Puerto Rico is a protectorate of the United States with an autonomous government and its approximately 4 million inhabitants are U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico has one of the highest GDP per capita in the Caribbean region. In the last census 80% of the population defined itself as white, 11% as Mestizo and 8% as Afro-Caribbean. These results caused controversy in the media and the academic forums of the island. A large number of people consider that the Mestizo and Afro-Caribbean populations are in fact far more numerous, and that the result of the census could therefore be pointing to tensions related to Puerto Rico’s racial identity.
According to researcher Susan Homar " In Puerto Rico, Dance with a more experimental profile has seen its options diminish significantly in the last 5 years. Available funds have been reduced and the festivals and venues have disappeared with their producers, for various reasons." There is however still room for optimism, as some companies have managed to endure through time. Among these, “Andanzas” should be highlighted. In 2009 the company celebrated ten years of contributions that helped popularize contemporary dance on the island. In addition, emerging young choreographers are renewing the scene, and contemporary dance is slowly being introduced as a permanent course in some dance academies.
In the last few years, the festivals that showcased contemporary dance have been disappearing, and the number of venues that programmed it have also been reduced. There are the so called "Choreographic Parties," at the Río Piedras section of the University of Puerto Rico, which was created by Petra Bravo in 2004 and focuses exclusively on contemporary dance. The programming includes both renowned choreographers and young students. The realization depends on the allocation of funds from the Drama Department at the University of Puerto Rico and the availability of its theater, and has therefore not been achieved every year. Even though the budget is low, the program usually invites at least one international choreographer to present work and teach workshops (usually with "Hincapié", the group headed by the choreographer and teacher Petra Bravo).
A dance festival that was key for the development of the experimental scene in Puerto Rico was "Rompeforma,". It was organized by Viveca Vazquez and Merián Soto and took place once a year from 1989 to 1996. Its program included multidisciplinary artists from the national and the international scene such as Guillermo Gomez Peña, Coco Fusco and David Zambrano. There were also other festivals such as "De la Manga" and "Corpo danzante”, which have now disappeared or reduced their activities.
Another festival that is presently extinct is the “Festival Internacional de Danza y Movimiento Danzaqui”, where companies like Gaby Crista (Curacao) y Agua Dulce Dance Theater (EEUU) have participated. In 2006 The festival took place for the last time and no new editions are being projected.
The lack of a cultural policy for dance is creating serious obstacles to its development and professionalization. At present, dance shares the department with theatre at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Besides having to compete with the theater, very few funds are allocated to dance, especially when the number of existing companies and independent artists are taken into account. In addition, these funds are usually awarded to projects with a certain commercial viability, making it very difficult for more experimental dance currents to receive them. There is very little additional support from the government, and private enterprises rarely get involved with dance, as opposed to other branches of art, such as fine art.
Apart from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, the main sponsor of contemporary dance is the University of Puerto Rico. Important figures of the dance world such as choreographers Viveca Vázquez and Petra Bravo, and researcher Susan Homar teach there and have made some of these dance events happen through pure determination. Through these an audience interested in dance has gradually developed around the University. In recent years the department has been able to invite companies such as Brenda Angiel Arial Dance (Argentina) for example. The Office of Cultural Activities, the Office of the President, or the Theater of the University can grant the funds or auspices of the university.
Finally, it is fair to say that in most cases companies get their funding individually, either by submitting proposals to the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture or to institutions in the United States, by conducting workshops, teaching or simply going out into the streets to get auspices for each activity.
“Andanzas”, created at the end of the nineties and directed by Lolita Villanúa, is one of the most prominent companies in the country. Its profile is contemporary, and it is known for the quality of its dancers and the regularity of its performances, which has encouraged this aesthetic in Puerto Rico and has helped to develop both taste and the criteria to evaluate it. The company has traveled abroad, runs an excellent school, and carries out several community projects.
Viveca Vázquez is the leading exponent of experimental dance in Puerto Rico. In the 1980s, Vázquez founded “Taller de otra cosa”, a company that has trained many dancers and choreographers. Through “Taller de otra cosa” Vázquez has presented her own work and produced festivals and other events by other artists.
Another company that is notable for its persistence in time is “Hincapié” a collective led by Petra Bravo, which includes professionals and students.
In the last few years, other companies and collectives have arisen beyond the three groups that have now been in the field for a decade. Nevertheless, because of the shortage of public and private funds, the production of contemporary dance remains particularly challenging. As a result, the artists are often relegated to more marginal spaces such as theaters and coffee bars.
In Puerto Rico there is no academic program leading to a degree (baccalaureate or masters) specialized in dance. What exists is a dance instructor certification program, which is offered by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at Río Piedras and which is based on courses offered by Petra Bravo, Bravo Otto, Susan Homar and Viveca Vázquez, among others. Many students choose to combine this certificate with a bachelor’s degree in individualized studies (http://prei.uprrp.edu/areas.php #individualizados), which allows each student to create his/her own curriculum, leading to a degree based on a proposed research topic and the classes he/she will need to complete in order to master the subject. Some proposals in the area of dance were: "Dance and Gender," "Dance, body and language" and " Dance and the urban space."
Those wishing to take contemporary dance courses outside the UPR can go to the “Andanzas” school. In addition, there are a few academies that teach contemporary dance although they specialize in other genres. This is the case at Danzactiva (www.danzactiva.com), School of the Performing Arts (www.passionforthearts.com/ institucion.htm) and Rhythms (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cf...). Many young dancers and aspiring choreographers continue their education in the United States, although some choose to England, Argentina, Mexico and other locations.
There are no publications dedicated exclusively to contemporary dance in Puerto Rico. You can find some dance-related content on websites (http://gestioncultural.uprrp.edu/ma...), "A brief history of dance in Puerto Rico," in the Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico (http://www.enciclopediapr.org/esp/a...) and ComUnArte (www.comunarte.com). In addition, the Dance Archive at the University of Puerto Rico - Recinto de Río Piedras, has programs, news, reviews, articles and books on dance in Puerto Rico, including books on contemporary dance companies such as Andanzas: Imágenes y Trayectoria, Polimnia by “Taller de Histriones”, among others. The dancer Alma Concepción wrote two articles on dance in Puerto Rico for the book Caribbean Dance: From Abakuá to Zouk, a compilation of research articles on Caribbean dance, coordinated by Susanna Sloat and launched by the University Press of Florida in 2002. The second volume, which will be published in 2010, will include a study on Puerto Rican dance by researcher Susan Homar.
Text by : Diana Soto De Jesús, February 2009