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Portrait of Victoria Santa Cruz

In 1922 Victoria Santa Cruz was born in Lima as the eighth of ten children in a family of black artists, musicians, and intellectuals. Santa Cruz's mother taught young Victoria marinera and other criollo dances. Her father, raised during his adolescence in the United States, shared his knowledge of European classical music and the works of Shakespeare. In 1958, together with her younger brother Nicomedes, she cofounded the first black theater company in Peru, Cumanana, which she codirected until 1961. The three-act musical play Malató (1961)—which she wrote, choreographed, and staged—revealed "the historically prevalent intimate relations between slave and master that were omitted from the official history of Peruvian haciendas and biological mestizaje."# It also sought to reconstruct nearly forgotten black religious practices. During her time with Cumanana, Santa Cruz began to develop her pedagogical method of self-discovery and recuperation of culture based on internal rhythm and what she called ancestral memory.# Her lifelong aim was to awaken black consciousness and pride in Peru.

Between 1961 and 1965 she studied theater and choreography in Paris at the Université du Théâtre des Nations and École Supérieur des Études Chorégraphiques with such distinguished professors as the actor Jean-Louis Barrault, the playwright Eugène Ionesco, and the choreographer Maurice Béjart. While in France she also became a sought-after costume designer, visited Africa for the first time, and staged the ballet La muñeca negra (The black doll, ca. 1965). On her return to Peru in 1966, she founded the group Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú, which performed in Lima and on Peruvian television and toured internationally, including at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. During the late 1960s Santa Cruz re-created such seminal Afro-Peruvian dance forms as landó and zamacueca. In 1969, under the self-proclaimed Revolutionary Government of the Peruvian Military Forces, she was appointed director of the newly established Escuela Nacional de Folklore, and in 1973 she became director of the Conjunto Nacional de Folklore. In the 1970s the company toured extensively throughout Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Santa Cruz also published the magazine Folklore and wrote extensively. When the company disbanded in 1982, she took a position as a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She was eventually awarded tenure and taught there until her retirement in 1999. She died in 2014 in Lima and, in recognition of her contributions, was laid in state at the Museo de la Nación there.

—Dorota Bizcel

Selected Performances and Recordings

1961 Malató, Lima

ca. 1965 La muñeca negra, Paris

1972 Un marido paciente, Lima

1982 Adios al Perú, Lima

1995 Ritmos y aires afroperuanas (CD)

Selected Bibliography

Feldman, Heidi Carolyn. "Cumana and the Ancestral Memories of Victoria Santa Cruz." In Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific, 49–82. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

Jones, Marcus D., Mónica Carrillo, and Ana Martinez. "An Interview with Victoria Santa Cruz." Callaloo 34 (Spring 2011): 304–8.

Revollar, Pilar. "Victoria Santa Cruz y la danza prohibida." Ella 43 (October 28, 1967): 6–7.

Santa Cruz Gamarra, Victoria. Ritmo: El eterno organizador. Lima: COPÉand Departamento de Relaciones Públicas de PetroPerú, 2004.

Suárez Radillo, Carlos Miguel. "El negro y su encuentro de sí mismo a través del teatro en el Perú." In Lo social en el teatro hispanoamericano contemporáneo, 275–96. Caracas: Equinoccio, 1976.