ISRAEL GALVÁN, FLAMENCO BAILAOR. INTERVIEW
“I devote more attention
to the spiritual than the physical”
Silvia Calado. Madrid, May 2011
Translation: Joseph Kopec
Photos: Daniel Muñoz
My interview with Israel Galván is an open process, like his shows. It began a few days before he premiered ‘La Metamorfosis’ at Seville’s 2000 Bienal, when we conversed in front of my cassette recorder between an olive grove and a hen coop, next to the workshop where, out there by Aljarafe, the Kafkaesque wall was being built. And whenever we talk to each other again, we laugh about that first interview. It had already been a year since the last one, when he premiered “the boxing thing” at the Circo Price and the questions were starting to accumulate. So taking advantage of him being in Madrid to present ‘La curva’, we met at the most ideal place for an artist like him, the Reina Sofía Museum, so silent, impressive, traditional, avant-garde, with dark and sunny bits. But the truth of the matter is that not even the paintings by Dalí which it contains can equal the surrealism of that first rural stage…
The conflicting reactions are gone, but you’ve fought hard to make your proposal visible. Do you now feel understood?
I did five performances of ‘La Metamorfosis’, two of ‘Galvánicas’… I think I feel more understood. When I go to flamenco festivals, I get the impression they no longer think it’s so strange. Last year at La Unión, I danced comfortable, just the way I am. It’s impossible for everyone to like you. It’s bad for everyone to like you. You sacrifice something and you aren’t yourself. But I’ve been lucky or it’s been through work, since I’ve been through several deserts. But recognition comes when it comes. In France I’ve been made an associate artist of the Théâtre de la Ville; I’ve never been offered that before. I’m meeting directors who have been with great dancers like Baryshnikov and Pina Bausch. I feel I’m at a point in time when, more than ever, I have to be myself and I have to find an antidote for the poison of these stages. There’s always another goal there.
And now when creating, is it harder to be surprising and to surprise yourself?
||“I feel I’m at a point in time when, more than ever, I have to be myself”
If you approach it that way, you might get anxious or bump into things that don’t make sense for the sake of surprising. It has to be that you fall in love with a concept or it sparks you. It has to make you a better artist and a better person. I used to do few performances, but now I do a show and there are a lot more. With what you do, you have to enjoy yourself and eat and dance, so it can’t be something that affects you. Logically, artists aren’t very sane either, ha ha ha. Artists have to have a balance between control and recklessness.
‘La edad de oro’ is going for the record, isn’t it?
It’s going on two hundred performances. We put it together in 2005, I’ve been changing it… I see it as an apartment whose furniture you change a little bit. But the same thing is breathed in it. The important thing is it’s a really humble show because it has good guitar, good cante and I try and do what I can. That makes the artists who come with me feel like the show is theirs; they’re not just paid employees, it’s 33% each.
Do you feel there’s an abyss when taking a new step?
When you finish something you feel empty, but that emptiness is good. Coincidences and the support you’re given have a lot to do with it. Without support, you can’t do what you have in your head no matter how great an artist you are. I feel as if I have to be more balanced than ever in order to survive artistically. The challenges coming my way are unknown things. I’ve never worked with people, but rather as a solo bailaor and with objects.
And is that going to materialize?
Yes, I have a show at the Teatro Real for December 2012. It’s a challenge after ‘La Curva’. I can’t say anything yet; it’s a very formal project and Gerard Mortier himself has to reveal it. I’ve come across some support which I’ve never had before. It’s the moment to do that, but I’m not going to go crazy and set up an opera; it’ll be something simple. The idea is for it to incite you and breathe life into you. But let’s hope the Incas’ end of the world comes, which is in December 2012, and the Teatro Real crumbles and it isn’t done.
We’re still with the Apocalypse, aren’t we?
We are. Now please ask for this madness to be canceled, ha ha ha.
Are you still teaming up with Pedro G.for new projects?
Oh yeah, he’s my stage partner. We had a little quarrel once and my wife and his called one another to see how the boyfriends were doing.
There are people who say that all the concepts come from him and not from you…
I don’t mind. I want the show to turn out well and I understand that it’s all a team. I ask my musicians for a lot of stage advice. They know a lot, they have a faster intuition which other theater professionals don’t have. I’m still with Pedro because he has great intellectual capacity. The most important thing is for us to communicate with each other fluently. Things come from everyone. You can’t distort stuff. If they weren’t things like the ones I’ve done, I don’t think I’d keep on dancing simply for the sake of dancing well. I devote more attention to the spiritual than the physical.
Books have been written about you in this time, like ‘Le danseur des solitudes’ by philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman. What does it feel like?
He saw me dance for the first time in ‘Arena’. We were together for two years, he followed me around, we talked… When the book was translated, he made me discover things in my baile that I didn’t know. A lot of people tell me they’ve come to see me because of the book. He’s intelligent for baile and it would be good for him to give flamenco lectures because people who are on the outside see things that we don’t see on the inside.
