“El Nacimiento”, ‘the birth’, the newest work of dancer Juan Andrés Maya, had its successful premiere performance at the Festival de Otoño de Granada. A show that depicts the birth of Jesus Christ and in which Juan Andrés plays the part of Herod. It’s not the first time the Granada dancer has dared to bring a religious theme to flamenco; “La Passión” is another work of his from several years ago, and which continues to be represented. But Juan Andrés has been involved in a wide variety of projects throughout his intense career, ever since he began dancing at the age of three in the caves of Granada. This dedication has been his best ally over the years, in developing his personal style that joins strength, art, bravery and depth of emotion.
You recently debuted “El Nacimiento” at the Granada autumn festival. ¿What gave you the idea for this work?
The Granada municipal government proposed it to me to close out the festival. Given the date, they asked me to do something related to Christmas. In addition to dancing, I also like to act, so instead of doing traditional Christmas songs, I went for the idea of doing the birth of Christ – I’d already told the story of his death, so it seemed logical to represent the birth. It was a risky proposal, but I think it came out well.
Juan Andrés Maya como Herodes
You play the role of Herod. How did you manage to interpret this character through flamenco?
I created a personality according to my own vision. I saw Herod as the opposite of Pontius Pilate, completely crazed, who didn’t know what he wanted nor where he was going. It was complicated to adapt it to flamenco, because I had to play the part of a madman, and put it to dance, even more difficult, but I’m pleased with the results.
There are flamenco forms all throughout the work, how did you develop the scenes?
I conceived the birth as a flamenco musical and it’s a little anthology of flamenco dance: fandangos de Huelva, soleá, soleá por bulería, alegrías, taranto, cartagenera, jaleos… There are many forms adapted to fit what was required by each scene. I also added evangelical themes because the subject matter required it.
You also introduced Sephardic music.
Yes, that too. While for Herod, we had the vision of him reclining in the Roman castle eating grapes and watching Nubian dancers, the Sephardic music comes in when we depict the town of Nazareth, for example the wedding of Joseph and Mary is done to Sephardic music, but with homegrown cante from the rite of a gypsy wedding.
Do you enjoy introducing other rhythms or styles into flamenco?
It has to be done at the right moment and for a reason, not senselessly. If you add things to a siguiriyas, other instruments for example, it always has to be siguiriyas, or soleá, or whatever. Sometimes you see people who try to do it and they lose the flamenco feeling, and that’s no good. But you can add a lot of things, as long as you don’t break the great force of the rhythm you have in flamenco forms.
You created “La Pasión”, a flamenco musical inspired in the death of Christ, are there similarities between both works?
They’re completely different. This work is full of joy, it has a different message, the birth of Christ was about the saviour of his people, and the Pasión is the death of Christ who saved the world, it’s much more dramatic. The staging isn’t that different, because the setting is Jerusalem, the tunics…but the context is different.
How complicated is it to adapt a religious theme to flamenco?
I tried to do it with the greatest respect, based on the scriptures. For the birth, there’s a duet with Mary and Joseph when they fall in love, and they’re all in white, like I say, they barely touch, it’s all in how they look at each other, nothing overt.
You were in charge of the choreography, the wardrobe… Do you enjoy taking care of everything?
Yes, that way if I make a mistake, it’s mine and mine alone. When I want to do something, I have it mapped out in my head, like a machine, no one can see things the way you see them. Naturally I surround myself with a lot of people who help, directors and stage-managers, but they’re all under my orders, because I believe the a person has the clearest vision of his own show.
You commented that this show also helps interest children in flamenco, do you think that’s important, that children see flamenco?
Yes, even though it’s a complex story line, I tried not to create a grade-school Christmas pageant, but it’s definitely apt for audiences of all ages. It’s a very good way of connecting children with flamenco, if they like it. There are many people who are just starting, I always say, you have to grow a tree from very young. There are flamenco shows that deceive people, some of the big stars, as far as I’m concerned they’re changing the meaning of flamenco because they just use it to enhance their popularity and get ahead.
How has Juan Andrés Maya evolved throughout these shows?
I don’t rest for one moment, even though I don’t have anyone’s help. Public institutions in Granada have really helped out, but I was in Madrid for fourteen years on my own, and in Seville, the same. I’ve never wavered. Everything I’ve achieved in flamenco, I owe to myself. When necessary, I’ve taken out of my own pocket, although maybe I recuperated later. It’s a shame there are people, managers…and they always work with the same artists, when there are others who have a different vision of flamenco, and do really good things without any kind of support. If flamenco keeps on being these same ones, it’s not going to maintain its importance, because sometimes everyone is dancing exactly the same, and the important thing is to have your own personality.
What are the strong points of your dancing?
I’ve got good feet, for sure. I think I don’t look like anyone else dancing, that’s important, whether you’re good or bad. I’m a dancer who does a lot of armwork, which is being lost these days, because people are always watching the feet, but arms are also very important. You also get applause for good crisp arm and shoulder work.
You were brought up in a flamenco family, who do you look up to regarding flamenco?
In actual fact, no one right now. I’ve got my family, I love them, but everything I do, I do on my own. You know the only thing I believe in? In Juan Andrés Maya.
“I believe in Juan Andrés Maya”
But as far as other artists, one of your works was dedicated to Carmen Amaya and showed your admiration for her.
Carmen, yes, she’s my idol, I really love her. I’ve always said, after seeing Carmen Amaya, I don’t want to see anyone else.
What projects are in the works?
We’re going to present “La Pasión” again in Granada, at the beginning of Holy Week, and then we’ll be doing Furia Maya, because I think we’re going to the Albéniz, we’re drawing up contracts now for Suma Flamenca and another festival. There are plenty of things, and plenty of work.