pélvico.
A ritual in every sense is also The Lamb, recent creation by Kor’sia, a young company experiencing a vertiginous rise, run by Italian creators Mattia Russo and Antonio de Rosa in Madrid. The contraposition of victim and executioner and the metaphor of the sacrifice of the lamb are some of the topics portrayed in this sort of disturbing ceremony where the horror of its themes contrasts with the expressiveness of its production.
With very different esthetics, La Phármaco, directed by Luz Arcas in Madrid, also displays a ritualistic aura in works such as the solo piece Kaspar and the very feminine Miserere. However, its recent creation Una gran emoción política, inspired by the autobiography of María Teresa León who suffered the consequences of the Spanish Civil War, explores a significant social issue: the emotion that pushes people to undertake revolutions.
Also inspired by this bloody war, we find the very moving Codara, where the ascending creator Mario Bermúdez, former dancer of the Israeli company Batsheva as well as director of his Andalusian company Marcat Dance founded in 2016, portrays the emotional devastation of the Spanish post-war period, a work developed for his own company where he has also created Alanda, reminiscent of the old Andalusia (al-Andalus), as well as the recently premiered Anhelo, more introspective but still very human, with its lullabies and everyday actions that are filled with emotions.
Our daily life has been an important concern for contemporary dance. Postmodern pioneers at the Judson Church in New York rediscovered quotidian gestures in the seventies, something that remains in place until now. Andrea Amor and Miguel Ángel Punzano, directors of the young group Tejido conectivo in Madrid, have produced their new piece The Walk inspired by the daily act of walking, so simple and yet complex at the same time, involving motility, balance, order, and other functions we never think about when we walk down the street.
Also the street, social scene par excellence, has frequently been a source of choreographic inspiration. That is the case for creator Paloma Hurtado from Tenerife. After experiencing a quotidian, urban night situation which had a great emotional impact on her, she created Ephimera, a solo street piece depicting an honest and harsh portrait of the people who, for whatever reason, live on the streets.
Gonzalo Díaz, director of caraBdanza in Madrid, talks about urban violence, intolerance, male chauvinism, terrorism, and other social atrocities in his creation accIDENT, giving continuity to the clearly defined esthetic line of his group. Although there is of course a will to criticize the violence in our society, this work depicts the hope and desire to live in a better world.
Portraying different cultures and social conventions has been another recurring practice in contemporary dance, generally inspired by the creator’s experience when confronting foreign worlds. Such is the case of the Andalusian choreographer Lucía Vázquez, who has developed a line of work with a strong Japanese influence, establishing close bonds with artists from that country. She staged the piece Flying Birds with Nobuyoshi Asai, former dancer at the legendary butoh dance company Sankai Juku, and more recently with Satoshi Kudo, formerly a dancer with and assistant to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, with whom she has produced Mazari, a stylized duet that researches on the unlikely idea of liquid bodies.
Finally, it is important to underline the contributions to physically integrated dance of the experienced Fritsch Company, operating since 1986 as part of the Fundación Psico Ballet Maite León. This collective usually summons renowned creators from the national scene for their top-notch productions. Among them, we find the triple program Mesa para Tr3s, with works by Antonio Ruz, Amaya Galeote, and Patricia Ruz, as well as El amor no dura para siempre (Romeos y Julietas), developed as a multidisciplinary production by the well-known creator Andrés Lima, which portrays Shakespeare’s play on stage while, through the use of video, reveals the performers’ vision of love.
Could have Marc Chagall and Antonio Machado imagined that their paintings and poems would be danced? Probably not. In the early twentieth century, the avant-garde movements seemed to notice that art disciplines were beginning to wear out and to become pigeonholed. Artists then began to look at other art forms and became influenced by them. Dance benefited greatly from these transfers and fusions, finding a great source of inspiration and growth in other art disciplines. Ana Rando’s company from Malaga has focused in the life and work of painter Marc Chagall in her recent creation Azul Prusia Azul Berlín. There, she delves into this painter’s life, up to his wife’s passing, with dance engaging in dialogue with his paintings. Meanwhile, Compañía Baal in Mallorca, directed by Catalina Carrasco and Gaspar Morey, brought the colorful world of Joan Miró to dance in their piece for family audiences MiraMiró.
