Paco was born in Otavalo, in the Imbabura province, Ecuador. He has been leading the Muyacan dance group for 46 years. The word muyacan is composed of Quichua expressions muyuntin and yawarkanchi, and it means “we are a circle of blood”. Around this idea, for 46 years the group has included Quichua people from the Imbabura area to create new dances, and to revive the gestures and the memory of ancestral societies, with the idea to understand who they are today. The group was formed with the aim to build a new face of Quichua, Andean and Imbaburean society.
INTERVIEW – may 2016
How did you get involved in Quichua dance?
I became involved in dance when I started studying at a school of Fine Arts. I studied means of plastic expression, like sculpture or painting, but my main concern was: why do people express themselves through dance? It is the first language. It allows people to tell about Human thinking and richness. I became especially interested in antique dances of the Imbabura area. I was interested in integrating a corporal language. And inside the School of Fine Arts of San Antonio, I organized a first group to do my little experiences. With school friends, I tried to work around popular dances. This gave birth to a first group, Yucanchi Yacta, which lasted three years. With it, we used all theoretical knowledge about history of arts, drawing, design, volume, use of space… The aim wasn’t to put this visual expression exactly into practice, but to use it in a scenic space, where the material became moving people and live music. It was a form of art that lasted only for the time of the performance.
Here in the country, there was neither any dance academy nor any dance-training center. That is why I came from a visual arts background toward dance. I came to dance from a personal interest, seeing dance as a mean to do social work with the Quichua community. Through a UNESCO project and Ecuador’s Andean Mission (la misión andina), I had the opportunity to get direct contact with Quichua people. With Indian women and men I built this muyuntin yawarkanchi, the circle of blood. The Muyacan group was then formed during the 1970 Inti Raymi [Winter solstice] celebrations. It was the first group actually involving Indians and dancing in proper Indian circumstances, with the aim to express what they actually felt. The first Muyacan performance was held on August 27th, 1971, after about one year after its foundation. We performed in front of local audiences, here in Ibarra. Later, we performed in all the country’s provinces. And later on, we became known at international level and performed in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and other countries. We were defending a vision of what is Indian dance, made by people who not only have the legitimacy of being Indians, but also who are socially involved, promoting ethics and their own values. They were showing what it is to assume oneself as a Quichua in a society that, in the 70’s, suffered of discrimination and xenophobia; a society that marginalized Quichuas and other Indians, because they were seen as an “under-cultural” ethnic group. Therefore, we worked to change this vision through dignity and study, through struggle and through arts, music, and dance.
After this I continued my studies at the Central University, receiving classes from some wonderful Masters who gave me major technical and theoretical knowledge about movement and design. They were people who also worked with dance. Thanks to them, I learned other elements and other codes that are specific to contemporary dance, and that allowed us to discover and build a new way of expressing the Andean body. This also allowed us to explore Andean concepts of space and time. With all these resources were theoretical and anthropological basis for the Muyacan group to become a major investigator. We were looking for new ways of expression, with the aim to create new Andean dance that communicates what is happening in the Andean world.
Later as well, we explored Andean religion and symbols that have always existed in Andean dance and music. Over the past 46 years, we got deeper into understanding anthropology, religion and society. We have always promoted a deep respect to the other one, to what’s different. These communities have kept stories of the origins. We also explored a great number of gestures and behavioral elements that were essential in our creative process. That was an experimental process in the dance field, using resources from contemporary dance.
Practically, Muyacan inaugurated a style of ethno-contemporary dance. It is a dance where traditional and contemporary elements were combined to create a cultural fusion. This is being manifested in our choreographic design, which has become a reference in Ecuadorian dance. The more we created, the more we investigated. This has become a way of life. In this regard, Muyacan and La Casa Que Baila [Muyacan’s rehearsal place] have become a permanent laboratory where different generations have come and gone over the past 46 years. These people have taken dance as a resource to build their own discourse. This is essential to keep the memory living, and above all to keep being present.
What makes the Muyacan dance group special?
We work to get away from stereotypes, from what is called in colonial terms “folklore”. The folklore came in the country as a snob trend and deteriorated various popular events, by commercializing them, especially in the dance area. That is why we have investigated popular memory, historical facts and cultural anthropology about ways to celebrate festive times, which are very particular in the Andean world. It was thus important to us to question ourselves, and to investigate dance in the first place as a language, as a way to communicate. And on a second level, to investigate the body, which is the material with which people express themselves. This also led us to think about the structure of the Andean body, which is completely different to how the body is conceived in European dance. We had to unlearn the movements of academic dance, of ballet, because these are not proper resources to express what is Andean. Therefore, in the Muyacan group was implemented a new way of understanding the dancing body, as well as new ways of building the movement, of using the space in accordance with the Andean world.
