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Letter from Spain.

Names like Nacho Duato, Joaquin Cortes, Victor Ullate, Maria Pages, Antonio Canales, and Angel Corella are renewing the international dance public's acquaintance with the Iberian peninsula. Despite precarious infrastructures and shrinking government subsidies, contemporary, classical, and traditional dance in Spain are experiencing a new vitality.

In 1990 Duato raised the hackles of purists when he took on the direction of the national ballet company and radically updated its repertory, image, and name. Founded in 1979 as the Ballet Nacional Clasico, the ensemble had embraced a classical and neoclassical repertory under the successive directorships of Ullate, Maria de Avila, Ray Barra, and Maya Plisetskaya. Eight years into Duato's reign, the vibrant Compania Nacional de Danza is a cohesive ensemble of outstanding dancers with an excellent reputation. Duato's highly directed talent and charismatic image have raised the company's profile and brought dance to the attention of the general public.

Classical ballet repertory is currently the domain of the Ballet de Zaragoza and Ullate's Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid. The former is directed by a twenty-eight-year-old Arantxa Arguelles, a dancer with Spain's national classical ballet company at age thirteen, and later with the Berlin Opera Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet. Former Bejart star Ullate founded his ensemble in 1988; it officially became the Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid after he reached an agreement in 1996 with the regional government for substantial funding. With the arrival of Duato on the dance scene, Ullate astutely added Giselle, Les Sylphides, and, most recently, Don Quixote to his primarily neoclassical and contemporary ballet repertory to attract audiences that demanded more classical programs. Spaniards are enthusiastic balletomanes and touring Eastern European ensembles fill their houses, as does the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, an annual visitor, whose artistic director, Alicia Alonso, directs a special program at Madrid's Complutense University.

The Ballet Nacional de Espana, devoted to Spanish dance, is now directed by young Aida Gomez, one of the company's finest dancers. The company's season at Madrid's Teatro Real last June emphasized new work by young choreographers, including Gomez's own solo to music by jazz saxophonist Jorge Pardo, a powerful flamenco solo by guest artist Eva La Hierbabuena, and contemporary choreographer Ramon Oller's rendition of the Spanish theater classic La Celestina.

Last June was the Ballet Nacional de Espana's first season at Teatro Real, which reopened last year after extensive, costly, and controversial remodeling. Relatively scant dance programming for 1998-99 (Duato's acclaimed Romeo and Juliet and the Kirov Ballet) as well as the opera house's lack of a residential ballet company have been protested by the dance community. A similar situation exists in Barcelona, where the Teatre del Liceu is currently under reconstruction following a fire that demolished the landmark in 1993. In the past, both the Teatro Real and the Liceu had resident ballet companies that nurtured some of the country's finest dance artists.

Flamenco has undergone enormous changes during the past two decades as young artists meld their contemporary experiences with an ancestral art form. The resulting art form is very popular in Spain, although traditionalists worry about maintaining flamenco's roots. Dance training for flamenco artists now invariably includes other disciplines, and the guitar is often accompanied by violin, flute, percussion, and electric bass. Dancers such as Canales, Belin Maya, La Hierbabuena, Sara Baras, Cortes, and Pages have expanded the traditional boundaries of flamenco, while companies like Barcelona's Increpacion and Madrid's Arrieritos have arrived at a successful and evocative amalgam of traditional and contemporary styles.

New artists emerging from the Basque country, Valencia, and Andalusia are changing the shape of dance in Spain. There are outlets for new choreography, such as the annual Certamen Coreografico de Madrid, the national showcase for new work in contemporary ballet and dance, which has been instrumental in promoting young choreographers. A similar competition was established in Madrid in 1992 for new work in Spanish dance and flamenco. The growing network of small independent theaters throughout the country and collectives such as La Porta and La UVI provide support for new dance.

Veteran contemporary dance artists such as Catalonia's Cesc Gelabert, Lanonima Imperial, Mudances, Mai Pelo, Metros, and Nats Nus, Madrid's 10 & 10 Danza and Provisional Danza, and Valencia's Vicente Suez are becoming familiar on the international festival circuit. The annual contemporary dance showcase, Dansa Valencia, is a meeting place for presenters, choreographers, and dancers, and recently a choreographic center opened in Valencia.

Spain is host to several major festivals, among them San Sebastian's Maiatza Dantzan, Valladolid's Muestra Internacional de Danza and the capital's Madrid en Danza and Festival de Otoco. These festivals feature international dance artists, as does Barcelona's summer Festival Grec, which includes a three-day marathon of dance in the streets. Andalusia's summer flamenco festivals and Seville's Bienal de Flamenco offer exciting opportunities to experience the art at its source.

The education of dancers has come under scrutiny recently; both the validation of diplomas issued by official conservatories and the establishment of advanced and university-level curricula are topics of debate.

The Ministry of Education and Culture's refusal to grant university equivalency to conservatory diplomas (which in the past were also issued by the ministry) means that dance teachers with these diplomas are no longer qualified to give classes at certain levels.

During the 1990s, the ministry has also been implementing sweeping educational reforms, establishing standards level by level. Conservatory dance programs have balanced precariously between curricula, waiting for a definitive policy to cover all levels of dance training. The ministry maintains that the previous lack of a uniform curriculum made for drastic differences in the quality of diploma programs throughout the country.

Dance teachers are protesting a decision which would give hiring preference in certain teaching positions to holders of university degrees over qualified dance teachers. (University dance degrees do not officially exist yet for dance). The Spanish Federation of Associated Dance Professionals has the difficult task of maintaining a fruitful dialogue with the government while working toward unity in an often divided field. At present, the Federation has more than 1,000 members and is growing in number and in clout.

In terms of funding, dance still remains the Cinderella of the performing arts. National government grants for the arts face an uncertain future, as a growing federal government structure is gradually giving Spain's regions responsibility for cultural affairs. Catalonia recently won a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education and Culture, in which they demanded that national grant money for the performing arts be administered directly by the regions. Besides concentrating all funding decisions within one local panel, there is no proviso guaranteeing that such federal money would necessarily be used for the arts. Although grants will be issued by the Ministry this year, it is impossible to predict what will happen in 1999.

Given this situation and decreases in other government funding, private entities play an increasingly important role. The Fundacion Autor, which recently organized the Max Awards for the Performing Arts, also provides grants and, with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, has created a choreography competition for ballet in Spain and Latin America.

Although these are uncertain times for the arts, Spain's dance community remains rich in ideas and talent, instantly identifiable in an increasingly global world.
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Title Annotation:current state of ballet, modern, flamenco companies and resources for dance education and government subsidies
Author:Kumin, Laura
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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