Dance, sweat, truth

Silvia Calado. Madrid, July 2009
Photos: Daniel Muñoz/ Translation: Joseph Kopec

Carlos Saura recognizes himself as a movie man. When he’s at the theater as a spectator, he feels tempted to leap over the seats to see the artist’s face and sweat up close. And many times he has reached the conclusion that “the rehearsals are a lot nicer than the performances”. That is why for the past couple of months, he has taken a seat at the venue where Rafael Estévez and Nani Paños are putting together the choreography for the show ‘Flamenco Hoy’. And he does so as the director, but above all, as a ‘voyeur’: “I’ve been a faithful observer so far, a little shy… Many mornings I come here to have a good time, I bring my camera… and I enjoy myself”.

An etching by Gustave Doré is passed around from hand to hand this morning. The choreographers intend to duplicate the scene with their dancers as the end of ‘Fandango de Boccherini’, one of the show’s star pieces. And it turns out that picture is going to be the leitmotif. Carlos Saura explains that “at the start there’ll be a big projection with that etching and when the curtain opens, it’ll continue to be projected upon the group then performing the first number. They wanted to reproduce that baile… and it’s really nice”. Rafael Estévez believes that “you can see right in that sketch the coexistence we’ve always talked about. The bolero school is kept a little bit aside and no, it’s the origin of flamenco dancing. You see the different types there, the boleros, the dancer outstretched on the floor - which might be the faint they do in Granada - or the more positioned flamenco. You can feel the starting point there to create the choreographies that we want. We love the old photos, the sketches, the paintings… we continue along the lines of Dospormedio”.

Carlos Saura: “The idea is to do a powerful show where you see that flamenco doesn’t just have a past and a present, but also a future”

Their company’s philosophy, which they always summarize with a “look back to seek modernity”, has a lot to do with this show which premieres August 19th to 23rd at Madrid’s Veranos de la Villa 2009. In essence, according to Saura’s words, the idea is “to do a powerful show where you see that flamenco doesn’t just have a past and a present, but also a future”. And he knows that in this project “some doors are going to open”. The show is going to make it clear “that there’s orthodox flamenco which is danced in an orthodox way, there’s Escudero and Gades, and that there’s another way of dancing contributing new steps and new ideas within that fantastic line which Rafael and Nani are along”. All of it is captured in each choreography: “The fandango de Boccherini is halfway between the bolero school, classical, the jota… On the one hand, it’s nice to see how there’s a certain relationship between diverse ways of dancing, and on the other hand, for us to be able to stay within orthodoxy, so to speak. There are sevillanas, but they won’t be usual sevillanas, the pasodoble won’t be the usual one, the bulería will go freely”. And the secret of that differential value, at the choreographic level, lies in “a contemporary concept” and in the “coexistence of disciplines”. Estévez thus believes that “flamenco has always been there, coexisting with other disciplines and beside other types of music”.

To make these ideas materialize, they are designing movements for nearly twenty dancers, “a wonderful troupe”, Estévez adds. The quality and quantity of this dance corps are causing their creativity to soar. Nani Paños affirms that “when moving people around we’ve done a much more elaborate job, with groups and movements, since we’d never had the chance to play with so many dancers before”. Moreover, he points out that they have space-time in their favor: “We’re working with the peace of having a great deal of rehearsal time and doing it at a well-conditioned venue”. And it’s true that it is not usual for dance in this country to have workplaces like this hall at the new Teatros del Canal, with an impeccable floor, perfect lighting and ample space to give free rein to the physical and the creative.

The energy and the peace

But the team is quite a bit more extensive and they frequently meet to coordinate the script, music, wardrobe, stage design… Carlos, Rafael and Nani have formed a trio who understand one another fluently. The choreographers feel that it is a luxury “to have Carlos as director, since he always gives us another viewpoint which we might not think of, and complements us”, Estévez affirms. Nani stresses the calm: “Normally, the numbers we put together with young people are really jacked-up, with overflowing energy… And most of the comments by Carlos, whether it is due to age or whatever, give us peace of mind and that balance that’s needed in the show”.