The latter has specific concepts about time and space, completely different to the Western ones. It is constituted of Pacha, God, a universal deity, present in three levels. The upper world is anampacha, where are the deities, where are the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the constellations, the rays of light, the rain, the rainbow; it is the place where are the supreme deities. Then, there’s a middle level, kaipacha, here and now; it is what reunites man and woman, animals, plants, nature. And then, a third level called ukupacha, the infra-terrestrial world; it is inhabited by the roots, the ancestors; it is where tubercles develop, where the bases of the mountains are sitting; and also it comprises of all the marine world, it encloses the mysteries inside the waters and the earth. These three levels include a great chakana, the symbol of an interconnecting bridge. The three levels are not really separated, but rather they meet in the kaipi, the here and now. This makes complementarity, reciprocity, and the idea of cycle essential in the Andean world. This is basis of Andean, Amazonian, Aymara and Quichua thinking.
Using these concepts, we built a notion of movement, rhythm and design, which translates in the choreography. We use body resources as well as contemporary elements that allow us to express the Andean subjectivity. All this constitutes a language that has an animist identity, that conveys concepts of astronomic and agricultural elements, social relations and protocols.
What are you achieving with Muyacan?
We create dance narratives that tell what is happening in contemporary Andean-Quichua society. We perform in front of audiences, with the aim to have them think, in turn, about what is Andean dance and about their ancestors, to have them wake up their genetic memory and amplify individual memories. Through this we hope to build dynamic relations and to help organize a social order in a contemporary way. A political and ideological order that involves today’s Andean-Quichua societies. In this idea, dance constitutes a tool to impact social and political processes, in a very practical way.
Why is it important to preserve and to make Andean dance evolve?
Because nothing in the arts is as dynamic as music and dance. Because to the Muyacan group it has been extremely important to constantly renew itself and to be a proof of how dynamic traditions can be. Because tradition isn’t a static element or a fossil. When we talk about tradition as a fossil, that is when appears this perverse and colonialist term, the “folklore”. Muyacan has permanently questioned the “folklore” reality. The folklore has been a way of hindering any process of mental or cognitive development, any process of social and economical inclusion.
We understand that, if society is dynamic and struggling for excellence, then its cultural products are evolving. A society’s understanding of the world influences its language, its way of communicating. In this regard, the Muyacan group created a fertile ground to allow dance expressions to evolve in Quichua communities. In diverse countries, including Ecuador, new movements and new possibilities have emerged by working with native people. A number of communities around the country took our explorations as basis to create new music and new dance.
We believe that we, as dynamic beings, we have the duty to leave a testimony of what we feel and what we live now. And this without forgetting the past. Because for us, the past is basis. It allows us to go backwards and to innovate. To make new, we have to start from tradition.
How do you envision the future of indigenous dance?
I believe it is participating in the creation of a national Andean dance. It is also participating in building an afro-Ecuatorian, an afro-Peruvian, an afro-Bolivian dance, and an Aymara-Quichua dance… because these are societies that share same characteristics. There is now a diversity of new music and new dance forms in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. This shows that we are a dynamic society.
What have been your challenges over the years?
Muyacan was formed as an alternative, at the margins of the hegemonic culture. It was the cultural response that arose from the underground. It was born during historical social moments, and it arose as a social and political movement in addition to its artistic aspect. The first generations that composed the group were involved in society, they wanted to express their culture inside a society that had marginalized, exploited and ignored them. We had to work by passion. Little by little, the dominant culture started recognizing what was happening in the arts here.
Muyacan was not only a space where to learn traditional dance, but it was above all a space to think, to grow intellectually, and to grow in a political way.
The Muyacan group has always been an autonomous group. It never depended on any governmental institution, and it never hoped to receive any support from the State. The government recognized us, because of the artistic quality of our work. It invited us to represent Ecuador outside the country. Different generations have promoted Imbaburean dance and music in many places around the world. By doing this, they created a new place for indigenous music and dance in the world. Muyacan also received international recognition on various occasions, acknowledging the way it integrated syncretic religious rituals in its choreography.
By staying independent from any official institution, Muyacan was able to work without any requirement, but rather only with its members’ sensibilities.
Do you have a message for a world?
We are a living culture. We build a dance narrative that transmits the dignity of the Andean body. We want to tell the world who we are.
It is the same for all minorities, for all marginalized societies that are considered subcultures around the world. I want to tell them that we have so much dignity and so much richness in terms of knowledge, memory and culture, that we can identify ourselves with them. We give them a fraternal hug. The men, the societies are unique. We want to create a bridge between Ecuador and the huge diversity of societies that exist all over the world, and especially with native societies. All over the world there are people working with the same passion, and that’s why we have to fraternize spiritually. We are in a bigger, a more universal muyuntin yawarkanchi, a circle of blood.
I want to tell people that we have to promote reconciliation and we have to move forward. The future is ours. The cultures that exist today have a wonderful past. I wish you luck, hugs, solidarity, struggle, social wisdom, arts and beauty… The best music, the best dance and the best future for all native societies. You are at the core of the best future that can happen in the world.
PORTFOLIO – A MUYACAN REHEARSAL