Pastora Galván is a dancer from a family full of flamenco artists, most notably her father José Galván and brother Israel Galván. Her international career started early and she has performed with many of flamenco’s greatest artists. She’s won numerous awards and appears regularly in major festivals across the globe, including every edition of the Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla since 1998.
The interview was conducted on April 26, 2018, at Pastora’s home in the Macarena neighborhood of Sevilla. It will be presented over the course of several posts.
I’m Pastora Galván de los Reyes, I’m from Sevilla Capital and I was born into a flamenco family. I did professional studies of Spanish dance at the Conservatory of Dance in Sevilla. I’ve been working and touring internationally since I was fifteen years old in the United States, Japan, Europe, parts of Asia, Russia, many countries.
Given that you’re from a family of important flamenco artists, what are some of your first memories of music and dance?
My first experiences are from my mother’s womb, since she was a dancer. My parents were Eugenia de los Reyes and José Galván. When she was pregnant with [my brother] Israel, she kept dancing until she was five months pregnant, but she danced with me until eight months! Since I was the second pregnancy it all felt a little more normal. She wasn’t as scared, so she just kept dancing. When I was born my father opened up his flamenco dance school here in Sevilla. My mom stopped dancing after I was born, and because she loved our home and took care of the house, whenever she went out shopping or needed to clean, she would leave me at his academy in the baby stroller. I would just fall asleep there to the sound of singing, guitar playing, and dancing, so flamenco is something that we’ve had at home forever.
When did you realize that you had the talent necessary to work as a professional artist and how did you decide to pursue this as your career?
To be honest, since it was always at home when I was a child and since I went to my dad’s academy everyday, I didn’t see it as something serious. I went to play. I didn’t want to dance. My dad had many students and he’d review the dances a lot. He would have me review the dances I knew with the students, sometimes he’d teach them to me and other times he wouldn’t, so it didn’t seem serious to me. At nine years old he signed me up for the Conservatorio de Danza (Dance Conservatory) and I did a test to see if I was at the level needed to get in. I got in and went, but I was obligated to go by my father. I didn’t go because I thought that I’d like it; I was pretty loose about it. Flamenco tired me out because it was at home on a daily basis. I didn’t place much importance on it. Later on, when I was fifteen, my dad said to me, “okay, let’s go, you’re going to dance solo. We’re going to California, then to Japan.” I started preparing so that I could perform some dances in those theaters. At seventeen my father took me to the flamenco tablao Los Gallos and from that moment on I understood that it was getting serious. I was at Los Gallos at a time when there were many good artists working there, like Iniesta Cortes, El Torombo, Juan de los Reyes, Rafaela Carrasco, Manuel Betanzos. I don’t remember the others right now, but they were all older than I was. I was only seventeen, but I understood that this was now something serious. But it was really my father’s decision. In no moment did I ever decide to dance. He did it all.
How did you confront your doubts at that time?
I said, “flamenco is what I have.” I’ve never known anything else, so I just decided to work a lot.
Did your father formally teach you?
Yes, my father taught us since we were little. Then he took me to the conservatory, but there I learned the general body technique, a little about the regional dances, the bolero school, classical dance. It was for a broader dance education. There are dancers, like the Farruco family or Manuela Carrasco, that aren’t classically trained, so their dance is a little more savage, you know?
That they have their own style.
Yes, although I have my own style too, I think.
I’ve seen one full show of yours. It was in the United States in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2012, the homage to Triana. I was also here when you participated in a show at the Cartuja Center in Sevilla. What’s interesting to me is that you seem to have a style that is contemporary, that is looking to the future, but that is always looking towards the past as well.
Of course, because that’s what I always had at home. My style comes from the fact that I like everything. If I go to see contemporary dance, I like it. If I see classical dance, I like it. If I see pure flamenco, I like it. I like opera. I love Lola Flores. I’m someone that likes everything related to art. Therefore, using my way of being and my body I have, when it comes time to dance, I channel it all. It’s all reflected. I’m also a theatrical person, which is good for those who come to see me. It’s good for me too because it helps me go into my own world where I can mix all those elements.
What do you consider as your greatest artistic achievement? What makes you most proud?
My biggest achievement so far has to be [the show] La Francesa, because I had just come out of the conservatory. I’d always been taught by my dad and had done shows with my brother. But this show was hard because it was a time when Israel was changing his way of doing things. He was the director and the choreographer. He made me dance with high heels and had me explore the personalities of some very different types of women. The flamenco woman was there, as was a cabaret woman, the femme fatale also. It was called La Francesa because most of it was based on how the French viewed Spanish women in the 1920’s. In one moment, I had to dance sexy, the next moment I had to be angry, then I had to dance like a drunk person, then like a flamenco. And so, for me, coming from my father, then the conservatory, then Los Gallos, I was in a state of complete shock! There was a moment in the final rehearsals where I just said, “this is what I do,” because I just couldn’t find myself in it at all. I really wasn’t sure about what my brother was developing for me, although he knew me well and knew I could do it. That was an important change in my life.
You teach as well. When did you start teaching?
I was young. I started when I was around 8 years old at my dad’s academy. I taught other young girls from Sevilla, also some rumbas to older people.
What do you do differently when teaching children versus adults?
