AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Although traveling to Cuba is quite difficult for everyone, it is particularly problematic for those who, like myself [Manzor-Coats], were born there. I returned to Cuba to attend Havana's VI Festival Internacional de Teatro (FIT) which took place 10-19 September 1993, and to participate in the "Theatre and Ritual" workshop and seminar sponsored by the Escuela Internacional de Teatro de America Latina y del Caribe (EITALC, see Epstein 1990).(1) I had returned to Cuba previously in 1986, during perhaps the revolution's high point economically as well as culturally. Many of the best new theatre groups now participating at FIT were forming then. Playwrights and theatre collectives, along with plastic artists, were reconsidering the relationship between theatrical language and content. The work of Flora Lauten's Teatro Buendia and Victor Varela's Teatro del Obstaculo, primarily, began a theatrical renovation which transformed theatre into a public forum for an audience that felt "marginalized": young people. These young people, having lived through the achievements of the revolution, demanded a form of expression that was different from those characteristic of the "official voice of the Revolution."(2) The heroic posture of the hombre nuevo (new man), a posture which had been instrumental for the revolution, was being questioned (see Muguercia 1991). Thus, the cultural spheres of theatre and visual arts became sites of critical rearticulation, displacing the state (see Martin 1994 and Balino Cedre 1994).
My first reencounter with Cuba meant that I had found a utopic "home" where I could belong but unfortunately did not, and a project in which I could only participate from a distance. In 1993, I found the remnants of that project and a shattered home I had refused to acknowledge. However, within the remains, I also found those who were still anxious to revise and revitalize that project as well as those who were eager to reconstruct the splintered pieces.
Ines Maria Martiatu Terry, coauthor of this essay, is one of those people. She is one of the foremost Cuban critics specializing in Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean cultures. We met at the workshops in Machurrucutu and immediately became friends. Lo curioso fue que nadie nos presento y no recuerdo cual de las dos se identifico primero. La experiencia misma del taller y el interes de Lillian por el teatro que se hace aqui Y alla, anudaron una amistad, una casi complicidad como de gente que se conoce de toda la vida. (The interesting thing is that we were not introduced by anybody and we do not remember which of us first identified herself. The experience at the workshop and Manzor-Coats's interest in the Cuban theatrical practice from both shores helped to strengthen a friendship which is now almost a complicity characteristic of people who have always known each other.) We found that, while we held different points of views about some things, we agreed upon many others. Martiatu Terry had seen most of the Cuban plays of the festival and knew all the directors, playwrights, and plays dealing with Afro-Cuban rituals.
Aware of the many political and ideological difficulties surrounding attempted dialogs among the communities of the Cuban diaspora, we decided we would not let these get in the way of our project;(3) nor would the constant blackouts in Havana or the U.S. embargo, which make communication between Cuba and the U.S. practically impossible. Relying on real and virtual electronic friends and acquaintances, very much like the bygone "Pony Express," we have written this review essay which is the first coproduction by Cuban critics from both shores.
Needless to say, the 1993 FIT took place in spite of an economic situation not at all fit for an international festival of its kind; the material and financial resources were minimal. For that reason, only a small number of international groups (in comparison to previous FIT gatherings) participated in the festival. Yet, in spite of the challenges and obstacles, there were more shows and theatres from within Cuba participating than in years past. There were 23 international theatre groups from Latin America, Europe, and the United States. The Cuban theatre groups participating were selected from shows produced all over the island since the previous festival in 1991. In 1993, 64 national theatre groups brought their work; over 100 shows represented the broad spectrum of theatre and performance in contemporary Cuba. Pantomime, dance-theatre, unipersonals, folklore, classical theatre, experimental theatre, children's theatre: all were staged in the 29 spaces that were part of the festival. The Teatro Nacional opened the doors of the Avellaneda and Covarrubias rooms; the Teatro Mella offered its main stage and its gardens; Havana's Gran Teatro made available three of its stages: the Garcia Lorca, Antonin Artaud, and Alejo Carpentier. The Brecht Cultural Center, the Sala Alternativa, and the welcoming Cafe Teatro all opened their smaller spaces to the festival; shows were also staged at the Hubert de Blank, El Sotano, Teatro Buendia, Teatro del Obstaculo, and in eight alternative outdoor spaces.
The lack of material resources was offset by the overwhelming hospitality and generosity of the Cuban organizers, theatre critics, theatre groups, and the Cuban audience; they welcomed the international participants and were eager to show and share the diversity of styles and expressive languages comprising contemporary Cuban theatre. The festival participants and attendants were divided into two groups: international and national guests. Our badges of different colors indicated our origins and permitted us entry into the shows.
