Dancing around the world with Álvaro Madrigal
Seville-born Álvaro Madrigal is a versatile dancer. He cannot be pigeonholed as a classical dancer or as a contemporary dancer but rather is able to enjoy the full repertoire of the Compañía Nacional de Danza (CND).
Álvaro respects classical dance so much that he could easily be considered a classical dancer. But the same could be said regarding contemporary dance also. He himself prefers to be defined as an emotional dancer; somebody who needs to feel something when dancing.
You come from one of the most art-imbued cities in Spain: Seville. Was it the city’s magical artistic spirit, or duende, that inspired you to start dancing?
It is true that Seville is a city that can inspire you in many aspects. But I consider it to be your own body, on listening to music, that inspires you to dance, regardless of where you grew up.
Professional art runs through your family. Did this influence you when deciding to devote yourself to the art of dance?
It influenced me when it came to being free in choosing what to do with my life. I always had the support of my parents to devote myself to whatever would make me happy.
Dance is such a physically tough profession that it is not possible to do it all your life. What do you think you will devote yourself to when you no longer have the physical capacity you have now? Have you thought about studying another career?
Well, it’s a scary question for dancers in general; but I don’t lose too much sleep over it.
It is true that there is a physiological age limit to dancing in a company like the CND. We are not obliged to leave the company at a certain age. But there comes a time when your body no longer performs like when you were young and it becomes more exacting to reach the level of excellence that certain choreographies require. That is when you have no choice but to leave your position as dancer in the company.
Nevertheless, dance is for everyone and for all ages. So, if you want to continue dancing once you reach a certain age, you can create or join projects focused on other types of dance that do not require the agility and strength of a 25-year old. That doesn’t mean such dance is less interesting; on the contrary, it is dance that is full of experience, knowledge and maturity. But the truth is, there is no place for this type of dance in the Company. That’s why I consider that the retirement age for dancers should be brought forward to a more commensurate age, as other European countries do, instead of keeping it at 65, as is the case in Spain. Maybe I want to open a fried fish bar on the beach when I’m older, who knows! I welcome everything that life gives me with open arms.
At the beginning of your career, you worked in Ángel Corella’s company, as did some of your CND colleagues. Were you there at the same time as some of them? What learnings did you take from there?
Yes, and I was so thrilled! I met Toby William Mallit, Cristina Casa, Ana Calderón, Ion Agirretxe and Roberto and Iván Sánchez. The first thing I learned was that I had a lot to learn. It was a company full of talent and those people inspired and gave me so much drive.
Your career has involved a string of different ballet companies. What style of dance do you think defines you? Do you think that having worked in these companies has influenced the style you have chosen?
Fortunately, I have worked in several companies with very different repertoires and that has given me both the ability to adapt and the tools to build myself as a dancer. You have to try everything in life to find what you really like; useful advice not just for dance.
Besides classical ballet, are there other styles that characterise you? As somebody from Seville, flamenco perhaps?
Well, I was never really good at flamenco. I was very shy and lacked the hot bloodedness. And that is the worst combination for that particular discipline, although I have to say that now there are few things that I enjoy more than dancing a Sevillana at the city’s Real de la Feria with my friends from the conservatory.
Not so long ago you enjoyed a Joaquín De Luz class at the CND with guitar accompaniment. What did you feel as a Sevillian when you danced to the chords of a flamenco guitar?
I enjoyed and appreciated it a lot but, for me, I prefer the piano. The two instruments are polyphonic and have a great musical richness, although when playing several notes at the same time, the piano is more flexible than the guitar with its wider range of nuance, which is really appreciated when accompanying certain exercises. Still, I think it was very interesting for ear training in class.
You have also danced with a number of other highly prestigious choreographers. Which one do you think you most identified with?
I really enjoyed working with Antonio Ruz. I felt very at ease with his language, which enabled me to relax, enjoy and transport myself on stage to a very special place while dancing.
In 2012, you joined the CND under the direction of José Carlos Martínez. You have danced leading roles and performed as soloist. What part would you say you liked to play the most?
I have a piece stored in a very beautiful place in my heart. Gods and Dogs, by Jiří Kylián. I can’t say I danced it perfectly but I can assure you that the sensations that ran through my body made all the sacrifices I made since I started dancing worthwhile.
It was an intense and very beautiful process and I was lucky to have as my dance partner Irene Ureña, who I feel a very special connection with on stage. Feeling her present by my side gave me peace and security.
In the Company you spend many hours with colleagues from other cultures, including your own Andalusian culture. What does this diversity offer you? What do you contribute?
I love that cultural-diversity side of the Company, especially gastronomically speaking! I love it when YaeGee Park takes me out for Korean BBQ or Anthony Pina makes me pancakes American-style. For my side of the bargain, I have my beloved April Fair and I take them to drink rebujitos and to eat cured ham.
You have been lucky enough to work on your passion in your own country. Do you think dance occupies an important niche in Spanish culture? Do you think it is well valued?
I think it is easy to answer this question just by looking at the number of immensely talented dancers who have to leave the country in order to dance with dignity. The dance situation in Spain is precarious. Given the talent that exists in this country, Spain would otherwise be a world power of dance if only dance were valued here taking the central stage it deserves culturally.
Finally, will you celebrate your birthday by dancing? Would you like to spend back on home soil?
Dancing, yes of course. But I don’t mind where, as long as it is with the people I love.
Interview: Natalia del Buey