Ramiro Guerra (Havana, 1922), a leading figure in the world of Cuban dance, is being honored on his 95th birthday with the premier of the documentary Mi vida la danza by director Alina Morante Lima.
The presentation and screening of the film in Havana’s Llauradó Hall saw the presence of the honoree himself, lively and good-humored as ever, who as well as having been a dancer and choreographer is also a researcher, essayist and critic.
Timeless, determined, coherent, an originator and a maestroare just some of the adjectives that have been lavished upon him throughout his long life, while his prolific career has been recognized with National Prizes for Dance, Artistic Education and Cultural Research.
During his long career in dance, which began in the 1940s and continues to date, Ramiro Guerra left an indelible mark on Contemporary Dance of Cuba, a company that he founded, the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), the Ballet of Camagüey, and as a teacher working with many of the dance companies and groups which exist in Cuba today. It is for good reason therefore that he is considered to be the Father of Dance on the island.
The documentary Mi vida la danza is structured around interviews with Ramiro Guerra and testimonies from some of his students (Santiago Alfonso and Roberto Pérez León), and also includes archival images and footage of his various choreographies.
Speaking to Granma International, filmmaker Alina Morante noted that the historic material was sourced from the National Performing Arts Council (CNAE) archives, founded by Ramiro himself, as well as that provided by Lisette Hernández, who worked as an advisor on Mi vida la danza and made a documentary about maestro Ramiro 25 years ago, as she noted in the Llauradó Hall.
Morante went on to note that the whole process took about one year and the interviews were conducted in Guerra’s apartment on the 14th floor of a building in the Havana municipality of El Cerro, home to two other National Prize for Dance winners: Zenaida Armenteros, a legendary figure from the Conjunto Folklórico and one of Guerra’s students, Rosario Cárdenas.
She recalled that the documentary started off as a small research project which continued to grow and “A year ago we began to film. The project only features two people: Yadira Herrera, assistant director and producer, and myself, and I did the photography, editing and script. The work is a co-production between CNAE and our producer Almargen.”
This is not the first documentary Morante has made with the Council. “I’ve been making audiovisuals featuring personalities from the world of performing arts for seven years; 12 in total, including on actor Mario Balmaseda, playwrights Abelardo Estorino (1925 –2013) and Eugenio Hernández Espinosa, as well as director Carlos Celdrán (all National Prize for Theater winners ).”
THE LIFE AND WORK OF RAMIRO GUERRA
For Mi vida la danza, the filmmaker draws on Ramiro Guerra’s memories presenting them just as he recalls them: happy, cheerful, free-flowing and non-linear.
He talks about his introduction to ballet at Pro Arte Musical, after he was taken there by a “girlfriend that I had and who studied with ballet maestroNikolai Yavorsky.”
He recalls that he took his first steps in the world of dance under the guidance of Russian Professor Nina Verchinina, an important figure in Colonel Wassily de Basil’s Ballet Russe, and how with this company he went on a tour of Brazilian cities in 1946, including Río de Janeiro, São Paulo and Pernambuco, before heading to the United States.
At this point he talks in depth about his interest in meeting Martha Graham and receiving classes at her Contemporary Dance Center. “I could only afford a week of classes, but in reality, I just wanted Martha to see me dance,” he notes.
Guerra was able to complete a short course, after which he asked the renowned choreographer if the Center offered longer scholarship programs. Graham told him that it didn’t, but that he could attend classes free of charge. “For two years I received classes from the best teacher I have ever had,” although in the documentary he also acknowledges the impact on his development of Alberto Alonso (1917-2008, one of the founders of the National Ballet of Cuba) and Mexican Elena Noriega (creator of Huapango).
Ramiro Guerra also talks about the work of Dr. Isabel Monal, director of the National Theater of Cuba, who “opened the way for me to create the Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna” on September 25, 1959, “of which I was a member together with 30 other dancers: 10 Black, 10 White and 10 Mixed-Race. From there emerged Eduardo Rivero, Gerardo Lastra, Luz María Collazo, Eddy Veitía…” (who later became emblematic names on the Cuban dance scene).
Some of his most significant works include Suite Yoruba (1960), considered to be his crowning achievement; Impromptu galante (1970); Decálogo del Apocalipsis(1971), “which was never premiered, but was staged,” meanwhile the documentary also features photos of dancers in the grounds of the National Theater, and performing other classics such as Mulato, Mambí, El milagro de Anaquillé, Auto sacramental, La rebambaramba, Orfeo antillano, Medea y los negreros, and Ceremonial de la danza.
Throughout his career as a choreographer Guerra has staged various works for other Cuban companies such as the BNC, Folklórico Nacional, Teatro de Pantomima, Ballet of Camagüey, and Danza Voluminosa, with titles such as Crónica nupcial, Refranes, dicharachos y trabalenguas, Tríptico oriental, El reino de este mundo, and ¿Fedra?
In the film, Ramiro Guerra states that “Once Fernando Alonso invited me to Camagüey to stage the show The Song of the Nightingale… the first I created for the Alicia Alonso Ballet was Toque (1952) with music by Argeliers León.”
Also noteworthy are his writings on dance, including Apreciación de la Danza, Calibán Danzante, Coordenadas Danzarias, Eros Baila and El síndrome del placer.
Meanwhile, Mi vida la danza, by Alina Morante Lima, offers viewers an interesting exploration of the admirable life and work of maestro Ramiro Guerra.