Dancing in the world of Erez Ilan
Erez Ilan, a shy but passionate ballet dancer, has been a part of the Compañía Nacional de Danza’a (CND) dance team since 2008; an opportunity extended to him by Nacho Duato, then CND director. Starting at a very young age, Ilan trained at The School of Ice Skating and Ballet and at The Thelma-Yellin High School of Arts, both in his native Israel. At 18, he took the leap and crossed the Mediterranean to explore Europe and to work at the CND. His dedication and talent paid off, earning him a place as soloist in 2017, a role he holds to this day, marking both a personal triumph for himself and the CND directorship’s validation of his work.
In professions related to the arts, the word vocation is always very present, often associated with an early moment in the artist’s life. How did dance grab you to the extent you have dedicated your life to it? >/strong>
It was very clear to me. I started with figure ice-skating. When I was really little, I saw a figure skater on the TV and said: “mummy, I want to do that.” Then I began dance, at a local dance school—not unlike any boy or girl of my age—and, later, I joined the Art Institute. At 18 I decided to do an audition at CND2, and they took me in.
Dance is a way for me to express my emotions and to relate with people. I am very shy and I think dance is a way to find exposure. It is my way of saying who I am—through movement—and to feel free and in my own skin.
Who would you say your influences are? Is there any teacher or dancer or even colleague that has particularly inspired you in your career?
Initially, my influences are my teachers. There are many of them who have brought me from my beginnings to where I am now. They saw talent in me and encouraged me, pushing me forward to the point I could tell my family that all the sacrifice that this involved had been worthwhile.
My day-to-day inspiration comes from my colleagues and repetiteurs. I’m with them and see them everyday; each one of us an artist. We are each different. I am open; I observe my colleagues everyday and that is what inspires me: the work of each of us and how each of us interprets a role, each of us being singular and unique. I learn a lot from them.
You say each colleague is a world in themselves but how would you define yourself as a dancer? What type of dance do you most enjoy?
When you start with ballet you want to be a classical dancer—at least that is what I always had in mind. In the last years at the institute I had the chance to try out contemporary dance, which is done at a very high level in Israel. That is one of the reasons I came here. Discovering Nacho Duato’s repertoire, its language and movement, gave me the sensation that this style would really suit me for expressing my emotions through dance. And I knew then that that is something I wanted to dance. I also like neoclassical dance, which is not classical … sure it also has a strong technical base but its push for extra movement is not so strictly governed by dance tenets.
I’d say I’m more of a neoclassical-contemporary dancer than a classical one.
Do you have any particular memory of a moment of satisfaction or of meeting a challenge? Do you remember your first ballet class … the first step you learned?
Each thing that has happened to me has led to the place I find myself now. I can tell you that when I joined the Art Institute I was aware that in that exact moment something important was starting and that it was now up to me. I took part in contests that I didn’t win. I think that the audition here in Spain, with Nacho Duato, was the “at-last” break. I’d never experienced these things before. It was thrilling and important to me to see how they had chosen a dancer from outside Spain to give him this opportunity; just because you’re worth it … they see something in you.
In 2008 you won first prize in the Mia Arbatova Competition. What was that like?
That was before I arrived in Spain. It was my second contest with them. One was in 2006, when I didn’t even get to the final—I remember that affected me a lot—and then the one in 2008, when I won. It was a real shock, yet, at that time I did know I had a chance of winning it. I worked at it so hard that I said to myself “if I don’t get through this time, it’s not me, it’s just because I don’t fit the bill.” Even so, when I won, I realised that working hard is good for something. It was incredible and exhilarating.
You speak a lot about Israel and leaving your home for your career. What was it like taking that decision?
It wasn’t easy because my mother and grandmother had supported me all the way ever since I was little. And then, suddenly, there I was, alone. But it wasn’t so difficult either because ever since I was little I was sure about what I wanted to do and I knew this change of country marked part of my beginnings in this career. I could have danced in Israel but I decided to go abroad. That was a big deal, at 18, initially. I wanted to travel, to enter into a company. I started my discovery of the world at 18. I actively did things that opened opportunities to know knew people. I very soon got to know wonderful people who, up to this day, are like a second family to me here. At the same time, my relationship with my family is really strong and the support they have always given me is what truly gives me the strength to move forward.
It’s strange how an uninformed spectator still grasps the message of a choreography. What do you think it is about dance that achieves such communication?
There are performances with a story. It isn’t easy to tell a story; it sometimes seems very laboured and unnatural, but that is something that is worked on. The understanding of the story falls partly upon the viewer but mainly upon the dancer. There are thousands of ways to interpret a role; and that is the best thing about being an artist; none of us is the same. You could perhaps say we send the same message, but each of us in our own different way.
You say each of you is different and that the Company has dancers from many different places. When working on a choreography, when dancing with others, do you detect any unifying thread enabling communication?
I think that is something more personal and it depends on what you’re like as a person. There are colleagues you are more used to dealing with or you feel more comfortable with because of the personal relationship you have. Sometimes, if there is no feeling initially, things develop a bit more step-by-step. In dance, you need to be neutral, to listen to and learn from each other to achieve a truly honest and sincere result with no falseness. For your own good, communication with your colleagues is important.
Dance is a universal language within art, transmitting messages across different cultures. How is it that dance helps break down cultural barriers to become this common language?
Dance is my way to express what I feel; much more so than with words. What we dancers know how to do is to transmit a message or try to say something in this particular way, which is through movement. Movement is something each person has. It doesn’t matter where you are from. It is something we all have in common, although each of us has our own unique and original interpretation.
To finish with, what would you highlight from your experience working as a soloist in the CND?
As with all jobs, it’s important to make yourself known and for your work to be valued. I think categories hold greater weight in classical dance. As a dancer you always want to keep on improving, growing and taking on new challenges. Each director has their own way of valuing this. It is important to me and it interests me to know and check on how my directors are seeing me and what they think of me as a dancer and artist. Such evaluation places new challenges and roles before you, helping you to grow as an artist. I have to thank José Carlos Martínez and Joaquín De Luz who have given me this opportunity to keep growing and discovering my way forward in my career.
SOLOIST DANCER IN THE COMPAÑÍA NACIONAL DE DANZA