Interview with British choreographer Theo Clinkard on working with Cuban contemporary dancers

Since January, the company directed by maestro Miguel Iglesias has regrouped with a new cast of dancers, after several of its key figures left to pursue other projects.

Speaking with Granma International, Iglesias, who has led the DCC for over three decades, noted that new and "relatively inexperienced," dancers, "even some students undertaking their pre-professional training," have joined the company.

Committed to regularly updating its repertory, the DCC has been enriched not only by works from young Cuban choreographers, but also pieces by internationally renowned creators, such as Colombian-Belgian Anabelle López Ochoa, who gave us Reversible; Israeli Itzik Galill with Sombrisa; Swede Kenneth Kvamström's version of Carmen; Dutch Jean Linquen, creator of Compás and Folia; and Catalan Àngels Margarit with Otros Caprichos, to name a few.

Given the DCC's interest in constant renovation, the company has been participating in British Council sponsored initiative Islas Creativas (Creative Islands)for several years, about which maestro Iglesias offered details.

"We have a long-standing relationship with the British Council. Its one of our most stable partners. There are educational programs which we combine with workshops from which we are able to develop pieces that we then incorporate into our repertory. For example, Tangos cubanos by choreographer Billie Cowie; Demo-n/Crazy by Rafael Bonachela from Catalonia; Tocororo, fabula cubana, by stellar dancer Carlos Acosta; Restaurant el paso by Julio César Iglesias, and now Brit Theo Clinkard is premiering a piece with us and I am as interested in the staging as the process that every dancer has had to go through."

Theo Clinkard is a renowned dancer come choreographer, whose pieces have already received international recognition, and frequently explore the body's communicative potential. He already has 22 works to his name, including Somewhat still when seen from above, created in 2015 for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and The listening room, being premiered by the DCC.

Shortly before the last rehearsal, Clinkard spoke with GI in the interior courtyard of the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana, about the difference between working with German and Cuban dancers.

Theo Clinkard: "The Pina Bausch company is used to working and dancing in the style of the late amazing choreographer, the idea of a new process was strange to them. I had to work a lot and with great care in order to get them to think differently. Here in Cuba, however, the dancers have worked with many choreographers and are trained for different methods and processes. I was able to start quickly. They are smart and very curious, they are young and their minds are more flexible and open."

GI: Did you already have an idea of the piece you were going to create?

TC: I had an idea, but I wasn't sure until I met them and started to work with them, to experiment. After that I was able to say he'll do a solo, they'll do a duet, a trio, a group. Rather than creating an idea from my imagination, I like to watch and work with the dancers. I always have an open mind. I don't propose a piece to the dancers, I propose a conversation.

GI: The piece is entitled The listening room…

TC: Yes, so that the dancers and the audience listen and try to understand what they are seeing, everyone is in the same room, that is to say the same setting, they are together in the process. I not only look for beauty, but also to entice the audience, which isn't a single entity, but made up of individuals with different opinions.

GI: You are a renowned dancer who has branched out toward choreography. Do your pieces reflect the way you dance?

TC: Interesting question. When I started to choreograph I asked myself the same thing. I didn't want to do something similar to what I had danced before. I began to think, study ways to come up with an idea. There were various methods, but I wanted something more, to go somewhere new, and if I took from anything I had done previously it would be like going back to the past. I like to think about what's next and the present. However, I don't worry myself too much about doing something new, because it's practically impossible, but I try to ask myself the right questions. I don't want to create a formula, but rather work every piece in its context.

With twenty DCC dancers, The listening room, which according to Theo Clinkard is an abstract "almost experimental piece, like a laboratory," premiered May 20, in the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana's García Lorca Hall.

The British Council has announced a second edition of Islas Creativas for March 2017, while maestro Miguel Iglesias noted that one of his dreams would be to see choreographers such as Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant come to Cuba to create works with the DCC.

Original interview on Cubarte here