Belén Maya at the Ciutat Flamenco de Barcelona with her show “Los Invitados”
“I don't have the rhythm of soleá in my cells”
She does it in a theater, the Mercat de les Flors, where she feels understood and appreciated because there has always been room for her work. “Today there is an audience I love, part flamenco fans, and part followers of modern dance, and that mix is fabulous for me”. The work she is presenting debuted in Jerez in 2014, and won the Critics' Choice Prize. After that, she toured with the show in large format and small, always counting on the interpreters she feels at home with. “They are singers I admire, they're my “invitados”, guests. With this work, Belén admits it's the close of a cycle, and she talks about it in detail not holding anything back. “I've not only been dancing 30 years, I've also just divorced after many years of marriage, and for this reason I feel that everything is starting anew”. She says she notices she's dancing differently: “I'm more introspective, I concentrate on the small things, on details, more than on mounting shows based on grand ideas. Mi body and my quest have changed, and it shows in my dancing”.
Photo: Antonio Acedo
Belén is the daughter of two flamenco dancers: Carmen Mora and Mario Maya, although she did not start to dance until 18. “My parents divorced when I was 5. I grew up with my mother, and she didn't want me to get involved in the world of flamenco. She wanted me to read, to go to the theater and listen to classical music. But she would never have wanted me to become a dancer, she didn't like that world and was burnt-out”. When Belén was 14 her mother died in a traffic accident and somehow she tried to recuperate her through dance. It was almost by chance, but little by little she sought out that unknown part of herself. “I started like the typical foreigner with classes of castanets, ballet…I came to Seville and started working with my father. 'What am I going to do with you?' he said. But I studied hard, really knuckled down, and in three years I became soloist”. That late beginning in a discipline normally begun at a very early age, moves Belén to say things like the following: “I don't have the rhythm of soleá in my cells because it's something I learned way later on”.
From traditional to experimental and vice versa
In “Los Invitados”, Belén presents a work of traditional flamenco where the singing takes center stage, and she takes the sidelines when she feels it needs to be done. “I'm not contemporary, I can't call myself that because I know the work of others who truly can, and I have a great deal of respect for them. All I do is add different things, I experiment”, explains this dancer who says she feels good changing the tone, the form and the style. Clear proof is her recent work with Niño de Elche, “Ya!”, in which she appears in underwear for nearly the whole show. And she says it's not for the sake of being modern, but rather because the work needed this. Those changes of register nourish her. “They give me strength, they motivate me, they keep me from getting bored. It's the same for me in dancing as in life itself: I have to drink from many sources, open many paths to feel refreshed and regenerated”. In her way of dancing you can see how content pours in and out from her life to her work, and vice versa. “For me there's no difference between the artist and the person. You protect yourself, it's only normal, but when I get up on stage I'm still Belén although I'm dressed up as a dancer”.
With regard to her career, she claims to feel grateful to have work and be well-considered within the profession. One gripe she has is the same that many other artists express: the difference between how they're treated abroad and within Spain. “I can't understand why there are so many cultural centers without programming, so many empty venues, and the institutions put so many obstacles to ceding them to artists”, explains Belén who enumerates the facilities other countries offer to have artists in residence, a figure seen less and less all the time in Spain.
Photo: Jean Louis Duzert
End of a series
Belén still doesn't know when the last performance of “Los Invitados” will take place, a work which she considers a vital and artistic ending. But she's enjoying it. Throughout the show and everything which is sung and danced, there are tributes. One of them is for her mother, a small, subtle detail, but very intense. “I think I'm the only one who gets it, but that's what's important. I didn't want to do anything grandiose, just a spark to remember her because she wasn't as famous as my father, and I wanted to make a place for her”.
When asked what she has of Carmen Mora, only then does she stop a bit to consider the answer. “It thrills me to see how I look like her physically. She was a great lady, and I am small, but sometimes I see I move my head the way she did even though I never saw her on stage” she says with her juvenile voice in a tone full of emotion. She claims that what she did consciously take from her mother is a gift for acting: “There is a certain sort of drama when I dance which comes from my mother, I didn't learn it directly from her, but I incorporated it because I believe a dancer must act as well, and each song calls for distinct gestures and expressions”.
She's clearer about what she inherited from her father: “When I've got an angry face I look like my father, he had a very special countenance when he danced. It's also true that objectively speaking, I look more like him than my mother”, explains Belén. Regarding the career of the great Mario Maya, she defends him as a hard worker and very demanding. “He taught me to respect the stage and the rehearsals, something he was very strict about at a time when that wasn't the norm, and you had to improvise everything in flamenco. That's why so many people said he was more a Spanish dancer than a flamenco dancer. Whatever, these are things in our profession…”.
Belén laughs easily, speaks hurriedly, claims to be a voracious reader and is grateful to life. Each night she will again share the floor with the strong voices of Gema Caballero, Tomás de Perrate, José Valencia and José Anillo, the guests of a hostess who has a great deal to celebrate.
Belén Maya – Los invitados