Category — Flamenco Dancer Matilde Corral
Flamenco Dancer Matilde Coral Speaks (Interview)
Translator’s note: In 1993, the Spanish magazine Sevilla Flamenca number 82 carried an interview with the great dancer Matilde Coral, by Francisco González. (The magazine was not copyrighted, to facilitate distribution of the content.) Here’s a translation:
“We wanted to begin the year with a truly outstanding figure in flamenco art, and Matilde Coral is a star who illuminates the heavens of the dance in particular and flamenco in general. Matilde Corrales González, or Matilde Coral in the art, has been the Great Dancer for decades; today she is the Great Master/Teacher (Maestra).
Her words let us see her way of thinking and acting. Consider the description of Matilde by Teresa Martínez de la Peña, the noted dancer and professor of dance:
“To see Matilde Coral is to revisit the era of the good “puntera” dancers [referring to the reinforced toe of a shoe?]. The “planta” (position of the feet), the majeza (style in dress), the arrogance of a bien aplomado (straight) body, head held high, gestures distant, regal tranquility — everything that is a testament to great dancing in the portraits of the dancers of old, is today evident in the dancing of Matilde Coral; and even more expressive still, because she is alive, full of movement, with the air of the fiesta in her paseo (walking steps), and overflowing gracia in the floreos (flourishes).
Of course, hers is a happy style of dance and one that’s simple in its execution; but here is something more, something that moves despite the simplicity, that evokes the applause of the public and the critics, sometheing the she does differently, just as she herself is different from all other dancers of her time. It all lies in the fact that Matilde herself is simply impermeable to any influence that is alien to flamenco. She is not the product of an academy, nor is she tempted to experiment with new forms of dance expression; she doesn’t want to lighten her dance with classical technique to approach the edge of unrelated styles. She is flamenco from head to toe, in her walk and her glance and her feeling, because Matilde, without any doubt, feels things in a flamenco manner and transmits this feeling in her dance even without trying to do so.
Her arms, for example — rounded, without any sharp angles (sin una arista), have maintained the primitive form and sensibility: undulating movements, smooth but powerful, above all in the desplantes, or when the hands rest on the hips.
And the play of the mantón (shawl) in the alegrias, following the traditional scheme of the dance, is a true lesson in choreography. Matilde walks onstage, moves with her costume, and finds her place; and each move sculpts a lovely plastic shape — in the style of an adornment, or simply as something beautifully worn — just like the dancers of old when they used such garments, that is, giving it sense. The intermediate fleeting movements are not showing off, but simply adornments where one feels the weight of the mantón as the essence of feminine movement, unfolding more art than force.
For the rest, one can say that Matilde has mastered the difficult art of finding new vigor and strength (reverdecer) every time she interprets it, seemingly as spontaneous as a force of nature. Sevilla and its personality are the two elements that make Matilde Coral the primera bailaora of the present day.”
– Matilde, what made you choose dance as your way of life?
“Before the dance, I loved the cante. I knew how to sing, and it was a pleasure. I sang for my people, my friends. My inclination toward the dance, perhas was motivated by pure necessity and the fact that it didn’t seem difficult for me. In my school — the Centro Republicano Real Económica Amigos del País — they offered classes in music, dance and singing. There I got the notion to perform, but what I really loved was flamenco. I was overwhelmed when I heard “La Niña de Fuego” and “La Salvaora” [two sentimental songs or zambras with flamenco flavor]. My father was a good “flamencote”, and took me to all the good productions there were. He wanted me to learn dancing, and put me in an academy on Muñóz Oliver street that was run by Adelita Domingo, a well-known teacher in Seville and a fine professor of song and piano. No one better than her for teaching stage performance (enseñando a pasearse) to the most famous artists of that time. I never became a singer, but when it comes to knowing stagecraft and stage presence (saber lo que es un escenario), I caught on and I owe it to Adelita alone.”
– Three siblings, all dedicated to the dance; how did that happen?
“Putting aside our affection for the art, there was also a certain necessity. There wasn’t much to go around in my parent’s house during the 1940′s, and we had to find a quick way to build a future. My parents, despite their love of song and music and culture, were concerned about our total dedication to the dance, but they realized that it was the only solution for alleviating the situation economically.”
– Your first public appearance?”
