Back in October, with our enthusiasm to expand our virtual offerings and create experiences that would bring a bit of Spain into people’s living rooms, we sat down with Cristina Cazorla, one of Madrid’s most prominent dancers from the bolera school, to ask her about her experience dancing in the Museo del Prado to celebrate World Tourism day on September 27th. She gave us an insider’s glimpse into this truly special occasion that fused fashion, art, dance, and music in an attempt to, despite the current difficulties we are facing due to the global pandemic, keep the arts sector of our beloved Madrid fresh in our hearts and minds so we continue to celebrate and support it anyway possible. We will be doing our part to keep people connected by offering monthly virtual experiences on the Arts led by our extraordinary art historians. The first experience, Art in Fashion, being held on February 24th, will explore the role of fashion in some of Spain’s most treasured paintings and see where Balenciaga (& Coco Chanel) found inspiration. Below is our interview with Cristina.
IT: Tell us what the event was in the Prado Museum?
CC: It was the Prado Museum and the Association of Flamenco Tablaos in Madrid coming together to remind people of the importance of culture on World Tourism Day. The importance of dance, flamenco, art, culture and tourism all fused together.
IT: What was your part and how did you get involved?
CC: The artistic director, Antonio Najarro, contacted me because they wanted representation of the bolera dance school in the video. I had previously worked with him in 2016. (A video was created of the event that includes 3 flamenco dancers, 1 flamenco singer, and Cristina from the bolera school. See the video here)
IT: How is it working with Antonio?
CC: The experience was great. He is a very well established choreographer and director in the Spanish dance world. Working with different choreographers and directors is always a very enriching and fulfilling experience for any dancer.
IT: And how did the event work with the director? Was it entirely pre choreographed?
CC: He gave each of us the freedom to create our own 15-20 seconds more or less. Then the part at the end where we all came together was choreographed. In our free 15-20 seconds, we were able to gain inspiration from the painting we were assigned to and the accompanying music.
IT: And what artwork was chosen for you?
CC: I was put in the Velazquez room where, at the end, we also all danced together in front of the famous “Las Meninas” painting. I specifically was assigned to dance in front of the painting of Doña Mariana de Austria. This work was chosen for me due to the fact that the esthetic and dress fit particularly well with the bolera school. So it was appropriate for me to dance in front of it.
IT: If you could describe in a few words the escuela (school of) bolera, what would you say, for people who are unfamiliar with it?
C: The bolera school is the classic, refined technique, with all of the character associated with Spanish dance. It has a particular aesthetic and wardrobe, and is characterized by certain body positions such as rounded arms and very refined legs. The use of castanets is also typical in bolera, however they were not used in this instance.
IT: You have studied in many disciplines, right? Classic Spanish dance consists of 4 disciplines, correct?
CC: Yes, to become a professional dancer, you must study 4 styles: bolero, folklore, stylized dance, and flamenco. And we all study classical ballet as a base as well as some contemporary dance.
IT: And do you feel more comfortable in one of the styles over the others?
CC: Yes, since I was very young I have always felt more comfortable dancing bolero and folklore. (Cristina was born and raised in Madrid.)
IT: Did el bolero originate in certain regions of Spain or is it a purely national dance?
CC: It is very tied to folklore, to the Goya style based in Madrid. The folklore dance in Spain started in the small villages and little by little evolved into the 4 professional styles. The Bolera school has elements of this Goya style and also Andalusian influences.
IT: And what is the Goya style?
CC: It comes from the fact that the famous 18th century Spanish painter, Francisco Goya, was influenced by the style and it influenced his artwork.
IT: Do you like that aesthetic? Do you feel it suits you well?
CC: Yes, absolutely. I like it a lot. I love the bolero costumes, with the ruffled skirts that are short, falling right below the knee.
IT: Do the skirts weigh a lot?
CC: Yes, they do! With time, this aspect of the costumes has begun to change in the bolera school to make the interpretation of the dance easier. The traditional, heavy skirts limit movement considerably. The bolera school is changing a lot alongside the classical technique, becoming more skilled with more jumps and turns, so the clothing must evolve as well to keep up with these changes.
IT: Going back to the interpretation in the museum, how did you feel? Were you really focused on what you had to do or were you thinking, “I can’t believe I’m in front of this painting!” How did it impact you?
CC: I really love the idea of bringing together art and dance and dancing right there in the museum. I’ve had the fortune of dancing in museums before on other occasions and I think it is magic. The arts fused together is like an explosion. And in this case, being in the Prado Museum, the jewel of all museums in Spain, it was really exciting of course. And surrounded by paintings by Velázquez, Spain’s master painter, was really something.
