The Official Insignia of the Orden de las Artes y las Letras de Francia, the United Kingdom's National Dance Prize and the Medal of Andalucía join the long list of Israel Galván's awards in the short time since we started working on this interview, and it's the end of a troublesome lesion that makes the encounter possible. Not because the “bailaor”, as he prefers to be called, is at all reticent when it comes to speaking with the media, but because he is unstoppable.
“There was a time when I was afraid of the audience. Now it doesn't faze me”.
Galván doesn't live from dancing, nor does he practice it, nor work it…it's more like a necessity. It accompanies him obsessively to the point that when he's not on stage, and when he speaks, he likes to show the advantages of the respite, he can't hide the fact that the idea torments him in his silence.
He says he aims to reinvent himself and become a new dancer every so often, and in fact we already feel this is a different Israel. Perhaps the deserted Alameda de Hércules, the aroma of orange blossoms on this sunny Monday of Holy Week whose rain ended up preventing San Gonzalo from coming out, the ruffled dresses hanging in second-hand shop-windows, and these observations that only come up in relaxed conversation have left him brooding. Or maybe the same thing affects him as a friend of mine, that he doesn't understand why people feel like chatting when music is in the air.
On many occasions you've said how hard it is not to be dancing. How did that go with the injury?
When I'm injured and unable to dance, I acquire the capacity to think more. These things you don't seek out have a good side as well, because it makes you rethink everything. For scheduling, it's a mess, but that's part of my work.
“I often wonder how many heel-beats I've done, maybe forty million or more”.
Insignia de Oficial de la Orden de las Artes y las Letras de Francia photo: Paco Manzano
Do you fear being trapped by dance?
You have to know how to rest, and trust that if an idea is developed halfway, it will eventually come together. But you need the day by day routine to move forward; if you don't have the impulse to seek out new things, you can get bored with yourself, and when someone is dancing bored, the audience feels this. I don't want to bore anyone dancing, that's why I'm so restless.
Why, in your case, is dance more a refuge, or an escape valve, or a necessity?
I realize that when I don't dance, I miss the reaction it triggers in my body, as a form of expression. For someone like me who's shy, this is important, because dancing causes me to be surrounded by people. If I don't dance, it's like a part of me is cut off. In any case, I have projects to choreograph, so that even though I don't move physically, dance is still present.
You're actually preparing the show “Dju Dju” for Isabel Bayón that debuts at the 2016 Bienal. Can you tell us something about that?
The work comes from an idea of hers, because she suffers a great deal from her superstitions, and wanted to channel that feeling, and chase away the bogeyman in order to feel more free. Afterwards, we combined this with the flamenco concept of the “duende”, exploring just what it is, and chasing it down. The idea is to share this energy with the audience, and shake off the bad feeling. It's a curative show.
Israel Galván en Fla.co.men – Photo: Hugo Gumiel
And how do you deal with choreographing, being a person who so enjoys dancing alone?
It's something I've begun to enjoy only recently. I suppose it's a process that arrives when the moment is right. Then, there was the experience of Torobaka, where I lost my fear of coming into contact with another body, and in Fla.co.men, I sought a turn of the screw. I've always needed to reinvent myself, I've danced with objects, alone, and now I want to be with people. Just as my early shows revolved around death, and then went on towards a more relaxed sort of flamenco. In the next show, La Fiesta, I'll be sharing the stage with seven performers.
“The booing made me dance faster”
I don't think so, because they have a good time. I don't make them uptight, I like to bring out the freedom there is in them, and maybe they're reluctant because of their name or their families. But with me, they can get away with it.
In other words, Israel Galván is the pretext…
(Laughter). Yes, and it all works out afterwards, and if not, well, it's my fault (he jokes).
“I need the reaction dancing produces in my body, as a form of expression”
Lessons like that, teach you that you have to want to surprise yourself and then present it to everyone else. This is a very long road, and in the end, to dance in order to receive prizes is fake. It's not art, it becomes like a football championship. Prizes come when you aren't looking to win anything.
It's not flamenco that's small, it's hanging on to it and not going outside. I don't consider flamenco small, because I'm still a flamenco dancer, but I need to see other things, and obviously they influence me.
“It's not flamenco that's small, it's hanging on to it and not going outside”
It's not just the prizes. If I'd been afraid of the critics, of not making money or of not being allowed to dance, I wouldn't have done anything. I always knew I was going to dance in my rightful place. It was a necessity.
Pedro is an advisor. In my work, there's more of our informal chats from any day of the week, than what we discuss at a meeting. He gets me where I want to go. It's not a relationship where he has an idea and I dance it, it's a conversation between friends who keep on doing what they like, and have a good laugh. This rapport is what translates in the end into art.
What I like most is the capacity we have for creating our own flamenco. We're a very varied group, and each one is a world unto himself. I think this is very enriching. And what I like least… I try to like. I can't think of anything in flamenco I don't like. It's part of life.
Wow, I often wonder how many heel-beats I've done, maybe forty million or more. It's goes quickly, but lots of dancing, and it's all related. If it weren't for your life experiences, you wouldn't dance the same way. All in all, I try to reinvent myself every few years, and create a new dancer, although in my head they're all there. This has been inside me since I was a kid, from the time I was four and stepped on stage for the first time, I've felt the need to change. I feel like an animal.
It's true that what people like most is to see something of their roots, although you can interpret that however you like. I'm from Seville, and I realize that I have to find myself there in order to go further. It's possible I look more anchored in Seville as time goes on. I've travelled all over the world, and I do a lot of things abroad, but my place is here.
“It's always served me well to take risks, because that's how I feel good with myself”
My sister has a very personal style, something you don't see, very racial. Now, she's involved in her own quest. She's a dancer immersed in a world that not only demands she dance very well, but that she have a finished work, and then, if it's a good work, she's accused of not dancing well. You don't have to dance that well, nor have such pretty shows.
First, I want to dance with other people. And with the audience that sees me. I mostly notice their eyes, and try to give more, as a sort of accomplice. As far as content, I like the idea of the robotic evolution of man, that the machine also has intelligence.
There was a time when I was afraid of the audience, and it raised my eyebrow. I think we flamencos worry too much about that, we even become defiant. Now I've lost that coldness and hardness, the need to leave the audience speechless before they can say anything. I see myself as more relaxed, and if someone doesn't like what I do, I understand. It used to be the booing made me dance faster, as if I would find a place where I would feel comfortable. But in the end, It's always served me well to take risks and do new things, because I feel good with myself. No matter how much you rehearse, the audience sets you off on a different track.