“I was a little girl. Pulpón (the famed manager/promoter of flamenco in Seville) had just arrived on the scene, still a young “chavalote”, and hired me for an audition, dancing in the Hotel Madrid. They sang a caña for me. Later Pepe Pinto (the flamenco and popular singer) with (his wife, the greatest female flamenco ever) Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines” chose me for the dance corps in the spectacle “España y su cantaora“. The first dancer was a lovely Gypsy related by marriage to Pastora (emparentada con Pastora), and when she fell ill I took her place because I knew the dance perfectly. Pastora took an interest in me, and I only had to dye my hair becasue Pepe said that he couldn’t sing siguiriyas to a blonde of sixteen with a face of porcelain. We were in Barcelona and Pastora took me to a beauty parlor where I got black hair like the endrina (blackberry). She gave me her gold bracelets and some jewelled earrings — on the condition that I’d dance. She liked me because she always saw in me a great respect and enormous admiration for her. What wonderful memories I have of those years. I was paid seventy-five pesetas a day. Then, with a representative named Vaquero, I worked in other places unti I arrived at the [Cortijo el] Guajiro in Seville. Here things were easier and my life changed. I worked with very good artists, always learning from them, and above all I met [the superb dancer] Rafael [el Negro], who as you know has meant so much in my life.”
– You must also have fond memories of the appearances where you were awarded the “Juana La Macarrona” prize in Mairena del Alcor, the “Pilar Lopez” and the “La Argentinita” prizes in Cordoba, and the prize of the Catedra de Flamencologia of Jerez. What did they mean to your career?
“They gave me enormous satisfaction, because with them I felt rewarded for the effort, sacrifice, love, passion and commitment that I’ve put into dance throughout my life.”
– You knew the greats of the dance. What did you learn from them?”
“We didn’t have as many teachers as you might think. I remember Enrique El Cojo [the legendary lame dance teacher of Seville] with great affection. He started to give his classes, but it wasn’t the kind of dance I needed. My demands were different, and I dreamed of another style of dance. My dreams came true when I got to Madrid and met Pastora Imperio and Pilar Lopez. I breathed the air of these great maestras for many years. Whenever my work allowed, I studied with Pilar. I never had the chance to dance with her on stage, because in her company the Spanish dance predominated and although I found that style enchanting, I didn’t have the right stuff for it (no gozaba de las condiciones necesarias para ejecutarlo). Later, when she mounted a work that was more consistent with my way of dancing, she wanted to hire me. I was sad to turn her down but by then I’d already earned a certain prestige and economically it didn’t pay; and there was also the fact that my own career had taken off, and I was a figure in my own right.”
– “Los Bolecos” was unforgettable. Tell us of this production [which featured Matilde, Rafael and El Farruco]..
“It was a jewel; I think it was one of the best spectacles ever. It coincided with a critical time in the festivales, and fit in perfectly. But it also meant the monotony of repetition, of doing the same dance night after night, and so I got the dream of doing something new and different. Fortunately the public liked it very much.”
My experiences were unique, lovely, unforgettable. The greatest satisfaction a dancer can have is to feel imposed upon [embaucada] by two formidable and unique artists: Farruco, a priceless diamond in the rough, with that personal Baroquism that’s his alone; because Farruco is unique in the history of flamenco.
And on the other hand, there was the beautiful Triana style represented by Rafael: so elegant, so alado [winged, inclined to flight], with that tremendous force that demolished you [arrasaba y en absoluto molestaba.] Never for a second did he lose that composure, that svelte figure of his. These were two ways of feeling the dance that inspired my own dancing and sent chills up my spine.”
– You are closely linked to the Gypsy world. Regarding your dance, as the dancer and teacher you are, can you say where the difference arises between Gypsy and non-Gypsy styles?
“It’s not easy to explain. What a Gypsy does in dancing, a non-Gypsy could never, ever do. They are different expressions, but it happens that the craft [astucia] of the non-Gypsy is enormous: If that person is profoundly in love with Gypsyism, at times it’s possible to draw out something that is as strong and as good as the Gypsy’s — even if it is always borrowed/plagiarized (aunque siempre sera un plagio). Non-Gypsy dance can be richer in forms, it can even be more beautiful (bello) and florid (floreciente), and it is greatly enriched from other schools of dance, abounding in technique; but it will always lack that perfect (justa) and natural Gypsy expression. For this reason, a Gypsy must flee from technique, because at times technique can alienate the Gypsy dancer from his or her race/heritage (raza). Today there are Gypsy dancers who are remarkably polished [esmerados] in terms of study and preparation; so much so that they excel in theatrical dance [rayan en artistas flamencos de noche en teatro.] Now one does not see the pure Gypsy dance, because an excess of technique has usurped their racial aspect. Of course, technique is always necessary, and all the moreso today when so much is demanded of a dancer. But personally, I’ll stay with the purity, above all for the intimate fiesta or for that final “levanta” (“everyone up”[?]) of a stage spectacle. What good would it do Farruco to know what a deboulee is?”
– Could you dance Gypsy style?
