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Profile of Alvaro Restrepo
Alvaro Restrepo, a Colombian dancer and choreographer, could have pursued his career anywhere in the worldin New York, where he was trained, or in Europe, where he first made his mark. But in 1993, he decided to sacrifice all this to introduce modern dance to Colombiawhere the discipline was barely knownand to teach it to disadvantaged children. Restrepo teamed up with Marie-France Delieuvin, programme director at the National Centre for Modern Dance in Angers, France, and their joint endeavour has produced astonishing results.
In 1997, four years after sowing the seeds of the new art form in Bogotá and Cali, they launched El Puente (The Bridge), which reached Cartagena a few months later. The city where Restrepo was born 42 years ago is a historic tourist centre featured on UNESCOs World Heritage List, but it cannot hide a darker side: two-thirds of its 700,000 inhabitants live below the poverty line. Restrepo and Delieuvins bridge is two-way. It has led a pair of dedicated performers to the outskirts of one of Cartagenas most wretched slums, while also linking the project to professionals in Europe and Latin America through festivals and exchanges.
In 1997 and 1998, Restrepo began a programme of awareness training at Inem College in Cartagena. After a few months, through a kind of natural selection that left only those determined to take part in a creative project, 22 of the children qualified for membership in the Experimental Troupe of the Academy of the Body.
From outcasts to performers driven on by their poverty sticken backgrounds, the chosen boys and girlsnow more mature, with deeper voices and changed bodiesare often tempted to shirk off school to rehearse their new dance projects. The children have come to understand that they could lead creative lives, ever since Restrepo, with unshakeable faith and endurance, arrived in their midst and began mounting shows with them that have started to attract public acclaim.
Besides training its members, the El Puente troupe has also attained high professional standards, while some former members have become dance teachers themselves. After their performances abroad, including one in Paris in 2000, the children returned to the poverty of their tiny homes to grapple once more with life in the slums. But this time they came back with the confidence of having started to do something special in their lives. Álvaro Restrepo has been named as the new Director and Curator of Laokoon Hamburg´s International Dance and Theatre Festival in Kampnagel, Germany, in 2005-2006.
Photograph, Courtesy of León Darío Peláez