Alejandro Granados, Dancer, Part 1

Alejandro Granados is a dancer and instructor with an international career spanning several decades. He has worked with many of flamenco’s most respected artists and has performed in the most prestigious flamenco festivals. He lives in Madrid, Spain. 

The interview was conducted on March 16, 2018, in Madrid, Spain, at the Amor De Dios: Centro De Arte Y Danza Española. It will be presented of the course of several posts. 

My name is Alejandro Granados, I dedicate myself to flamenco, and I was born in Madrid.

When you think of the flamenco community, what is the image that comes to mind? How do you see it?    

I believe there is a noticeable change at an international level, social level, political level, and economic level. There’s a change, we’re not going to say if it’s better or worse, but my generation is really privileged. We had the great artists of the past with us and they were relatively young and in good form. We also had a bright economic period in which one could travel. There were lots of tours and companies and lots of options for working and studying. Everything was bright because it was emerging from prior times, the Franco years and all that, which were more closed. I didn’t live through that because I was born afterwards, but something had to explode and come out of all that. This began to happen when I was around sixteen or seventeen years old. So I think we were really privileged as a generation. Right now I think many people are the same as we were, with lots of talent as in every time period, but I get the sense that the personalities of artists of the past were more prominent because there wasn’t so much technique used to execute the ideas. People had to search for creativity in a different way. It’s not that they don’t use creativity today, of course they do, but it seems it used to be done in a more organic way. And so if you had me choose, as they say in the Chinguitos song, something really good from before or something really good now, I’ll stick with something really good from the past. But this isn’t just in flamenco, it’s in all musical forms, in the movies, in everything. What I see now is too much noise, too much stress, and too much information in everything. At times, when you see artist, after artist, after artist, you can’t take anything concrete home with you because things are pretty much the same. Everything is done really well, but pretty much the same. That’s what I think.       

How old is Amor De Dios [Centro De Arte Flamenco Y Danza in Madrid]

I believe it started in the 70’s.

So it’s actually older than the Fundación [Cristina Heeren] in Sevilla, but still the concept of an official, formal school is quite new in flamenco. 

In the past there were individual masters. Now what you have is people that, perhaps for the lack of work, have to give classes. It’s different because if one is a good dancer that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good teacher or vice versa. And now I think the students in general just want fancy steps. There’s no concern for the body, the arms, or the head. There’s no proper artistic formation. There are people who are doing all this footwork, but without an understanding of what dance really is, which is the movement of the whole body. It began to change around 2005 or 2006 because new generations where showing up and they had other points of reference. My generation had no other choice but to coexist with the masters because they were all still around. But now very few of those masters are around. This is why the younger artists give classes now. Furthermore, I don’t know if the majority of the students who show up have a real interest in or passion for flamenco. They all like to dance Bulerías. Everything is pretty much Bulerías, as if they were some flamenco from the streets where no one has a care in the world and where it’s all really fun. And that’s fine, but your question is something different. One phrase of Soleá can have an entire lifetime of experience behind it, and of joy and of sadness. There comes a day when you just do… da da da da dum… and it sounds glorious even when it’s really simple because there’s an entire life’s worth of understanding there.

AG in class

What characteristics do you search for in a guitarist?

You, as a guitar player, know that in certain moments the music is the protagonist and is the one that develops the ideas on stage. I then, as a dancer, listen to that music and interpret it. Later there are other moments in which the dance becomes the protagonist and the guitarists, or singers, have to observe and search for what that dancer needs, not what they want to do or what they think sounds beautiful. They need to look for what is necessary. This is why it’s so difficult to play or sing for dancing, and many people think poorly of guitarists playing for dance. I don’t think that. I think highly of guitarists and singers who play for dance, because if they do it well it’s because they really know what’s going on and therefore they have a critical role. If one is learning he/she has to try and grab onto a basic and strong reference to be developed later. If one immediately tries to play advanced material, it’s not the same. Just like building a house, you need a strong foundation in order to build up later. So for someone who is learning it’s really important to have a strong foundation. This is what allows you to grow afterwards.

To perform your best, do you play for yourself, your fellow artists, the audience, or something else entirely different?

A bit for all of them, but normally I try to dance for my ancestors. I speak with them first and give them thanks for being able to dance, then I try to dance well for myself, then my fellow artists, and then the public.   

And have you always felt the same or has this changed at different moments in your career?

The only thing that has changed is that now I’m much more relaxed and don’t feel a need to prove anything. I just do what I do and that’s it. This change has been good because when I finish dancing now I feel better than before I started. Before, when I finished dancing my body hurt a lot because my emotions and tension were uncontrollable. Now I can control them rather well.       

Do you enjoy touring? What do you like and what is difficult about touring?   

Yes, at the beginning of my career we toured up to 11 months a year. It was crazy, really crazy, but there was a whole world out there to know, the hotels, every little thing was so exciting. For a young person there was so much to learn, everything was welcome. I like that a lot because I was created that way, I was born that way. I’ve been moving around a lot since I was a baby and I’m still that way. I really like to keep changing places, so for me touring was really important because that’s always been my natural state of being. The knowledge you acquire from other cultures and other countries has always been important too – and the theaters! I love to arrive early when no one’s there and sit there on stage for a while in silence. It’s like being in your second home; it always feels familiar. The physical building itself is important too.

Talk to me about that a little more. That interests me because of course you’ve performed in really small places and also giant auditoriums. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of building or space? 

The smaller places with closer contact are great because, and it’s the same in rehearsals too, the person who’s dancing gets really close to the guitarists and the singers. You’re not rehearsing in front of a mirror. When you look their way they really see you, and so the feeling of being really close is great. Then later you go to the theater and that’s gone and you feel strange because you’re far way. The floor doesn’t sound the same there either. What’s interesting and beautiful, however, is the grandeur of the stage or theater and the magic they have. As the word theater implies, you know it’s all just somewhat of an illusion. It’s all some invention, something that takes you somewhere else; it’s another movie. That’s the magic of the theater. Normally when you’re on stage you see the audience, but in the theater all you see is a distance darkness. You can lose yourself more and go deeper into your true self, your interior, and that’s exciting and really beautiful for an artist. Your ego also works differently here because you’re performing for many people and they applaud and scream at you or say olé or whatever. Your egocentric self is impacted, in the positive sense. That can be good because it can nourish you and make you stronger. I think the tablao environment is more real, more connected to the ground, and the theater or big stage makes you fly a bit more in another way.         

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