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Interview with José Galván

"Today, there are lots of imitators, and little personality? lots of clones"
December 3, 2010
Interview: Gonzalo Montaño Peña

José Galván is a man from the old school for whom flamenco dance is, and always has been everything in his life.  Married to a dancer, he has been transmitting that love of dance to his students for over thirty years.  Through his dance school have passed names like Juana Amaya, Hiniesta Cortés and above all, his children Israel and Pastora Galván to whom he taught his vision of this art, although like Oedipus in the famous Greek tragedy, they had to “kill” the father to find their true artistic path.  After this lengthy hiatus without performing, he feels the time has come to show a sample of the dance of his era.  “Maestría” is the name of the show.

What’s the reason for your return to the stage?
Mostly I’ve returned because on the current scene of flamenco dance, there aren’t many dancers from my generation.  I feel physically fit and strong, so I thought it was a good moment to return.

"I always looked up to Farruco, he was the model”

What made you retire in the first place?
I did it for my family.  My wife and I retired at the peak of our career, when we were beginning to receive recognition, but Eugenia wanted to be with the children, and I was used to dancing with her, so we decided to start a dance school, and that’s what there’s been up to now.

Who did you learn from, what were your beginnings?
I taught myself, started out singing in a chorus in Nervión.  I took part in a radio contest, and from there they took me to a theater to sing, and everything began to happen quickly, contracts, shows in Seville, Badajoz, Madrid… At 17, my voice changed and I couldn’t sing like I used to, but I knew I wanted to be a performer, so I teamed up with my sister and we were hired by Caracolillo and Juanita Reina.  From then on, with a lot of hard work, and I became a dancer.

“‘Israel, do me a favor, put the farruca you did in Córdoba in the show, and we’ll forget about the loan’, and he said he didn’t dance for money, but for his feelings”.

But you must have followed some model…
I always looked up to Farruco, I worked a lot with him at La Cochera.  I used to love to watch him dance, and I think I caught his style.  But no matter how much I would watch his feet, I couldn’t get it, he was very fast.

How would you describe your dancing?
I think my style is very flamenco, both my wife and myself have always been known for strong dancing, especially in soleá and bulería.  My wife is gypsy, and the best thing she has is her arms, I think she’s one of the best there have been, she has a very pure way of dancing, which is what both of us have always liked.

”Once he began experimenting with his style, the first time I saw it, I left the theater covering my face so no one would recognize me.  That was in ’98 with the show Los Zapatos Rojos”. 

So you’ve always followed gypsy-style dance.  Do you think your children dance gypsy?
My son Israel started out dancing very flamenco, gypsy even, which is how I taught him, and that’s how he danced until he won the prizes at Córdoba and the Bienal de Sevilla.  After that, he changed, now he’s much more dancerly, he knows the classic style, but he believes in what he does.  In the beginning it was very hard for him, people were hard on him, but now things are going well and he is receiving more and more recognition and status…I would even say he’s created a school and has imitators.  My daughter Pastora dances very flamenco, but she’s starting to follow her brother.  On the other hand, she looks a lot like her mother dancing.

What’s the most important thing a flamenco dancer has to learn?
Above all, that this doesn’t happen overnight, you have to put in a lot of hard work, dedication, and of course, you can’t turn your back on classic flamenco.

How would you define Israel’s style of dance?
Once he began experimenting with his style, the first time I saw it, I left the theater covering my face so no one would recognize me.  That was in ’98 with the show “Los Zapatos Rojos”.  I confess it was very hard getting used to his style, me being such a lover of classic flamenco dance.  There was even a time when I didn’t go to see him in the theaters because I would suffer terribly watching him.  I couldn’t understand the things he did, like standing completely still for two minutes.  It would make my blood boil, but beginning with his show “Arena”, I began to understand what he was doing.

Did you ever try in any way to encourage Israel Galván to go back to a traditional way of dancing?
Yes, but he believed very much in what he was doing.  Listen to this, a few years back he borrowed five million pesetas from me to put a show together, and when it was about to debut I told him: “Israel, do me a favor, put the farruca you did in Córdoba in the show, and we’ll forget about the loan”, and he said he didn’t dance for money, but for his feelings.

How would you define Pastora’s dancing?
I would like it if Pastora would continue in her line, I mean her more flamenco, gypsy style, and not be in such a hurry to follow her brother’s style.

So you prefer the Pastora who dances to cante, to the Pastora of “La Francesa”?
Of course, although “La Francesa” also had some very good things, like the soleá por bulería, which I love.  But I saw her dancing alegrías with Canales, and that’s the Pastora I really and truly like.

What do you think about the current state of flamenco dance?
There are lots of imitators,  and little personality…lots of clones.  It used to be, each one had their own style, Güito had his, Farruco had his, Matilde, Trini España…  There didn’t used to be television and video, so you had to rely on what you could find inside yourself, but today, the tendency is to repeat.

Is it true the whole family roots for the Betis football team?
Yes, I can’t deny it, we even had to take the radio away from Israel because the results of the game would influence his dancing, and sometimes when the Betis team won, he would be great, but since it hasn’t been going too well lately, it’s better if he doesn’t find out until the show is over [laughter].