juggler of forms

erin brannigan: interview, dancer-choreographer israel galván

Alfredo Lagos, Israel Galván

Alfredo Lagos, Israel Galván

ISRAEL GALVÁN, WHO APPEARED IN SYDNEY’S SPRING DANCE THIS YEAR, IS ONE OF A NEW BREED OF FLAMENCO ARTISTS IN SPAIN WHO ARE ‘RENOVATING’ THE FORM. A PRODUCT OF THE 19TH CENTURY, FLAMENCO IS A DANCE STYLE THAT IS BEING REINTRODUCED TO ITS MODERNITY BY GALVÁN.

The son of flamenco dancers Jose Galván and Eugenia de Los Reyes, Galván created his first work in 1998 and is currently touring a strong repertoire to major festivals. I spoke to him during his time in Sydney which followed my encounter with Galván’s work in France at Montepellier Danse (RT105). There, his 2005 piece Le Edad de Oro (The Golden Age) was an antidote to some dance work that seemed lost in an internally focused discourse, perhaps supporting the charge that contemporary dance is ‘eating itself.’ Translator Gina Marie Shrubsall describes Galván’s manner of talking as haiku-like, suggesting an empathy between his thinking and dancing. As described in RealTime 105 the latter has a refined simplicity of line, form and rhythm that is no less radical in its nature, .

Working with Pedro G Romero who provides dramaturgical support and commentary, Galván’s ‘revolution’ is perhaps best understood not as ‘moving with the times’ but as ‘updating the new aspects’ of the dance form. As Romero puts it, “my idea is that flamenco and the avant-gardes have the same route; they’re equally modern.” The idea that Galván is refocusing on the innovative within a tradition is supported by the way he describes his relationship to the historic avant-garde. “I haven’t worked much with the concepts of the avant-garde and not to the point where I have a nuanced interpretation of these forms. Although, at times, my choreography is influenced by the visual forms of Cubism and Modernism—this can be seen in the line of my dance. I do very much like the idea of being a ‘juggler of forms’.”

References to Walter Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze are peppered through Romero’s texts on Galván’s website, alongside impressive historical detail regarding the form, connections to modern artists working in other forms (Picasso, Lorca, Edgar Varèse, Orson Welles) and also references to some of the icons of modernity: steel, railways and machines. Galván’s art is understandable through this network of people, things and ideas, and his ability to both assimilate and share through choreography is noted by Romero in details like the passing of gestures across piano, voice and dance in Tabula Rasa (2004), and a humility in performance that decentres the star so that other elements can take centrestage; as Romero poetically puts it, “the floor designs itself under the shoe.”

This ability to assimilate and incorporate elements from a broad range of phenomena that sit beneath, or just make it to the surface of, movements and gestures, along with Galván’s ability to share the performance space with other outstanding artists (guitarist Alfredo Lagos, singers Fernando Terremoto and Inés Bacán) and attention-grabbing designs and direction (Pepa Gamboa and Belén Candil), hinges on a stage presence that is a very different from the many other flamenco dancers I have seen who present as ‘stars.’ Asked about this aspect of his performance, Galván describes a productive division between himself and the dancing. “I don’t bring the audience to my terrain, rather ‘I go to’ different personalities. You have to activate your personality during the dance… the steps and the dance will change your personality. It is not something concrete: personality changes and I like to be different things within the dance.”

Ultimately, his influences come either from within flamenco or beyond dance. “I am not directly influenced by particular genres of dance or particular dancers outside of flamenco. I’ve always liked to dance with a sense of freedom, to be influenced by all of the layers of life around us. Sometimes I will take a gesture from an anonymous dancer or draw on the movement of an animal. I’m also influenced by the choreography of the body in film and painting—for example, by Fellini or Rubens. You can see very choreographed intentions in the work of Rubens.” I asked if this could be described as a kind of sampling. He replied, “Because your body is the medium you are not sampling in a concrete way. Your body will change everything and perhaps you can’t even say it is an influence in a conscious way—what you arrive at is more of a ‘feeling’ or ‘air’ of the original sample.”

While cross-artform collaboration can still be seen as novel in contemporary dance, flamenco has always been a form where guitar, song and dance work closely together. This was reinforced in Le Edad de Oro when Galván and brothers Alfredo (guitarist) and David Lagos (singer) swapped roles. I asked Galván why the connection between the three artists seemed so intense in this work. “Musically I like to work in a particular way that is more open to changing the structure of flamenco dance. There is a well-established script that outlines the musical structure of flamenco dance. There is song and guitar made just for dance and then there is flamenco song and guitar which is constructed and performed without dance. I like to change the musical structure and use flamenco music which is not necessarily made for dance. I also search for a more open sonority and a guitar that sounds more classical.”

This playing around with the elements of the form continues right down to the detail of the choreographic language. Romero isolates the proportions, geometry, timing, forms, tonalities and gestures of flamenco as aspects that Galván manipulates, and what is remarkable in performance is the dancer’s ability to combine extreme transitions in several of these in one move. A familiar flamenco shape can be stylised through an attention to angles and perspective, while changing tone from epic to playful, risking balance and referencing a gesture just beyond apprehension. The moments of stillness are welcome amongst all this. “To be quiet in stillness—this is where you recharge the body in preparation for explosive movement and this is characteristic of flamenco.” Considering how far he has come in the last 10 years, we can be sure Israel Galván won’t be staying still long.

Interview translation by Gina Marie Shrubsall

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 27

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

13 December 2011
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