Mexico is a Country with an important dance history in general, and contemporary dance, in particular. This history gave birth to a rich varied pluralistic dance movement, which even with the countries strong cultural centralization, has roots already in various cities of the national territory to such an extent that, just to mention some names, there is Mexico City, Monterrey, Mérida, Oaxaca, Mazatlán, Querétaro, Jalapa, Hermosillo, San Luis Potosí, Culiacán, Tijuana and Guadalajara, centres with constant dance activity.
There is a broad national festival network dedicated only to dance, and even though this was born as an institutional project, it responds to an expressed need of the contemporary dance community in the country, which demanded a mechanism that could allow them to know about their work all over the national territory. Little by little, those festivals have been consolidated and nowadays have resources which may include international companies. This network is divided by geographic regions. The northeast network is the one with greatest impact, quality and prestige at national and international level. Now they are thinking about changing the profile of those festivals, reducing their period of time in order to maintain dance programmes during the whole year with the money saved with this change.
There are also in every province international performing arts festivals with important resources which include local and foreign dance groups in their programme.
It is worth mentioning the International Festival Cervantino and the Festival of the Historic Centre of Mexico City, which are two of the most important internationally renowned cultural events with dance. Thanks to the financial support received by those festivals, famous companies like those of Bill T. Jones, Marie Jouinard, Pina Baush, Emio Greco, Wim Vandekeybus, Maurice Béjart, amongst others, have been able to show their work to the Mexican public.
The new generations of creators are building their own options to show their work and companies. In the last years independent festivals emerged like the Festival Teatro del Cuerpo, Festival Red Serpiente, Festival Danza Extrema and the Festival Internacional de Danza y Medios Electrónicos with public and private financial support ended up giving a new mobility to dance, with new forms in terms of programmes and are creating new audiences through playful methods like open air performances, in alternative forums or in happenings in the forest.
Theatres which have dance programmes usually have high tech technology and are in important cultural centres. In Mexico City: the Unidad Artística y Cultural del Bosque del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA); the Centro Cultural Universitario de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM); the Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART); and in the cities in the interior: the Centro Cultural Tijuana and the various government owned centres, the Centros Estatales de las Artes; apart form that, each capital from the different states has a grand theatre where various cultural activities are organized, including dance. The majority of those buildings have been built in colonial times or in the XIXth century and that is why they are considered architectural jewels. It is important to mention that the majority of the capitals (with the exception of Mexico DF) have a professional theatre, but, nevertheless, there are no regular dance performances during the year, except during the festivals.
Contemporary Mexican dance has various internationally renowned artists, like the Company Tania Pérez-Salas, Delfos Contemporary dance, Quiatora Monorriel, The Manga danza and video co., Antares, The Lágrima, The Cuerpo Mutable, Alicia Sánchez Company, Apoc Danza, Contempodanza, Barro Rojo, Contradanza, etc. Constantly a small number of national companies participates in international festivals or in the various cultural activities developed by the Mexican government abroad through its embassies. There is no solid strategy which allows local companies a greater presence abroad; in this sense many actions have been implemented like Puerta de las Américas an international “performing arts” market, but the high costs of its implementation makes it less feasible; other mechanisms are the economic supports to bi-national projects; but in general, touring is usually under the responsibility of each company and there is not always official support.
In order to support choreographic creativity, Mexico has a national scholarship program which distributes scholarships not only to dancers who wish to improve their technical skills, but also to choreographers and companies with different histories. Mexico en Escena is a project that was created recently and offers an important economic support to professional companies with the idea that they may be consolidated and that sustainable projects might emerge from it. Due to the insufficient amount of those sponsorships, the majority of Mexican groups still has not been able to have regular activities, even though some companies managed to have continuous projects. Thanks to this scholarship program, Mexican choreographers have been able to travel to other countries to collaborate in creative projects in Canada, USA, Chile, Ecuador or Venezuela, just to mention some of the countries with which Mexico maintains a constant dance cultural exchange.
To understand the main features and contradictions of the Mexican contemporary dance, it is necessary to keep in mind some initial conditions. Our dance was the result of some of the artistic and symbolic effects of the revolutionary movement of the beginning of the XXth century and its repercussions on state policies. As a result of the revolution, the State stimulated and consolidated the most important cultural policies of their time, even on a world wide level. As a result of that, dance received significant support with governmental measures which ended up creating responsible institutions for the development of dance; dance schools and academies were founded which were in charge of the professional training of dancers , choreographers and teachers; dance companies were founded covering areas like folklore, modern dance and ballet. They toured the whole country and the world showing through body and movement a Mexico with a fusion of modernity and tradition expressed in new forms.
