Interview: María Pagés Q&A

Thursday 18 February 2010

Maria Pages
María Pagés, 44, is one of Spain’s leading flamenco dancers, famous for her long, expressive arms and her warm, charismatic stage presence.

She began her career dancing with Antonio Gades and founded her own company in 1990, but has continued to collaborate with other artists from various genres – notably as the ‘Spanish Dancer’ in Riverdance.

Pagés’ choreography is deeply rooted in the flamenco tradition but takes on subtle influences from other forms, from contemporary dance to musical theatre.

Her latest work Sevilla, a paean to her home town, opens the “Flamenco Festival London”: at Sadler’s Wells on 3 March 08.

Interview by Lyndsey Winship
February 2008

We hear about the rift between traditional and modern flamenco dance – does it really exist?

Both styles have to live together. Tradition is very important because it is the root of everything we have now but at the same time art needs to evolve because it’s an expression of our time.

But is it true that some people aren’t happy with that evolution?

Yes, maybe some people don’t have the same opinion, they feel that flamenco is like this, and it has to be this always. Spain can be a very traditional country, in our education, our religion, our lives, but fortunately we have many artists, like Picasso, Velasquez, Goya, who have had other ideas about art.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t stop myself to think about it. Many people say ‘you are not modern, you are post modern’, but the only thing I can say is I do what I feel, and what I feel I have to do. It’s very sincere.

Where do your ideas begin?

When I have an idea I have a complete picture, like a film in my head. In a flash I can see everything. I can see where the dancers are, how the lighting works, everything. Sometimes it’s so fast I don’t have time to take it all in – I’ve lost many flashes like that!

How do you feel when you’re on stage?

I feel very comfortable on stage. It’s always a safe place and it’s the place I feel really free to do anything – that’s very special. Sometimes it doesn’t feel as if there’s an audience, it’s as if it is just me. But at the same time when there are 1700 people out there, 1700 hearts and minds, you can feel that from the stage and it’s very strong.

Haven’t you recently been doing some more intimate performances?

In November I was invited to New York by Mikhail Baryshnikov to perform at the Baryshnikov Arts Centre, which is only 150 people and you can feel how close they are. It was like when
I was younger and I worked in the tablaos, but the people who are there are tourists
and they don’t have the same interest in what you’re doing. This time Merce Cunningham was there and Mark Morris and Karole Armitage, it was full of dancers and choreographers.

What was Baryshnikov like?
At the beginning I thought he might be, you know… [makes a haughty gesture] but I have to say he’s very nice man. He knows so much about what we do, he was very involved, very curious, he was there every night to see the performance. I was so happy it was like a dream – Baryshnikov invited me to dance in New York! – but afterwards I realised how important it is for flamenco to be recognised, especially by a star classical dancer. It used to be seen as just folklore, a folk dance, but it’s more normal now to see flamenco on the same stages as other types of dance.

Speaking of big name collaborators, you also performed in Riverdance, how did that come about?
I had worked with the composer Bill Whelan on a project for the Expo 92 in Seville, and a year later he called me and said they were doing something for Irish dance and they wanted to invite me to take part. When I realised who the musicians were – the flamenco guitarist was one of the best – I was very enthusiastic and said ok, but when I saw what a big show it was, well, I never imagined being part of anything like that.

What was it like being in such a successful commercial show?
I’d never had a limousine come and pick me up at the theatre before! I met so many great artists, like Colin Dunne, who became a very good friend. But it’s so big and so commercial, it’s not about artists, it’s about marketing. I’m more modest in my own work. However, it gave me money to invest in my company so that helped me a lot and I’m very grateful for that – if I hadn’t had the opportunity to do Riverdance it would have been very hard for me to have a private company.

[video shows Pages dancing with Michael Flatley in Riverdance]

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Your new piece Sevilla is a homage to your home town, why was it important to you to make it?
We travel all the time but sometimes you have the need to go home. It was a moment in my life when I needed that. My personal life was very difficult – my husband had died – and it was important for me to connect with this part of me. I talked to my mother and father and aunt, I looked at pictures and started to recall things from my memory. I discovered a lot about myself in the process.

What characteristics of the city did you want to portray?
Seville is full of contrasts. One moment people may be very dramatic, or very passionate and the next very funny. They are crying and then they are laughing and having fun. And there are many types of people living together, Jews and Arabs and Africans and gitanos (gypsies), so there are many influences and nuances.

On the surface, Sevilla [the show] might look very classic, very typical flamenco, but you have to go deeper and there are many details. Like when you go on to the streets of Seville you might think there’s nothing there, but if you go and explore a little more you find a little place, a nice square, a building…

What else have you been working on?

In New York I worked with a Canadian choreographer called Aszure Barton. We created some choreography working with six contemporary dancers who normally work with Baryshnikov, and six flamenco dancers from my company. We don’t do any contemporary training in my company and they don’t do any flamenco but we danced together.

What makes a good flamenco dancer?

It’s about talent and artistry. If you asked that to a classical dancer they’d tell you about physique, but in flamenco you can be taller or shorter or fatter or thinner, younger or older. When you are an older dancer it is a positive thing not a negative thing – we respect older dancers because they bring us the traditions.

Who are the artists who will shape flamenco in the future?

José Barrios, who is in my company, he is very good. And also Rocio Molina, who used to be in my company and is performing in the Flamenco Festival London. She will be one of the big names of the future. We have so many good dancers but those two are creators as well as interpreters. I can see the evolution of flamenco becoming very interesting, I’m very positive about the future.

More on Flamenco Festival London , 3 – 16 March 08

www.sadlerswells.com

[video clip shows Sevilla in rehearsal]

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