Dancing around the world with Cristina Casa and Ion Agirretxe
Among our passionate roster of dancers, Cristina Casa has shared her thrilling style with the CND since 2015, when she first danced the role of Quinteria in . Don Quixotefor the Company. Her journey begins at the schools of María Larios and Africa Guzmán, later to move on to work in schools and companies abroad, such as the English National Ballet or the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Her track record, marked by her constancy, brings her the opportunity to join the CND, where, in 2017, she rises to the category of principal dancer.
Ion Agirretxe, is a fighter; persevering and hard-working; characteristics that make him a great dancer. He starts out dancing the traditional dances of his homeland, the Basque Country, but later leaves to work in the Europa Dance company, in France. His career is forged at different companies at home and abroad, until joining the CND in 2016. His simplicity and capacity for work raise him to the category of solo dancer two years later.
Together, this couple have imbued many a great stage with their complicity. Together, they have worked with and learned from the best choreographers. And together they have carried out projects jointly, guided by their love of dance and towards each other. Both humbly defend the need to pursue their dreams, a belief they transmit on a daily basis at the Compañía Nacional de Danza.
You both began as dancers from very different genres. What made you delve deeper into the world of dance?
ION: I started at the age of four, dancing Basque folk dances. I entered a lot of contests. Because of that, I started doing ballet as physical preparation to up my game. It just so happened that I began to like it and, at 14, I decided to come to Madrid to train and to chase my dream.
CRISTINA:I would dance even to the television news music. I remember it all starting when, one afternoon after school, I saw some girls, all dressed in pink, coming out of an academy in my home town, Coslada. I remember saying to my mum: “mummy, I want to go where those girls are going.” I was a very fidgety child and seeing them move made me want to do the same. So, my mum signed me up. Ever since, I’ve never been able to shake dance off.
A question for Ion: In what way has your euskal dantzak, —the traditional Basque folk dance—informed your classical dance?
Basque folklore has given me a lot of insight and a lot of drive and inspiration. It was always something I really enjoyed. But, more than anything, it taught me a lot about being on stage, thanks to all the contests and town-square dances I took part in. I remember I entered contests to make friends and to just enjoy the dance. And now, at this stage in ballet, I also dance to enjoy what I’m doing, otherwise it just wouldn’t be worthwhile. In short, both have brought me a lot of happiness.
Despite starting out on different paths, your destinies came together in 2008 when you both started working in the Ángel Corella Company. How do you remember that period?
CRISTINA: It was very special, as those times really marked our beginnings as professionals. We got to know such outstanding dancers as Hermán Conrejo, Angel Corella himself, Gillian Murphy, Natalia Makarova … They were right there before our very eyes and they really opened us up fully to this world. It was a beautiful time. It was there we met, though just as friends. But thanks to that, our story began.
ION: It was also such a marvellous and inspiring time because Ángel Corella was a really major, world-class figure for us. When we discovered he was going to open a company in Spain, and after being accepted by him, we were so thrilled at the opportunity of working with him. We spent four years there.
CRISTINA:He really valued our work. We were never looking for a main role in the Company, yet he gave us important dancing parts. He really gave us an energy boost, just at a time when we were starting out.
From the experience of working together, you both decided, in 2012, to continue with your careers in the Flanders Royal Ballet. What was it like setting out on a common project?
CRISTINA: We went from neither of us having a job to both of us landing one in the first audition we tried. We had married two months previously, in September, and in November we started working there. It changed our lives and a whole new chapter began. Also, we had come from doing a lot of classical dance but, now, in this place, we were doing a lot of contemporary dance at the hands of choreographers such as Willam Forsythe. It was a completely different language to what we were used to.
ION: It was a very vibrant period, with a very wide repertoire. We had the bases but not the mindset or experience of moving around in that world. We were able to learn a lot from the company’s dancers, who had so much experience.
CRISTINA: Dancers there were typically very mature; up to 30 or 40 years old. It was inspirational to see them. Their capacity for exertion and for giving it their all made them a reference point for young dancers like us, who wanted to be like that ourselves in the future. We also learned so much working under our director, Sidi Larbi, who turned the company round and put it on a positive path.