Important international artists based themselves in Mexico and found there the space to express their creativity. Amongst them it is worth mentioning the North-American choreographers Anna Sokolov and Waldeen as some of the most significant personalities who contributed to shape modern Mexican dance. From this period are also Nellie Campobello, who created mass ballets; Miguel Covarrubias, a Mexican intellectual and politician who gave impulse to create various cultural institutions in the country which benefited dance; and mainly Guillermina Bravo, director and founder of the Ballet Nacional de Mexico, the most important modern dance company in the country which created the foundation for dance to become nationally practiced. Apart form these names, it would be important to add Raúl Flores Canelo, the founder of the Ballet Independiente, who developed a bridge between aesthetics and the concerns of the so-called “golden age” of the modern Mexican dance and the dance formulas of the choreographers of the eighties. José Limón deserves especially to be mentioned as a Mexican dancer and choreographer who developed his work in the United States and who also participated in the artistic and didactic tasks of our dance.
During the whole of the XX th century, various generations of dancers and choreographers built the history of an art that was strongly rooted on popular demands; first came the nationalist movement, followed by the dance created in the 80ties when young creators made a revolution in the panorama and opened Mexico to the world until today, when aesthetics is predominant.
In general terms, as for State policies, three great cultural management periods can be mentioned which created a strong impact on our dance: 1) the “nationalist-revolutionary” model which implied the creation of the institutional support of our dance (from the 30ties to the end of the 70ties) , 2) the model of the “system of arts” which expected the “modernization”, “optimization” and demarcation of the governmental support to the arts through the creation of the FONCA and the CONACULTA (end of the 80ties) and 3) the actual “management” model, which pretends to react to culture with profitability criteria and “efficacy” (from the midst 90ties till today). The actual predominance of the management criteria is, to a certain extent, creating difficulties for the development of our dance, because it is creating impacts on what has already been conquered through the application of former cultural management models. For example, the conflict between the rights that the State should assure to the production and the distribution of the work and the abandonment of the social obligations of the State implicit in the neo-liberal logics explains significantly the present contradictions and difficulties of our dance.
It is under this complex and contradictory circumstance that it is necessary to contemplate, and harmonize the features of our dance and of the cultural policies of the State, as described underneath.The relatively easy access to culture for the majority of the population is an important task developed by cultural institutions in Mexico and this is possible due to the fact that it is entirely financed by the government, even though recently there have been many private institutions investing also in cultural projects. In relation to dance, seasons have generally low prices for the public and many of the dance festivals in the country are free of charge for all activities. Nevertheless, dance audiences are small if compared to other arts, and a lot is due to the fact that dance receives less funding. This trend is changing nevertheless, since there are every time more scholarships and supports given to choreographers and dancers, even though strategies to create more audiences are still a weak point.
In order to train choreographers and dancers, Mexico has arts schools covering various educational levels. The INBA –Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes - has 4 artistic initiation centres; 12 arts high school diplomas distributed through 10 states of the country and 6 professional schools which train choreographers, teachers and dancers in classical ballet, folkloric dance and contemporary dance. 17 universities and high education centres in the country have dance bachelor’s degrees, 9 of them are public and 8 are private. The existence of these educational centres has given Mexican dancers a high technical level which allows them to work in famous international companies. Nevertheless, even though the training of choreographers has been positive, it is necessary to update the contents of the curriculum of the schools and work intensively with the teachers in order to put them in contact with the new trends of dance in order to create once more a dialogue with the complexity of the contemporary world.
The Centro Nacional de Investigación y Documentación de la Danza “José Limón”, is the Institute responsible nationwide for elaborating theoretical material on dance. It promotes an encompassing thought on dance and tries to establish academic links between the different schools, companies and institutions in the country and abroad. It has more than 100 edited titles, including research done by the researchers of the centre, as well as translations of fundamental work for contemporary dance, digital libraries, CD ROMs and videos, apart from activities such as international meetings, courses, workshops and permanent seminars on theory.
The theory on contemporary dance, even without creating enough impact on the main academic institutions, has gained in terms of depth. It is worth mentioning the dancers and the choreographers themselves, particularly women, who have become dance theoreticians. I order to do that, they had to qualify in areas like anthropology, history, psycho-analysis, gender studies, philosophy and pedagogy. This allowed them to research a broad scope of practices of our dance. To resume, the following research areas are worth mentioning: studies related to history, gender, the relationship between dance and power, to the body and poetics.
Nowadays, Mexican contemporary dance faces a broad discussion about its social role and its new ways of understanding choreographic art. The high level achieved by various artists, demonstrates that Mexican dance requires more governmental budgetary support and a firm policy which would allow it to become part of the main international forums. And here lies the main challenge for our dance today: a lot has been achieved and it is necessary to support it, even if it goes against the present cultural management criteria.
Text by: Hayde Lachino and Javier Contreras V., April 2008
With information of : the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Coordinación Nacional de Danza and the Centro Nacional de Investigación de la Danza “José Limón”