Dancing around the world with Daan Vervoort
Daan Vervoort is a dancer of Belgian origin who, after dancing in different countries, ended up in Spain in 2006 to join the junior version of the CND, the CND2, under the direction of Nacho Duato. He later joined the Compañía Nacional de Danza and, in 2013, was promoted to soloist category. In 2016, he danced in Johan Inger’s Carmen, with Emilia Gisladottir, in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and for which Inger, the choreographer, won the prestigious Benois de la Danse award. Daan has also danced Nacho Duato’s Kol Nidre y Gnawa, William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa, among other choreographies.
You are a native of Turnhout, Belgium. Tell me a Little about the dance situation in your country. What are some of the most popular styles?
In Belgium, we don’t have a very far-reaching culture of folklore… I know in Spain there is a different dance style for each region. There is not much of a tradition in Belgium, either, of going as a family to see a show at the theatre. However, there is a really good company: the Royal Company of Flanders, which goes way back—some 40 years or so. It is one of the best in Europe and people know about it even though there is not much of a tradition of going to watch dance shows.
What was it that drew you to dance when you were little? What was it like starting out in such a feminine-associated world for you as a male?
I started with gymnastics and, if I’m honest, it was too difficult. So, my parents said why not try a couple of classical ballet classes. I was about ten and I must say I liked the switch. At that age you don’t stop to ask “is this for boys or girls”; you don’t have that view; that comes a bit later on, in adolescence. I just did the thing I liked, which was to dance, even though I was the only boy in the class. When I was fourteen and started high school, it’s true somebody did show their surprise: “You dance? But you’re a boy!” And it is then that you think maybe this is not something for boys… But that doubt only lasts a while; until you’re around eighteen, more or less, which is when you enter the professional world and it disappears altogether. Now, when I meet new people and tell them I’m a dancer, nobody makes such comments. I think it’s something that happens as a teen; the boys play football and the girls dance… But it’s daft really. The most important thing is to do what you like doing. My dad, as a professional footballer, could maybe have been harder with me about it but he was fine and encouraged me.
What was your first professional experience as a ballet dancer?
I finished at the dance school at seventeen and my first gig was in Holland. It all came so fast and I was like: “I’m working and, amazingly, in something that’s mine.” I felt so proud.
In 2005 you won the golden medal at the International Dance Competition in Biarritz. What piece did you dance? What did this recognition mean to you?
Quite a famous choreographer from Belgium prepared a small piece for me. It’s always fun to win a competition, especially an international one, mostly because you meet people from other countries and other schools. It was thrilling, especially after having worked so hard for it. They gave me a medal or a city cup … I can’t really remember to be honest; a lot of water has gone under the bridge since (laughs).
You started in the CND 2, the junior version of the Company. What was your experience in the two periods like? What would you highlight from each one?
At that time, Nacho Duato was director both for the junior and main Company. As dancers, we wanted to enter as juniors as a step to the big Company. We danced the same pieces; we had the same director… The work was super rewarding and, after two years, I passed from junior to the main Company. I think a junior company is one of the best things a company can do because, when you join up at 18, you think you know it all but, really, you know nothing about life. Entering a company of fifty or sixty dancers at such a young age, even if you are the star or best dancer, is too early, as your head is not yet where it should be. So, for me, the junior companies are a great idea.
One of the parts you’ve performed in the second season under Joaquín De Luz at the CND is Don José, from Johan Inger version of the iconic piece Carmen. How did you develop this rather intense character?
We’re revamping it again now and, after a year without dancing it, the experience is really great and, to top it all, it’s one of the CND’s legendary choreographies. The piece is such a hit because it works so well and the choreography is really sound. Looking at it now, with some perspective, I think I’ve been really lucky to dance it because, when you’re in the thick of it, doing it every other week, you can lose that perspective. But now I think like “wow, what a stroke of luck to perform that role.” It is a really big part… a very well built one, and it is like a gift to me to do something like that in my career.