IT: I remember doing something similar (Joanna filmed a TV production for National Geographic in the Prado and remembers being alone in the rooms next to all the masterpieces) and you feel this weight from history, it’s almost like a presence from the past is with you, no?
CC: Yes, absolutely. And being in those immense rooms with the really high ceilings, in front of those paintings, I felt something inexplicable, something truly special and beautiful.
IT: And that moment when you all turned and put the masks on, was that choreographed?
CC: Yes, it formed part of the choreography, related to the situation that we are living in now. We wanted to assert that culture is safe and also stress the importance of following the rules and doing what is required. But also we wanted to get people excited about returning to the theatre, going to see dance, watch films, visit exhibitions in museums, and anything art related because the arts are safe. We wanted to get across the message that we are following all of the health requirements.
IT: What is the connection between you and your painting?
CC: I loved my painting from the first moment Antonio assigned it to me. I saw it as very elegant and delicate, fitting perfectly with the bolera style. It was very high class with Doña Mariana de Austria as the subject. So my interpretation had to be elegant, delicate, subtle, yet also strong to reflect the power of high society. I tried to imagine myself in her skin and was also inspired by the accompanying music. The music for my part was guitar and percussion with the feet and, at the coinciding moment, there is a complex part with a quick rhythm. Antonio asked me to dance with a strength that reflected this moment in the song. The challenge for me was to find a balance and reflect both delicacy and strength in my dancing.
One other important thing I forgot to mention… Antonio told me not to use castanets because Doña María de Austria is represented with a scarf in her left hand so he wanted me to use this element for the dance. He wanted it to seem as if Doña Mariana herself was taken out of the painting and brought to life.
IT: Did you read about her as a person or was it really just looking at the work and seeing what the portrait represented to you?
CC: It was really the second because of the time restraint. 15 seconds passes very quickly so you really do not have enough time to express a lot of different elements and the full history. But yes, normally when I choreograph I like to saturate myself in what I am going to create. I like to learn all about the theme by reading books and looking at images to learn all I can. That is very important to my creative process.
IT: What is your dancing background? How did you arrive at the point you are today?
CC: I’ve thought about this question a lot and, truthfully, I am a dancer because circumstances in my life have fallen into place. Art, whether it be music, dance, singing, painting, or drawing, has always been present in my house since I was very young. My uncle is a painter, my mother draws, my sister and I have taken dance and drawing classes since we were little. It was always there, so in an unconscious way, since I was little, I have been on a path to become a dancer. I entered the conservatory when I was just 8 years old and at that age you aren’t sure what you want to dedicate your life to. So it was a gradual process. I gave it my all at the conservatory. I was very disciplined from a young age and I absolutely loved it. So little by little I advanced, passing each course, until all of the sudden I had become a professional dancer. I started to dance with companies rather quickly after finishing school and here I am. Always working very hard and being very dedicated to my craft.
IT: What advice would you give to someone training to become a professional dancer?
CC: I would say that, if it is really something they want to do, they should go for it and be confident in themselves. However, if it is not where their true passion lies, they should look for something else that fulfills them. If they are truly passionate about dance, little by little the results will follow. We can’t expect great achievements right from the beginning. They don’t arrive with a BOOM at the start. You have to have patience that, with time, the success will come. Every little step is a success.
IT: Anything else you would like to add?
CC: Before, when we were talking about the painting, we touched on the subject of costumes and, for me, the costumes are incredibly important. I have some costumes at home and as soon as Antonio sent me a photo of the painting I was assigned, I knew immediately what I was going to wear. This costume really excited me. I had it already and had used it for another interpretation last year. I was really hoping to have the opportunity to use it again. The dress was designed by José Rabasco and is absolutely beautiful. He designed these small figurines that are so precious, and the costume was conceptualized and made by Carmen Sánchez “La Genara”. Both Carmen and José are truly incredible. Carmen never fails me and always creates amazing costumes out of the figurines. To me, her creations are the definition of elegance. Wearing this costume is something I treasure. The top part is a bodysuit with gold details and tulle, elastic black sleeves. The entire back is opened. And the skirt has a lot of volume but is made with very lightweight materials so you can move with ease. I always say that I need to have José and Carmen by my side!
Thank you so much to Cristina Cazorla for chatting with us and revealing so many details behind this truly beautiful project that has hopefully inspired people to, despite the current situation, continue engaging with the arts community in a safe and responsible way. We certainly were inspired by Cristina and this wonderful collaboration and are very much looking forward to continuing to learn about the connection between art and fashion through our virtual experiences. We hope to see you at our first OPEN SIGN UP VIRTUAL ART session on Wednesday, February 24th! We will explore the role of fashion in some of Madrid’s most treasured paintings and see where Balenciaga (& Coco Chanel) found inspiration.