Interview: Ernesto Escalera
Photos: Alejandro Espadero
“I'm not influenced by passing fads”
Like every Wednesday, Isabel Bayón finished her classes at Madrid’s Conservatorio Superior de Danza María de Ávila. However, something wonderful and unexpected was about to happen. The telephone rang, it was the director of the INAEM to inform the dancer that she had just won the Premio Nacional de Danza 2013 in the specialty of interpretation. Isabel immediately broke out in tears which she shared with her husband and companion, guitarist Jesús Torres. After 40 years delivering her heart and soul to flamenco, she now received the recognition that has since been described as “deserved”.
“The Isabel who goes up on stage is the same Isabel people close to her know”.
Was this one of your happiest professional moments?
Of course. Next year is my fortieth year as a dancer, and this sort of thing is what keeps you moving forward and thinking you must be doing something right.
What difference is this prize going to make in your life?
I don’t know if anything is going to change, but I’m really enjoying it. Every now and then I stop and deliberately relive the moment, and enjoy it all over again.
You have a solid career, no one gave you anything for free.
No one gave me anything, and I never did anything to gain people’s favor. And I blame myself for that. The whole commercial aspect of flamenco…I’m no business-woman. Because I don’t like it and it doesn’t come easy, I’m not an extrovert, it doesn’t feel right. So I can now say that what I’ve achieved wasn’t given to me on a silver platter. On the other hand, a lot of people have supported me, believed in me and admired me. The media in Seville for example treat me very kindly, and I’ll always be grateful for that because this is my work.
The National Dance Prize you’ve been awarded is also a prize for flamenco, and there have been many. Flamenco seems to be coming on stronger than ever, and has a lot to say in the world of dance within Spain.
Absolutely. Flamenco has always been important within dance world, the thing is it hasn’t always had access to certain venues considered to require more recognized dance styles. Finally flamenco is being taken into account and being seen where it deserves to be seen. In any case, the first National Dance Prize was for Antonio Gades, so this is nothing new, the thing is lately it’s going more regularly to flamenco.
Sometimes it seems we’re the very ones who don’t realize what a treasure we have…abroad they seem not to have any doubts about it.
In flamenco we still have a certain complex. When we have to write down what our profession is, we put “ballerina”, not “bailaora”. We’re just the ones who don’t step up and assume our rightful place.
“In flamenco we still have a certain complex. We’re just the ones who don’t step up and assume our rightful place”.
How would you describe flamenco’s richness?
It connects directly with a person’s essence. It’s such a basic artform, it communicates with the essential being and moves you on the inside. I think that’s what grabs people. Even if they never saw flamenco before.
What does flamenco give to you personally?
It’s my safety valve. It’s where I feel most secure and tranquil, where I feel I’m free, and it gives a sense of stability.
Is the Isabel we see on stage very different from the one we see in the street?
The Isabel who goes up on stage is the same Isabel people close to her know. Everyone who knows me, knows I’m really the same Isabel onstage or off. But then for everything else, I put on my battle-gear to walk in the street.
In your career there’s a huge disparity between the quality of your productions and the little they’re seen outside. Why is this?
I have no idea. I think flamenco is becoming a business, and there are certain interests involved. That’s the way it is, and it’s been one reason I became tired of it all. Sometimes you put together a show where you invest a lot of time and effort, money, everything, and you don’t see the fruits of your sacrifice. It’s really frustrating because you know it works, the audience and the critics react favorably.
This prize works as a kind of publicity, no?
A prize of this nature should be linked to visibility. Not only a monetary prize, but a tour, because they’re prizes given during a person’s active career. People want to know what a winner of the National Prize does.
Maintaining a privately funded company is hard work, and you’ve been doing it for ten years now.
Having a private company and keeping it afloat is hard work because we’re always fighting for stability. Sometimes you have energy, and others, you just can’t deal with it. But since flamenco is bigger than all of us, nothing can take away that goal.
What have you wanted to transmit with your latest show “Caprichos del Tiempo”?
Time gives and takes away, it puts things in place. Some things are timeless, the good things in the end have no time, they’re not linked to a passing whim or fashion. Everything comes and goes, and what we want is to do things that stay fixed in time. This show is a tribute to everything that’s been done in flamenco, and that’s been done so well, it can’t be improved upon.
And what is going to remain of Isabel Bayón’s dancing?
At least I think I do what I feel. I don’t pay attention to passing fads. I try to be consistent and honest about what I feel. They say things about me: femininity, sensuality, womanly, the hips, the arms, the aesthetic, the Seville school, etc. I think all that defines me, and something of that will remain.
“In ‘Lo Real’ I did things I would never dare in my own shows”.
What is there of the Seville school in Isabel Bayón?
It’s not that I try to follow the Seville school, but it’s true that what I do is related to that. My way of feeling, the femininity, coquettish on stage, hair well-combed, use of the accessories of the Seville school such as the shawl, the bata de cola, the hat. Being within a traditional style obviously adapted to modern times. I freshen it up and bring it to my way of living and feeling.
In Israel Galván’s show “Lo Real”, we see a different facet of Isabel Bayón.
It was a very hard creative process, long but very interesting. I was anxious to work with Israel because we admire each other greatly. He wanted things I couldn’t do because only he can do them. So, we brought it all closer and closer until I gave him what he wanted, but in my own way. In the part I play, there’s a lot of my own personality, my real life, because Israel knows me well. Playing a person with many different aspects, I did things I would never dare in my own shows, such as dancing badly, out of rhythm, like a crazy foreigner.