Entrance into the theatres was by no means guaranteed. The lines outside were very long, perhaps comparable to a film premiere here in the U.S. Although most spaces were filled to capacity and beyond--people stood up or sat on the floor in the smaller spaces--the international guests rarely had any problems of entry. Some theatres had separate reserved seating; others had different lines for different color badges. At times, this became a problem if you were attending a show with a Cuban colleague. For some of us, this hospitality and special treatment was embarrassing. Even if we arrived at the last minute, via special buses or taxis, we were able to go ahead of the Cubans in line, most of whom had arrived on foot or bicycle.
Without a doubt, the real protagonist of this festival was the Cuban audience. They were able to overcome transportation obstacles, move from one space to another, and face these "status" differences with the very Cuban attitude of choteo: making fun of everything and everyone (see Manach 1991; Manzor-Coats 1994a, 1994b; and Suarez Duran 1994). Always friendly and with sardonic humor, more than one person referred to our badges as "diplo-badges" or "diplo-tickets." (The reference here is to the so-called diplotiendas, stores originally set up for members of the diplomatic delegations, where now anyone with dollars can purchase items unavailable in the Cuban market.) In many ways, the quotidian performances outside the theatres echoed the ones onstage. The Cuban audience, managing the various daily obstacles and completely filling the theatres, participated in a special way in each and every play we attended; they were proof that the contemporary Cuban stage is indeed a multifaceted space of discovery and reflection (see FIT 1993 and Garcia Abreu 1993a).
The Cuban productions presented the most interesting and polemical stage proposals at FIT. Recent experimental currents have resulted in innovative dramaturgies and stagings as well as new pedagogies that search for alternative approaches to the actor's formation. Although we cannot cover all of the FIT productions nor the many tendencies of contemporary Cuban theatre, we will try to present a survey and critique of the productions we found to be most interesting and representative of the many theatres produced on the island.
As may be expected, experimentation with traditions of African origin and alternative theatricalities are some of the salient characteristics of the contemporary Cuban stage (see Martiatu Terry 1992, 1993a, 1993b). At FIT, this was evident in a number of performances, such as Elaine Centeno's La piedra de Elliot (Elliot's Stone) by the group Teatro Rita Montaner and Gerardo Fulleda Leon's Chago de Guisa (Chago from Guisa) by Teatro Caribeno.
Centeno's La piedra de Elliot came as a surprise to most people given the fact that this was her graduation project at the Instituto Superior del Arte (ISA, Cuba's most prestigious art school). Centeno's ritual theatre brought to the audience rather strange events: the recovery of a river stone from the sea by the goddess Yemaya Olokun, Simon's surprise upon his encounter with the goddess, Elliot's recognition of his ancestors after receiving the stone from one of them, Ochun's transformation into a goddess after obtaining the gift of revelation, which she loses at the end. In La piedra the protagonist's teleological worries and his ability to perceive the magic inherent in his surroundings were placed at the center of the dramatic conflict. His problem lay in finding an equilibrium between logic, his most urgent earthly desires, and mystery, the hidden side of events one must accept without question.
The staging was envisioned so as to integrate it with the natural elements of the open surroundings. It was staged at one of FIT's most suggestive spaces, the patio of the National Theatre. The well-known playwright, Gerardo Fulleda Leon, assumed the challenge of this mise-en-scene, and worked with the group which he directs, the Teatro Rita Montaner. This collective was founded in 1962 to promote contemporary Cuban drama. It has created the prestigious Rolando Ferrer competition for unpublished plays; the prize is the staging of the selected play by the group.(4) In La piedra, Fulleda Leon was able to transmit, without illustrating, the spirit of the play. The actors moved among the trees in the patio, descended from roofs, and utilized the outdoor elements as props for both entrances and sudden disappearances. The actors' vocal rhythms and body movements were suggestive of the rhythms and movements associated with rituals for both Yemaya Olokun and Ochun. Most of the actors performed with the professionalism expected from experienced actors; others were hesitant and insecure or had problems with voice projection.
Chago de Guisa, which won the coveted Casa de las Americas prize for theatre in 1989, is a milestone in Afro-Cuban theatre. It is a text with transcendental aims which abandons the superficial illustration of myths or rituals. It is also a mestizo (hybrid) text in its language--a poetically rendered Spanish inflected by Yoruba and Bantu, it uncovers different angles of our reality. Chago, while inspired by the legend of Ochosi (Yoruba's hunting god), does not present this god as an archetype. Instead, it constructs the hero/god as a man within a specific historical context and with psychological characterizations. Using a bildungsroman trajectory, it follows the development of a young boy who must grow and mature during a voyage of initiation. Chago's search for knowledge leads him to a philosophical questioning about life and death, and the nature of revealed mysteries.
Tony Diaz directed Chago with the collective Teatro Caribeno. Founded in 1990 by Eugenio Hernandez Espinosa, one of Cuba's foremost playwrights, Teatro Caribeno bases its gestural, textual, and visual codes on the myths and legends of Afro-Caribbean culture. Diaz's staging was particularly noteworthy for its stage design. The play takes place in a palenque (village) of maroon slaves in the 19th century and Diaz …