From his point of view, Carlos comments that “I haven’t really intervened a lot in their work. In principle, because they seem 99% fantastic to me. And that 1% which I can contribute is little stuff for the moment of going to the show; it’s still early for that. I’ll come in a little bit more, if they let me, when we’re at the theater. We have to structure all the elements there so that they shape up a sort of whole”. He is not just referring to the music by Chano Domínguez, “which is great and he’s made it for us, but also the stage design which has to be really taken care of, even though it’s going to be very simple, the lighting is also fundamental, the wardrobe by Antonio Alvarado, et cetera. We have to play with all the material we have throughout the show to make a sort of arch which can be made out well”. He knows “that’s the hardest thing for me; organizing that material”. With a view to spectators, “it’s all focused so that from their visual viewpoint, the show is magical, sensual, beautiful, happy when it has to be, dynamic when it has to be dynamic”. And within that entire ensemble of demands, he well knows what his role is: “My obligation is to give them the utmost expressive possibilities, for them to be as good as possible, since they are the ones who are working; I watch”.

Carlos Saura: “Nani is one of the greatest bailaores I’ve ever seen, and dancers! If he isn’t a greater figure I don’t understand it, but he’s going to be from now on”

And you admire upon watching. “I’ve met them in this project, because I didn’t know them and I don’t know, suddenly, we’ve become brothers in spirit, it’s all so great and so fun that many mornings I come here to have a good time”, states the director of the mythical film ‘Flamenco’. And he, who has seen so many great artists up close, has nothing but praise and good wishes for the directors of Dospormedio: “I sincerely believe that Rafael is a fantastic energy source and that Nani is one of the greatest bailaores I’ve ever seen, and dancers!, they have capacity… If he isn’t a greater figure I don’t understand it, but he’s going to be from now on. He’s already great, but from now on he’s going to be greater. I can assure you of that”.

Of course, the admiration is mutual. Rafael remarks that “we’ve hit it off so well because we grew up with his films”. And he recalls that in ‘Flamenco XXI’ “there’s a rehearsal scene” totally influenced by the ones in the famous trilogy starring Antonio Gades. Something logical, since “the first flamenco stuff that caught my eye was the fight of the cigarette girl in ‘Carmen’; those pictures of wonderful rehearsals”. There are other “concepts which fit in really well, for example, that coming out on stage just like that, naturally, without that pantomime of the magic of theater which is like trite”. And for example, playing with “that naturalness, when they finish ‘Fandango de Boccherini’, lets the dancers be able to throw themselves down on the floor because they’re really exhausted. And it’s also nice for people to see that, that we’re human, that we’re not dolls which are wound up”.

Rehearsal vs. performance

In fact, Carlos Saura recognizes that “the ideal thing would be for it to always be a dress rehearsal, for it never to be a performance. At the same time as you see the perfectionism of a tremendous job, for you to sometimes also see that spontaneity and joy in the bailaores”. Estévez adds to this idea that “we really stress smiles, in the numbers which call for those smiles”. One of them is ‘La danza de los ojos verdes’, a piece which includes a little tribute: “With all the respect in the world, we’ve broken down the personality of Antonia Mercé, who’s an artist a little bit forgotten but who is a fundamental piece in Spanish dance, so much so that she was the one who created it. And she had that marvelous big broad smile”. A lot of stress is also made to the dancers “in giving, being generous to themselves, to the audience, to us as choreographers and to the maestro as director”. Generosity, smiles… but if “it has to be serious, then there’ll be a funeral if necessary!”. And there are instants for it. Saura points out the saeta, which “is going to be a little tremendous, with black veils… it’s going to be a wonderful contrast”.