You need to have a lot of patience, whether or not you’re teaching children or adults, honestly. Teaching is about having patience. I give all that I have when I teach. I don’t hold back anything, so teaching is a lot of effort for me. Every time I commit to teaching a series of classes, I work myself to death. I don’t just sit there the whole time or spend the whole hour talking. No no no, I want the students to learn and I want them to take away as much material as possible. I also try to explain flamenco from my point of view, my way of seeing it, and how each person should go about developing their own personality. For example, when I dance, I don’t memorize each of my steps and then just execute them. When I’m studying, I name each part of the dance. This helps me explain the dance to the students. Other times I’ll tell them something like, “imagine here that you’re on the verge of falling.” If they are really imagining that, the audience will feel it. If you just explain each step as in, “it’s this way or that way,” everyone turns into a machine.
Many people are telling me that with such a high level of technique, young artists do difficult things really well today, but that there is a lack of personality overall. What’s going on here?
I believe it’s important in flamenco, as in everything in life in general, to have personality. Personality is important, and also to be a reflection of past generations, like Trini de España. She was a dancer I liked a lot when I saw her dance as a child. I saw her at Los Gallos. Isabel Romero, another great dancer, Carmen Amaya, Angelita Vargas. You can’t improve on that. I never saw my mom dance, but her friends told me she was incredible. At home there was my father, who really liked Farruco. My father always liked him and that’s clear in his dancing. I also have the more modern thread of Israel, although he used to do more flamenco, so to speak. He still dances flamenco, but his dance can incorporate all styles. He never studied contemporary dance, he’s classically trained, rather. He’s someone who’s style reflects his own way of seeing flamenco, he’s like a futurist, or a Picasso.
It depends a lot on the teacher each student has and what’s been taught. Many just teach technique and fancy steps, but they don’t ever tell the student what the public wants to see. When I go to a theater, I want the show to make me feel something. This is something I say often when I teach. In dance, ¨if you have to cry, you cry; if you have to laugh, you laugh; if you have to throw yourself on the floor, you throw yourself on the floor.¨ It’s like a movie! It’s as if we are actors. Technique is good, but within that technique, one should relax, because dancing isn’t about being rigid, or just doing footwork, or just arm work, no. With dance, we have to give the audience a language, a dialogue they can understand. I’ve gone to shows many times where I’ve left saying, “madre mía, look at all the steps they know! What value does all that have?” In many of the courses I’ve taught, I’ve told the students that they know more steps than me, that I don’t know that many steps! But, it’s preferable to know fewer steps and have the identity of the person be present and be able to transmit [the message] to our audience. That’s what needs to be worked on.
What is the approach and attitude that you have regarding your own technique?
I should have better technique. I think my technique is strange, but my life is also complicated. I have a daughter. I’m a single woman raising my daughter. I think that matters a lot too, whether or not someone has children. If you don’t have children, you can dedicate your entire day to your dancing.
How old is your daughter?
She is six.
Does she do flamenco too?
She doesn’t like it! She does have good rhythm though. I actually prefer it that way, I don’t want her to dance because the life of an artist is difficult and it’s rough.
What do you think is the most difficult thing?
The most difficult things are the rehearsals, the traveling, and the instability. The same thing that takes you away from home for a month or two comes at you and then returns. It’s your suitcase and you, that’s it. That’s really sad because your family and all that goes with it is abandoned.
And what’s the best part of an artist’s life?
It’s getting to know the world and being able to bring your art to people around the world. It’s the applause from people in Japan, in America, in the United Arab Emirates, in Egypt, and from so many other cultures. And everywhere I go, people like flamenco. It’s incredible.
What does the word “flamenco” mean to you and how has it been misused or misunderstood?
Well as I understand it, in the past parents wouldn’t let their daughters dance flamenco because it was viewed as something ugly, you know. Of course, flamenco had always been a late-night thing, men and women, drinking, drugs. But now, flamenco has expanded throughout the world. The whole world now has what flamenco had for a long time, that transparency of drinking, drugs, and a dirty lifestyle. Flamenco went through that a long time ago because it thrived at night. And what do people think of the night? The worst of everything. I wasn’t part of that time period though. My parents were, as well as the generation of artists that lived during the seventies and eighties. During the nineties all that started to change. Flamenco is seen differently now. It’s performed in important theaters. Today we don’t have the señorito, the typical rich guy, that contracted artists to come entertain him at his home to make him feel big and special. That’s changed, and it makes me happy. Flamenco is an art. It’s not there to just entertain you. Of course, you can have fun, clearly.
What does it mean to be flamenco?
For me, being flamenco is about being on stage. I don’t wake up every morning with dramatic eyebrows looking all gitana [Roma]. No. Flamenco is for when guitar and the singing are present. I’m not the kind of person that watches flamenco videos all day. I rehearse every morning; it’s my work, even though I do like it. Maybe there are people out there working all day long on a computer and they don’t like it, but they don’t know how to do anything else. I’m lucky because, even though I don’t know how to do anything else either, I do like what I do! But, those hours I spend in the studio are my work. Once I get home, I disconnect. I like to go to the theater to see shows, but I’m not a person who listens to flamenco all day long. No.
Are you still enthusiastic about performing?
Yes, yes, yes. But ever since I started my career at eighteen years old, it’s become harder and harder because more people come and it’s more pressure. They wait for you. The following you’ve built waits for you and so you have to give the absolute best for them. Maintaining your name as artist is hard because it is an ongoing thing. How do you keep it going? You have to study a lot and always be thinking of new projects to create.
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Gustavo– One of your best! I would love to meet this person. So much of what she says about “patience” as a prerequisite for teaching as well as “technique” being a secondary attribute of performance–being overshadowed by “personality”–of being A PERSON to those with whom you are interacting have been before me for my 42 years as a surgeon and a surgeon-educator. The need to be real to all with whom we share this life. Bravo!