“I don’t know. That’s for others to say. I might think so, but I’d never quite believe it. If a Gypsy gives me an “Olé!”, I’d think I had done it well. If in due time they admitted me into their circle as a bailaora, I think they’d see something of the baile gitano in me. I felt enormous satisfaction when [the great Gypsy singer] Juan Talega stated categorically that I should be unanimously awarded the “La Macarrona” prize because my dancing awoke all his memories of the way Juana La Macarrona danced — though I had never seen her. Still (no por esto), I have never danced in a Gypsy gathering without getting their consent. When [the great Gypsy singer] Antonio Mairena looked at me, I knew that he was encouraging me to dance; and this flattered me [me halagaba] and encouraged me, as did my knowledge that I never short-changed my audience (jamás lo decepcione).”
– Why has flamenco dancing in pairs or threes effectively disappeared?
“It’s a fact, and a shame, that we’ve lost these forms of dancing. I think it was due to the fact that the big productions (espectaáculos) became fewer, and the tablaos have all but disappeared. Perhaps it’s also a change of tastes, as so often marks different epochs. Another factor to bear in mind is that nowadays good choreography has almost disappeared (se ha casi perdido). You’ve got to have a lot of imagination and knowledge to mount a new and attractive number. A good choreographer must forget himself or herself, and give everything to the other performers. At times, this is lost, as happened in my case: Everything I had I taught to other bailaoras who are now excellent professionals, and who ignore me almost completely today (y hoy casi me ignoran). It hurts, but sometimes this kind of ingratitude is la docencia [revealing, instructive?] , and the hurt is something I’ve overcome.”
– Tablaos, festivales, theatres; where did you feel most “a gusto” (in your element)?
“In ‘El Duende’, with Pastora Imperio, and in Manolo Caracol’s ‘Los Canasteros’, which was great for me — I loved the way Manolo sang. I’ve danced in different settings, and know the different secrets for each one; so I can tell you that when someone dances well in a flamenco tablao (night club) “y le viene la escence chica, se la come aunque sea el escenario del teatro mas grande del mundo” (and then takes that same act to a larger venue, they’ll be eaten alive even if the big theatre has the best stage in the world.[?])”
– You’ve shared stages with what great figures of dance?
“With Alejandro Vega; with Paco Laberinto I shared the tablao of La Zambra for two years; with José Greco; with Farruco and Rafael of course, and with my brother El Mimbre I also danced often.”
– Of all your “actuaciones“, which gave you the greatest satisfaction?
“I’ll never forget the night Pastora Imperio died; I dedicated my dance to her, in the Hotel Alay, where I was involved in a sort of flamenco study/encounter. It was a night of extraterrestrials…”
– As a dancer, is there something you still can learn; does the dance hold any secrets for you?
“Although I’ve danced everything that has flamenco rhythm and sound, I still have much to learn. Every day, something new comes up. My students, sometimes, reveal original ideas that one has to pick up; and therein lies the secret of teaching: In picking it up without their knowing it, and adapting it so that all can learn and understand it.”
– What baile is best for women?
“Not all dances work well for women; it depends on their physical qualities and their capacity for expression and revelation. Personally, I’ve always done well with the dances of the Cádiz bay area; with them, I felt fully realized because they are very light and airy [alados], very fresh, with a clean plasticity that fits my way of being as a dancer. They are dances that, although gay, encompass plenty of challenges because it’s not easy to dance with happiness and to transmit this quality. I’ve also liked hearing the soleá and simply adorning it, without creating a full-fledged baile por soleá. One of the most beautiful moments in a fiesta is to pay attention to the cante por soleá and, without disturbing the cante, barely touching the ground, to dance it.”
– What moment in your artistic career gave you the most satisfaction?
“There have been so many, I’d have to think… A very special moment was my first prize in the Cordoba National Contest. I was pregnant, and I took on the challenge with absolute responsibility. I competed with the greats of the dance, and that was an incentive that obliged me to work for the dignificación (greater recognition, appreciation and respect) of flamenco for the rest of my life.
– Which guitars are impossible to forget?
“Melchor [de Marchena]. How many times I’ve really danced to his guitar! — despite the fact that, according to him, he always played for the cante. And Paco Aguilera, who was there for the best moments of my life in the tablaos; and Manolo Domínguez “El Rubito” [or "El Rubio"] — for many years, I danced with his lovely guitar.”
– And who sang best for you?
“You have to distinguish between dancing for the cante, and singing for the dance. In the first area, I think of two greats who offered me the priceless gift of their song for me to adorn with my dance: Antonio Mairena, and Manolo Caracol.
When it comes to those who sing for dancers, the best I’ve worked with is beyond a doubt Chano [Lobato]. For me, Chano has been fundamental. And how can one forget Martín el Revuelo, whose singing was to die for; or Romerito, a sweetheart who never crossed me (jamás me molestó) in the dance; and Rafaelito Fernandez — what force!. And you know what? Another who sang very well for me was Curro Malena, who first sang for “Los Bolecos”.
– The most outstanding dancer you’ve known?