Highslide JSRafael Estévez and Carlos Saura (Photo Daniel Muñoz)

That play on opposites has just been seen in the rehearsal of the sevillanas. The first ones are biblical, with very calm movements, very serious countenances, it all revolves around contention. The second ones are corraleras (Andalusian songs), a burst of energy, dynamism, freshness… and virtuosity. They are performed by all the dancers, with Laura Rozalén as a soloist, a role which will also be undertaken by Concha Jareño. Pastora Galván, with her unmistakable Triana-inspired tangos, and Rocío Molina, with the guajira from her show ‘Oro viejo’, head the troupe together with Nani and Rafael. The two of them, who act as choreographers at the same time, say they feel very proud to work with this ‘great troupe’. “There are dancers from our company, from Dospormedio, and then we’ve chosen new people by audition”, they explain. And the selection wasn’t easy: “It’s really complicated to find dancers who get comfortable with the two so marked styles we have, which at the same time are seen as a single style”.

Nani Paños: “We need the music to inspire us”

Even though the baile will evidently be the most visible part of the show, it will also provide a lot to listen to. Nani comments that “we need the music to inspire us; if not, it would all boil down to asking the musical director for twelve measures of twelve and that’s it”. And Rafael confirms it: “We really stage the music. We can stage a note or it can have a certain sense. Many times we stage more on the music than on the rhythmics, although of course it’s all to the beat”. Saura thinks that “the musical lineup, of cantaores, guitarists… is great”. Among them, besides the Cádiz-born pianist who authors the soundtrack, is guitarist Antonio Rey, cantaores Jesús Méndez, David Palomar, Blas Córdoba… And Estévez thinks that “we can be a big family that’s going to come out on stage to all enjoy ourselves guided by Mr. Saura”. To which the director suddenly replies: “This is no longer just Carlos Saura, this is now a really dangerous crew!”.

The three of them continue speaking placidly about sweat and energy. Saura insists that he enjoys watching them dance here, in the rehearsal room, where everything is one hundred percent real. And you can guess his need to get lost amidst their spins, pirouettes, turns and heel tapping with a camera at the ready. We now know that as soon as this show premieres, he will begin to shoot the sequel to ‘Flamenco’ in Seville. But he doesn’t want to mix subjects and postpones the conversation about that other project for later on. “I now have too much flamenco in my head!”, he kindly protests.

And you can understand everything when you appreciate his involvement in this show which is now in the staging phase. He says that now that he’s watching the work, “these rehearsals so far along are wonderful”. But those early days are still fresh in his mind “when they were making up a choreography… seeing how that invention process is done is really nice”. The reflection he makes is that “they have a lot of experience, but they’re always immersed in a brave process”. More so when, as Nani and Rafael uphold, they refuse to repeat themselves: “The style and tools are defined, but we always rack our brains. It doesn’t seem honest to us to grab an entire sequence from a previous show and fit it in as if we were playing Tetris”. The final sentence of this interesting chat with the three artists is provided by the veteran: “They’re obliged, like me, to always go a little bit further”. But the youngest one would burst if he didn’t answer: “Backwards, not on your life!”.

Further information

Carlos Saura directs a show starring young talents of today’s flamenco

Special feature. Carlos Saura: On the set of ‘Iberia’
¡Flamenco... on the set!

Interview with Carlos Saura, director of ‘Flamenco’ (May, 2005)

Flamenco x 2. Interview with Rafael Estévez & Nani Paños, dancers and choreographers (March, 2008)

Special feature. Behind the scenes with… Dospormedio & Cía., ‘Sonata’ + Photo gallery, by Daniel Muñoz


Carlos Saura: Flamenco + Sevillanas (2 DVDs PAL)

More information, video, orders


CD: Chano Domínguez, 'New Flamenco Sound'

More information, audio, orders

CD: Jesús Méndez, 'Jerez sin fronteras'

More information, audio, orders


Carlos Saura
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