An Interview with Elvira Andrés

by Stuart Sweeney

June 2003 – Antonio Gades’ electrifying Spanish dance version of “Fuenteovejuna” comes to Sadler’s Wells in June 2003 performed by the Spanish National Dance Company (Ballet Nacional de España) under the artistic direction of Elvira Andrés.

”Fuenteovejuna” is described as “a grand and sumptuous production with 35 dancers and ten on stage musicians.” Following the successes of Gades’ “Blood Wedding” and “Carmen” last seen at Sadler’s Wells in 1996, “Fuentovejuna” is based on the classic Spanish 17th century play by Lope de Vega.

Just before the visit, Stuart Sweeney interviewed Elvira Andrés about the Company, her work with Gades and “Fuentovejuna”.

Q. Tell me about the different styles of dance we will see when your Company visits Sadler’s Wells.

A. The Company represents all the original dance forms on the Spanish Peninsula. They are based on folk and popular dances and also classical Spanish dance. That’s not ballet, by the way. Spanish dance is very rich and, although Flamenco is the most well known, we have other forms of dance and “Fuenteovejuna” is a piece that shows this richness.

Q. What training do your dancers have?

A. Our dancers have a very complete training within all the different forms of Spanish dance, so that they can cope with the work of the Company. Many, many people apply for our annual auditions, around 350 for only 6 places.

Q. Sometimes when we see dance from around the world which uses folk themes, the performances can lose the vitality of the original. Is that something you need to watch carefully?

A. In this case what we have is a choreographer, Gades, who is a genius. “Fuenteovejuna” is not a demonstration of the regional or folk dances of Spain. The dances are used for telling a story and Gades employs a different style according to the particular moments of the play, so that they show the different state of feelings. The dance is the servant of the story. For example Flamenco is used in those moments that have to be more dramatic.

Q. One of the pieces that you performed on the recent American tour was “Concierto de Aranjuez”, created in 1952 by Pilar Lopez. Is the preservation of the classics of Spanish dance an important part of the Company's role?

A. One of my most important tasks and a great interest of mine is to take care of our dance history through the maintenance of these pieces, as well as showing the new works choreographed today. This is a way of showing the complexity that Spanish dance has always had and still has nowadays. I am very happy that we have in our repertoire this work by the great Pilar Lopez, who was the teacher of Gades. This is of great value to the Company.

Q. Tell me about your first contact with Gades and the influence he has had on your career.

A. I first saw Gades dance on stage in 1975, when I was 15 years old. This was in “Blood Wedding”, from the play by Lorca, and I knew from that moment that this was the artistic style that I wanted for my career. Gades has not only been a great dancer, but also a great choreographer and someone who has made a very important contribution to the development of Spanish dance.

Q. “Blood Wedding” is one of the best dance films I have ever seen. I believe you were involved in the making of the film?

A. I was very young, but I was in the film and was there to see everything that was happening. The wonderful thing about the film is that it is completely authentic, just as would happen in a theatre. Carlos Saura, the Director, had fallen in love with the stage production, as everyone did, and he just let Gades do what he wanted. Saura wanted to see what happened when the dancers arrived and their preparations for the day and he made wonderful photography from it. The images are memorable because they are authentic.

Q. Moving on to the film “Carmen”, the stage and film versions are very different. What was the process of development?

A. The dance version of “Blood Wedding” had been on stage for some time before the film was made, whereas “Carmen” was choreographed for the film and then adapted for the stage. So when they were making “Carmen” Saura and Gades were working together as it had to have the vision of a film. But when Gades took “Carmen” to the stage, he felt entirely free from the film and Gades is at heart a theatre man.

Q. How does “Fuenteovejuna” compare with other works by Gades, such as “Carmen”?

A. We could think of points that are common to all these pieces by Gades. The story is told in a clean and simple way and the way it moves from one scene to another takes the audience along with it. However, in “Fuenteovejuna” he wanted to make his most choral production. In the other works the main roles are very clear, but here the main protagonists are the village people, so ensemble work is more prominent.

Q. Do people react differently to your performances in different countries?

A. The way that the audience interprets “Fuenteovejuna” is a little different from one country to another. But the central message of this work, solidarity, is received in the same way in our experience. However reactions can vary. There is a scene in “Carmen” where she throws away her wedding ring, in London the audience laughed, whereas in Spain the same gesture is very tragic. We were all very surprised at this reaction.

Q. On this visit we will not be seeing any of your choreography, but I’m interested in the similarities and differences between your work and that of Gades.

A. All my life I have tried to learn as much as I can from Gades. Unfortunately I am not him! One of the big things I have learnt from him is that creation has to come from deep within you. So my life, my experiences, how I confront dance every day of my life are different to his experiences and my work reflects those differences.

Q. Looking at the broad spectrum of Spanish dance now, how do you see the current state of development?

A. There are important dance makers today, but there is a danger that commercial pressures make the choreography very similar and uniform. What is in danger is the personality of the choreographers and the interpretors. In taking our roots and developing them, there can be a confusion between something being modern and uniform.

Q. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was a high level of financial support for the Spanish dance companies, which enabled them to make long overseas tours. Is there still the same degree of assistance?

A. Not at all! There was much more money then, not only from the Government, but also from the companies that contract the dance groups. Production costs have gone up and there is not enough money now to cover these costs. Fifteen years ago the tours would have been four months and now the longest tour we can make is six weeks. We still have the opportunity to make two or three new productions per year, but the big problem is the touring when we must take 65 or 70 people. We are extremely lucky that we can still tour within Spain as well as outside. For the private companies it is really difficult right now, as I know because I used to have my own Company before I was appointed here.

Q. Are you looking forward to the visit to London?

A. It is so important for us to be able to come close to other people, in this case English audiences and we come in the humility of our own identity.


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