Meg: How do you like teaching?
Victor: I learn by giving classes–they pull me to another place. The process of learning for each of my students is very important. I am always very conscious of the fact that each student has his or her own pace and own interpretations. It is critical that each individual exhibit complete honesty (that they “desnudarse” means “take their clothes off”–divest themselves of all artifice.) I teach with much affection for my students and that affection is reciprocated. When I can observe the process at work and the evolution of my students, I am filled with great satisfaction. Patience is the keystone of the process.
Meg: Do you have a couple of role models you could single out as being an inspiration for you?
Victor: I have no myths–or I should say, I have many, but none in particular. I am always open to what any artist may “regale.” That may happen when the artist is one of the great world performers or it may happen in a spontaneous flamenco “juerga” (a gathering in a small flamenco club, or in the street), where an unknown artist will exhibit the duende that transforms. The artist need not even be a gypsy or a Spaniard. Flamenco is an international art that transcends time and cultures.
I can tell you what I don’t like–the commercial stuff, the large auditoriums with cameras flashing and the dancers performing mechanically with no fire.
I have no idols because flamenco is such a personal art. I never follow the masses. I flee towards danger and not away from it. I will risk something new because it arises from a genuine emotion from within, not because it is a step or a rhythm I have learned or copied from someone else. It is for this reason that I don’t have a sello propio or a personal style that is identified with me. Each time I dance, I create anew according to the emotions that accompany me.
Meg: I am curious, as someone with so much passion for flamenco–does your social life revolve around it, as well as your work? Are your friends fellow performers or do you associate socially with completely different people?
Victor: Flamenco is my art, but what is true of flamenco is true of life itself. For that reason, I cannot separate my art and my life. My friends are from the world of flamenco as well as being far removed from that world. It all comes together to form a totality that is expressed in flamenco dance when the universality of emotions transcend time and culture and are shared by performer and audience alike.
Oddly enough, I had to leave the world of flamenco in order to find it. I delved deeply into classical and more modern musical forms and into the theatrical world, in order to discover that flamenco is an artistic expression of life experienced fully and felt deeply. This is one of the reasons why I believe that theater is such an important and integral component of transmitting the flamenco experience. If someone were to ask me to choose my favorite color, I could not do so. Why do we have to choose? If I were to limit myself only to flamenco, I wouldn’t feel well. I would feel unbalanced…not integrated. I need to nourish myself. Everything fascinates me. Life doesn’t revolve around a limited group of friends, a closed circle, an artistic ghetto.
Meg: Do you have some particular dances that are your favorites that you could describe?
Victor: This depends on my stage in life! Deep within my own feelings, I play with all of the palos (the different flamenco rhythms). Several that I often perform in moments of great emotion are the soleares, the seguidillas and the alegrías. The first two, the soleares and seguidillas are generally expressive of deep loneliness or sorrow and the last one, alegrías means “happiness.” However, for me, both emotions can be expressed in all three palos. Happiness has its shadow side and there can be a great cathartic relief in expressing sorrow.
Meg: Can you expand on that in terms of your own personal experience, how life events have transformed your art, and contributed to its evolution?
Victor: When my father died of cancer, my interpretation of flamenco experienced a radical change. I danced savagely; I tore my clothes in a passionate catharsis of emotion. I danced exactly what I felt. This was the beginning of my own, personal flamenco style.
Four years ago, I experienced my own face-to-face encounter with death. I was diagnosed with a ganglion cyst on my aorta and another in my chest. The cysts were cancerous and the prognosis was not good. I underwent both surgery and six months of treatment, with no guarantees that I was going to escape my father’s same fate. Once my treatment was complete, I was given tests to determine if the cancer had been arrested. I had to wait three days for the results. These days seemed like an eternity as my life appeared to pass before my eyes. What would I do with the rest of my life if I had little time to live? I reached the conclusion that it didn’t really matter to any great degree because I felt very proud and satisfied about the life that had been mine up until then. The results came back. I was free and clear of all cancerous cells. I came home to Sevilla to re-encounter myself! That was two years ago.
Meg: You said “I came home to Sevilla to re-encounter myself!” Can you tell me about your experience of “re-encountering yourself,” and what that involved?
Victor: When I was diagnosed with tumors, I knew I was sick, but didn’t know the extent of the excruciating Calvary that was to ensue. I was to endure more testing and more waiting for test results, but I guess my first reaction was to resist, to carry on, to be incredulous, to push the demon away.
It was also during this time that I traveled to Japan to perform a work about the death of the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Lorca was shot by the Civil Guard during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. His poetry was full of references to the “moon”–for Lorca, a symbol of death. The theatrical piece I performed was titled “Fantasies of García Lorca.” During the dance, the moon appears and I struggle with this symbol when shots are heard. The allusion was, of course, to Lorca, but I felt very much “in the skin” of the dance as my own encounters with mortality were so fresh and poignant. At that moment I came face-to-face with death and began to see life through the eyes of someone who holds death’s hand during the day and lies down with the grim-reaper at night.
As soon as the production had finished, I returned to Madrid which had been my home for a number of years, although I was born in Seville and spent much of my childhood there. I was feeling the full physiological and psychological impact of my affliction. I felt that it was not only serious, but urgently life-threatening. I went immediately to a well-known clinic in Madrid and the doctors there confirmed my worst apprehensions–the tests confirmed malignancy. I was admitted to the hospital and three days later, they operated to remove the ganglion cysts in my chest.
After the operation, more tests ensued and a small, but even more pernicious tumor cluster was discovered casting off liquid into the aorta. I endured extensive, months-long sessions of chemotherapy that, among other devastating side-effects, took away 20% of my lung capacity. All thoughts of ever dancing again vanished. Every fiber of my being was concentrated on keeping alive. But even that hope seemed to pale as I reached the point where I simply could not endure the chemotherapy that was killing me as sure as the cancer. The doctors confirmed what I intuited. They stopped the treatment, agreeing that if the cancer didn’t kill me the treatment would.
I became a quivering nerve. My body had stopped; it was no longer mine. I was reaching a place that was no longer my life. For an artist that feels every phase and change in his body and mind, this void was truly a descent into hell.