And in ‘Solo’, which we were able to see at La Abadía, what do you listen to?
||“If you ask me what kind of show I’d do, I’d tell you dancing solo. I think that’s the most essential”
I have to listen to myself, because otherwise, it becomes a series of shapeless movements. All of my maestros come to mind: my family, Mario, Soler, Fernando’s cante... I started off with ‘Solo’ in a rest which I unintentionally did in ‘Los zapatos rojos’; it was something real, I was paralyzed, the responsibility of that first time caught me unexpectedly. And I feel freer and freer dancing solo. If you ask me what kind of show I’d do, I’d tell you dancing solo. I think that’s the most essential.
The mechanism is different to that of ‘Tabula rasa’, where the sounds come first and then you dance to them in silence…
‘La curva’ is a process between ‘Tabula rasa’, ‘Solo’ and a show which I did here at the Reina Sofía about Vicente Escudero and Antonio. Although Sylvie Courvoisier is in it, who is a contemporary music pianist, Bobote is also in it. I feel that ‘Tabula rasa’ wasn’t closed. And I don’t want to present ‘Solo’ as a show, but rather take it to unusual places. Vicente Escudero’s baile had a lot of impact on my body and I’ve delved deeper into it. I’ve seen him dance a lot and I’ve taken a lot of postures from his little sketches. And I’ve seen Antonio a lot; he reminds me of Mario. They’re two different ways. For better or worse, ‘Tabula rasa’ has been closed in ‘La Curva’.
How does ‘La curva’ work?
||“If there’s no tradition, everything’s lost”
The name indicates how I feel comfortable in a curve, in something that isn’t very fixed, that doesn’t have a really set script. Let’s say that my family lies with Inés Bacán and Bobote, who lean towards the jondo. I see Inés as very earthly, almost very contemporary in the sense of dissonant. I like the contrast between Bobote and her, because she’s very mellow in her cante and he’s electric. I wanted to work with contemporary music and when I met Sylvie she sounded a lot like what I did in ‘Los zapatos rojos’ and ‘La metamorfosis’. They’re two different worlds that unite. I’d describe it as a taxi ride from Lebrija to New York.
How present the old-time maestros are in you contrasts with what a lot of people might think about you who consider you ultramodern…
If there’s no tradition, everything’s lost. I try to take my own tradition, but the songs and concepts I grab aren’t the typical flamenco group. And look, ‘La edad de oro’ is simple. I try and do things the way I want to do them, but not to act modern, rather because they come out like that. I’m not a good contemporary dancer at all. I can’t reach that; I can’t. I’m a bailaor. If you have a look at the entire evolution of baile, to me the most impure bailaores are Farruco and Carmen Amaya because they broke away from what was there. I think that purity is in fact tradition and esthetics and flamenco energy. And that tradition is what mustn’t be lost. I saw an interview with Paco de Lucía in which he said that the greatest evolution lies not in music, but in oneself.
How do you size up flamenco dancing having been included on the international contemporary dance circuit?
||“I’m not a good contemporary dancer at all”
I’m not even an expert, but I think that dance festivals have to feed on other artforms, on dance from Africa, Hindu… and flamenco. It isn’t folklore, it’s a dance and baile worthy of seeing in a room… and at a theater.
And always with evolution on its shoulders…
History gives it to us. I saw my first video of Mario Maya and I said “What is this man doing?”. And then, imagine. I’ve learnt a lot from him and I take him with me; I don’t want to lose him. What’s OK is OK, and what isn’t, isn’t. It’s getting across or not getting across, as Camarón used to say. And for one to be real to oneself.
A fan told me he missed continuators of Enrique Morente in cantaores but, nevertheless, he did see it in you…
||“Enrique Morente is my screensaver and my artistic lifesaver”
Hang on, look at what I have on my cell phone… (and he shows me a photo of Morente as the background). He’s my screensaver and my artistic lifesaver. I was lucky… The thing is that I admired him and besides him being nice to me, doing things free of charge, I have him on my conscience. Morente, that voice, sparked me and I don’t want him to be lost to me. What he used to do and what he used to say, everything glittered. Fireworks shot off. An incredible career. And man who stuck to his stuff and knew how to handle everything really well. He worked on the biggest and smallest things, with Pepe Habichuela and with Lagartija Nick. And what I want is to keep on enjoying dancing…
And we stop here, with suspension points until the next interview. You don’t know when or where it will be… or if the Apocalypse will come first.
Special feature. Israel Galván vs. Los 3.000. Flamenco fight to the death + Photo gallery, by Daniel Muñoz
Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla 2006. Israel Galván, ‘Tabula rasa’. Review, photos
Interview with Israel Galván, dancer (March, 2002)
"I like people to see me as a piece of rubbish on stage"
Enrique Morente records a collaboration with Israel Galván at the Maestranza Bullring in Seville
Interview with Israel Galván, dancer (October, 2006)
“If I didn’t keep on telling a truth of mine, I couldn’t dance anymore”
Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla 2004. Israel Galván, ‘Arena’. Review, photos, video
Special feature. Israel Galván by Pedro G. Romero
Visit the international flamenco festivals agenda