Sometimes a specific painting abandons its two-dimensional nature and becomes dance. In 37Guernica17, Fernando Hurtado‘s company based in Nerja, transforms into dance not only the horror and pain of Picasso’s most famous painting but also the conceptual principles of Cubism. Meanwhile, for David Segura, director of his own company in Andalusia, the art of painting itself becomes the point of reference in his creation Inductive, staged in collaboration with painter and musician Alberto Tarsicio.
Traditionally, literature has always found an echo and continuity in theater and cinema; however, a wordless art like dance has also been able to approach books through body movement, and it has found many different ways to do it. Choreographer Chevi Muraday from Madrid knows them very well. With a long experience, his career has moved forward from a physical dance to a more theatrical port, where literature becomes movement. His solo work El cínico is inspired by Diogenes, while Teresa, ora el alma, addresses the poetry of Santa Teresa. A Mexican poet, Jeannette Clariond, has been the point of reference for Cristina Masson’s delicate dance. Director of Compañía Enclavedanza, she has created March 10 NY inspired by Clariond’s poems, closing a trilogy that includes the pieces …No vacía… and Sobre fondo roto.
Poet Antonio Machado has been the source of inspiration for Estos días azules, the fourth production of young group Compañía Improvisada directed by Henar Fuentetaja, who has found the dramaturgy for her dance in the life and words of the youngest representative of the Generation of ‘98. Another poet, Sara R. Gallardo, has been the backbone of Pieles callar, a recent choreography by Ballet Contemporáneo de Burgos directed by Alberto Estébanez, who has also ventured into multidisciplinary works as evidenced in his didactic production La danza y su pequeño público, developed for children.
Audiovisual art has frequently been a source of ideas for contemporary dance, which has managed to incorporate and take advantage of new technologies. Since 2010, Bárbara Fritsche’s company has been researching on the fusion of dance, performance, and audiovisual elements, producing very stimulating works such as Vasos llenos.
It is also important to notice how dance has been able to evaluate and revise itself through this process of fusions. The recent creations of Kor’sia seem to be pointing towards this path. Its directors, Italians Mattia Russo and Antonio de Rosa, began their researches by revisiting Jeux, a rather obscure piece by Nijinsky, staging their personal version for Victor Ullate Ballet. This investigation continued with Somiglianza, a revision of The Afternoon of a Faun, another work by Nijinsky. Now they are announcing for the next season their reinvented version of the romantic ballet Giselle, always under their contemporary vision.
In Spain, as everywhere else, there are creators whose work cannot be easily categorized since they display hundreds of references and at the same time, none; artists who have managed to build their own unique universe, easily recognizable. We name four of them.
*Marcos Morau. Director of La Veronal (Barcelona). Based on a dramaturgy that allows him to envision well-known places from a personal and poetic perspective, Morau has taken his audience on a journey to his redefined version of real places with works such as Islandia, Siena, and Voronia, the deepest-known cave on Earth, and more recently to the sidereal space in his astonishing piece Pasionaria, although he has also been interested in specific subjects such as the murder of Italian filmmaker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, depicted in his performance Bologna Pasolini.
*Daniel Abreu. Director of his own company in Madrid and recently appointed director of the company Lava in Tenerife. This unique artist from Tenerife owns an enigmatic universe, producing works that always carry his very personal seal. Discarding conventional narratives, he creates a personal scenic world of great visual and emotional impact, depicted in creations such as Animal and his most recent piece La desnudez, a duet of tremendous formal beauty.
*Manuela Nogales. When Andalusia seemed oblivious to contemporary dance, Manuela Nogales was already there, building her own creative universe. More than twenty years of experience endorse the work of this unclassifiable artist who truly believes in research, with each work representing a step forward in her search process. Her recent creation Silencio & ruido analyzes the bonds between singing and dancing.
*Paula Quintana.A young Canarian creator but with a long trajectory who, instead of following a straight line, has been moving in zigzag through her creative path. Quintana has found and explored different lands and territories: contemporary dance of course, as well as flamenco, acting, and all performing arts. From these experiences, she has filtered different elements to develop a very unique style, which has been consolidated in her most recent work Las Alegrías, a stimulating and flawless solo work which seems to crown her own personal quest.