Many dancers are inspired by other colleagues within the profession. What have you learned from each other?
ION: Calm… a lot of calm, sincerity and really good energy.
CRISTINA: For me, it is admiration. When you admire and respect somebody, there is really nothing better. You don’t judge; rather, you respect.. We try to help each other. For instance, he often tells me, “it’s better like this,” and I do the same with him. It is also true that when we are called to dance together, that is also when we argue most. There is more familiarity between us than with other colleagues and that produces more frictions. You demand more and you say things in a different way to you partner.
Artistic careers are often very individualistic but you have decided to share yours. What’s it like to live your profession as a couple? What does one of you feel when you’re dancing with the other? What does one of you feel when you’re dancing with the other? How is it different from dancing with other partenaires?
ION: It’s magical. It’s like we breathe at the same time. e just look at each other and we know where to hold. If she had her eyes closed, she would know where I was going to hold her. Dancing with other dancers brings things that you can later include in your way of dancing.
CRISTINA: It’s freedom. It’s the importance of the gaze. I fully trust him. He is a really good partenaire. He is a really good partenaire. I admire him a lot. Dancing with toher partenaires the process is obviously longer—but is also really nice to dance with somebody you don’t know. It brings new feelings, new ways of moving, and that is very enrichening. It’s like learning a new language.
Jointly and separately, you have both won prizes. What do these accolades mean to you?
ION: It’s a recognition of you work, all your effort and sacrifice, and that is very welcome. It’s a significant thing when somebody places value on what you do. It also motivates you to keep chasing your dream.
CRISTINA: In my case, the prizes have been opportunities for training. They gave me the opportunity to go to London and USA and they were experiences that gave me training, both as a person and as a dancer.
You also interpreted roles of great relevance. Which one particularly stands out for you?
ION: For me, the role that has marked me most is the Molinère from the Sombrero de Tres Picos. I never imagined myself dancing a part like that, with flamenco shoes. It was so thrilling to dance a piece by Falla with somebody like Lorca Massine. The ballet is a gem and should be seen more. Not everybody has the chance to do this piece within a classic company; but I did get that chance. The ballet is a gem and should be seen more. Not everybody has the chance to do this piece within a classic company; but I did get that chance.
CRISTINA: In my case it was Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Ballet of Flanders. It was a very technical part and a very tough one. Nevertheless, Marcia Haydée, who chose me to do the part, showed me how to make it my own. She really respected and cherished each dancer’s way of dancing.
What does it mean to you, Cristina, to perform the leading part as Giselle, by your director Joaquín De Luz in Madrid? And for you Ion, what did it mean to dance the part of Hilarion? Did you coincide on stage in these roles?
CRISTINA: To dance as Giselle was like a dream come true for me. To danI’m so glad to have danced it at a mature stage of my career, as it helped me understand the emotions better and to join them with emotions that I have experienced myself. I also liked having the chance to improve it with each performance.
ION: For me, doing the part of Hilarion reminded me a lot of when I played Mercury in Romeo and Juliet. It means searching internally for a very special character, and that is built on reading books, seeing choreographies and going out there on stage, which leads you to an understanding of the history of ballet.
The CND, under the direction of José Carlos Martínez, gave you the chance to come back home and to form part of its dance team. What is it like to work for the Company? What would you highlight?
CRISTINA: It’s strange. When I was little, I saw videos of the CND and I thought I would never be able to dance there. When I joined the Company, it was like a dream to me. There is a very special upbeat energy among the dancers. Every morning, when I take my place at the barre and hear the first note from the piano I feel very lucky to belong to the Compañía Nacional de Danza; the national company of my country.
ION: We dance a wide and varied repertoire of pointes and contemporary dance. We must be grateful, especially now, for the chance to dance and carry the name of the Compañía Nacional de Danza, the national company of our country, wherever we go.
And to finish: How do you plan to celebrate your birthdays? Do you celebrate it together or separately?
CRISTINA: It is so strange that it is like: How are we not going to celebrate it together?
ION:We have a dress rehearsal and a performance. The birthdays are going to find us dancing.
CRISTINA CASA – PRINCIPAL DANCER CND
ION AGIRRETXE – SOLOIST DANCER CND
Interview by: Natalia del Buey