That same part you took on with Emilia Gisladöttir as candidates for the Benois de la Danse Gala, in 2016, and Johan Inger was declared winner for it. How did it feel to take on such responsibility and then receive such recognition for it?
At that time, we really didn’t notice the pressure because it was all done in a light-hearted way. We went to Moscow, we danced on the greatest stage in the world, they gave us a prize and we had a great time. But we really weren’t aware of what it all meant and the importance it would have. I think about it now and it’s like… “wow, how lucky to do all that; and to do it there.”
Among the new choreographies the CND has premiered this past year are the pieces Arriaga, choreographed by Mar Aguiló, Pion Alosa and the current director, Joaquín De Luz, and Antonio Ruz’s latest work, In Paradisum. You have a leading role in both. How has it been for you to work on such contemporary pieces?
With Arriaga, we worked with Mar Aguiló, who is actually a CND dancer and so a colleague. She is a really sound person and does a great job as choreographer. Arriaga has had a bit of a run already. The piece is fun to dance, as the whole company is out on stage; and that gives the idea of a whole, of being united, which I really like. Regarding Antonio Ruz’s piece, In Paradisum, I think he has achieved what he aimed at really well. I was lucky enough to see it as part of the audience in Alcobendas and I think it a very polished work and a credit to the Company. You can see the personality of each dancer as each one has their moment of glory. I think the piece is a real asset for us.
Conversely, Joaquín De Luz gave you the chance to dance the part of Sancho Panza in Don Quijote. How did you approach such a classic and iconic part in theatrical terms?
The truth is that, in the beginning, I was not part of the Don Quijote line-up. It was created in the period of José Carlos Martínez but, shortly, a change of director happened and Joaquín arrived and there was a space for role of Sancho Panza. Joaquín approached me and asked me to do it as a favour. I thought, “new directorship, new opportunities, new idea…” and I did it. It was interesting to do but, clearly, it is not the type of character I aspire to playing in my career as a dancer.
Within the Company, is there a dancer you have a special connection with on stage?
We don’t have many opportunities to dance with a lot of different people, which is a shame. Sure, there are a lot of us, but you always end up dancing with the same people… I remember a piece by Sharon Fridman, which I performed with Aleix Mañé—a very contemporary duet we danced some three or four years ago. We had a great connection dancing and, also, we’ve known each other for years… We entered the junior company together about fourteen years ago and, to be honest, we work really well together.
And outside the world of dance, you’re studying computer engineering. Where did that interest come from?
Looking into the future a bit, I wanted to study something other than dance and which opens new opportunities for me. I’m really interested in programming and coding, how machines work… and I decided to study the course remotely.
I’ve been told you really like Madrid. What is it you like most about the city?
I love Madrid. It is a shame I like it so much, otherwise I would have returned to my own country. It is simply wonderful, if I’m honest; very welcoming and I’ve always felt at home here and it’s allowed me to live my life one hundred percent, which I’m so grateful for. As a foreigner, I can say that the life you find in Madrid is difficult to find elsewhere. It has its downside, of course, like everything. Here is very expensive and salaries are low… But as a city, it works really well.
Would you like to go back to Belgium to work? Maybe you miss speaking Flemish?
I can hardly remember Flemish. I speak it with my parents once a week and it is tough for me. It’s hard to get started and I find it difficult to find the words… Obviously, I miss my family. I want to go back for at least a year or two to be with them. The country itself is not really the thing, because you learn to adapt, but that is where the family is and I want to reconnect with them.
Daan Vervoort has decided that the performance of 13 June 2021, in Seville, will be his last one as a professional dancer. He has risen high, he has represented Spain on the best stages, he has worked with the best choreographers. Daan moves on following a brilliant career and his name sits among the greats of dance of his generation. Many thanks Daan Vervoort.
Interview by Sandra Cadenas