Bolivia is a multiethnic and pluri-cultural country with rich traditions, a great amount of natural resources and a population of 10 million people. Each region in the country is inhabited by diverse groups, distributed in an equally diverse territory, from the highlands to the Amazon, crossing valleys, deserts, salt lakes etc. The population is mostly of indigenous origin (62 %) with Spanish, Quechua, Aymará and Guaraní being the most spoken languages, there are also a considerable number of dialects.
Bolivia is going through a phase of political and social transition and cultural development is conditioned and restricted due to the urgency of more basic needs. The levels of illiteracy are at approximately 50%, and 64% of the population live in poverty. The access to quality education is very limited.
A Ministry of Culture was created in 2009, but it’s not really help the professionals of the dance. Furthermore,, there is no clear cultural policies guiding state or private actions. Actions and state funds dedicated to culture are very little and culture is not a priority given the basic needs that have to be covered in the country.
All cultural policies in Bolivia lack permanence and have the need for immediate results. Public institutions, due to their party-political nature, are not capable of sustaining coherent and consistent proposals. On the other hand, cultural institutions depending on international organizations and independent foundations and associations have obtained best results on a medium term basis, with important projects for the conservation of the cultural heritage, the dissemination of national and international exchange, and to a lesser extent, training and fomenting of artistic creation.
Bolivia is a country with an important mainly folkloric dance tradition, which includes all social and cultural sectors, with aspects that are religious, geographical, ritual, related customs and habits, etc.
The development of dance for the stage has been restricted to small groups formed by middle and high class people. The main types of dance vary from classical ballet, stylized folkloric dance to modern dance.
There is no real state, municipal or cultural institution support for dance as a profession. Companies which are funded by the Vice-Ministry of Culture are: the Ballet Oficial de Bolivia, which works with classical language and the Ballet Folklórico Nacional. Municipal schools and universities from the main cities also benefit from a certain amount of support and have a basic amateur level.
As to education, there are no secondary school level or university level centres and even less specific courses which could contribute to technical or creative education.
In Bolivia there are very few independent companies which develop dance professionally and these mainly consist of dancers that have been educated abroad. The dance movement is concentrated basically in independent and state schools which usually develop folkloric dance and classical ballet, and on a smaller scale, modern dance and jazz. Nowadays, the majority of the performances are shows with students of these schools at the end of each course.
Stable dance school casts are usually made up of people who practice dance as a hobby and who abandon dance after a few years. Another group continues the relationship with dance by teaching and in the end a small group migrates to other countries to continue their education.
Contemporary dance in Bolivia
The main contemporary dance development centre is the city of Cochabamba. Here more than 25 years ago Melo Tomcich started using contemporary language in her shows. Her influence continued until the nineties, when new teachers appeared. These teachers later created the first independent dance companies with professional ambitions, the companies Vidanza and Atempo.
Others important references at the beginning of contemporary dance in Bolivia are Karen Schmidt and Katia Salazar. In the eighties, Karen created the first dance company in La Paz, Dragadanza. She introduced new propositions and influenced dancers’ new generation. In the same period, Katia developed important work by spreading contemporary techniques in the city of Santa Cruz. In La Paz this process is still in its initial phase with some choreographers and companies like Noreen Guzmán de Rojas, Maria José Rivera, Katak and Acanthe Danse presently generating an interesting movement.
The possibilities for performances are very small and there is not a big audience interested in contemporary dance. The work developed by artists is generally performed as a result of self-management. In the last years there have been some international festivals dedicated to dance such as the Festival Internacional Contemporáneo Andanza in La Paz and the Festival Internacional de Danza Contemporánea from Cochabamba; there is also the Festival Internacional de Teatro de Santa Cruz, which has included dance in its last editions, touring smaller villages in Santa Cruz.
Bolivia is in the midst of initiating a complicated process for the understanding, development and promotion of contemporary dance. There are still some basic requirements for growth that have to be met: the creation of audiences, incentives for technical, aesthetic and historic research; specialized criticism and publications, university level education, spaces for thought; local and international circuits for touring purposes, self-management and production training; greater levels of association, participation and commitment of all those involved; public policies oriented for promotion purposes, subsidies for creation and exchange, specific labor legislation, etc.
Text written by : Daniel Calderón, October 2007
Text updated by : Cie Gilles Jobin, August 2010