“From before my time, without doubt, Pastora Imperio. From my time, I was always impressed by Trini España. In her presence, I felt the fear that generates a sense of responsibility; the respect that professionalism connotes, and the affection of a good compañera.”
– The best dancer?
“Farruco. I say that with all confidence, because my husband Rafael feels the same, and he knows what’s what.”
– And what is the most outstanding aspect of Rafael el Negro?
“What a fine person he is, and how much I love him… As a dancer, he was a Lord [she uses this English word]. No Gypsy has ever been able to dance or move onstage with more elegance than Rafael had. Pulchritude, sobriety and unique arms; inamovible (immoveable), all rendered as a single piece in his movement — and the feeling he transmitted to the audience by simply coming onstage was just brilliant.”
– What memories do you have of the patio of the Reales Alcazares of Seville?
“Very good ones, because all my life I’ve been there as part of wonderful festivales with fine artists. But some disagreeable memories as well, like the presentation of “El Amor Brujo” in homage to Pastora Imperio during the Fifth Seville Biennal. There, after my long career, I had to endure the impertinence of a gentleman who did not know his place, and who did not show sufficient interest to ensure that the production would go on without technical hitches.”
– Tell us about Pastora [Imperio].
“She was one of a kind (una mujer irrepetible) in everything. In her genius, in her carriage (figura). There was always some surprise when she came out to dance. She maintained her pulchritude, her elegance, her dress… with an enormous sense of responsibility and a deep love for the dance. At times she didn’t have to dance; her arms alone were pure dance, imbued with completely unsuspected and original flamenco genius. Her arms were two empires (dos imperios), that conquered the world with her hands. And she had the head of a prodigy.”
– After Pastora?
“I greatly admired Rosita [Rosa] Duran. She was very flamenco, and always carried a fine production with magnificent singers behind her.”
– And Pilar López, where would you place her?
“I think that Pilar was more a bailarina [formal dancer, as opposed to bailaora or flamenco dancer]. In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that she didn’t know how to dance flamenco well; just that whenever she danced a stylized form, she was more bailarina than bailaora. To be a bailaora, you have to forget a lot of classical things — and if you are very involved in that area, it’s hard to do that.”
– The bata de cola (dress with a long train) and the mantón (shawl); will they disappear from the stage?
“Sadly, I think so. Today, only a few bailaoras are working on the stage and that’s a crucial fact. It would be a pity, becasue the bata de cola is the perfect indumentaria [traditional apparel] for flamenco dance. We know that to dance with a bata de cola is extremely difficult, and as a result it is very limited today. Milagros Mengibar moves the bata de cola marvelously well and, nonetheless, Pepa Montes, who’s a great dancer — I say this because it’s a fact, and she’ll always be a dancer in capital letters — doesn’t move the bata de cola so well (el movimiento de su cola es mas reducido). To air both mantón and bata cleanly and elegantly, with flamenco taste, is a very challenging task. The synchronization between them must be perfect, and your movements must always be perfectly consonant with the measure of the compás [rhythm].
I’ve always felt very much at home with them. Without them, I’d feel naked. The bata de cola lends the bailaora an exquisite air, an unquestionable arrogance and pride [altivez]. My first National Prize was without bata de cola, with a short dress (vestido cortito) and Pilar said “What a shame you didn’t wear a bata de cola instead of that dress.” No one has told me that since then. That’s why I said the prize meant so much to me, in all its aspects.”
– It’s said that you inherited Pastora’s intensely demanding nature, and that many of your students complain of this.
“Possibly; just like Pastora, I’ve created many enemies, and sometimes I ask myself if I’m just as ‘joinca‘ [?] as she was. I wouldn’t have it! I cannot conceive of letting a dancer go out when not presentable, and I care about the tiniest detail — in the dance itself, as in the costume; even the sweat of the body must be controlled.”
– You are Professor at the Conservatory of Dramatic Arts and Dance of Cordoba. I don’t suppose you passed a formal exam, for what jury could really pass judgement on Matilde Coral?
“They joked that I got A’s in everything except flamenco dance, where they gave me a C minus… Seriously, it was an unusual panel. The first time a title was given without exams, just on merit.”
– What do you try to instill in your students; what do you demand?
“A lot of discipline, and that they love what they do so they’ll never become drones at the dance. Oh, and that they put art above all else.”
– Are you satisified with your work as a teacher?
“Yes, because I love the work. Students who are now excellent teachers continue the saga of Matilde. They can never erase the kiss of my dance, and my perfume will always recall Triana, Seville, Huelva… Moreover, although they may not want to say it, it’s obvious; it’s unmistakeable; it imprints its own character, like some sacraments.”
– Did you always show everything you knew, or did you keep things inside, reserving them for you alone?
“I never held anything back, and I’m not sorry for that. Maybe there’s a bit of masochism there, because sometimes you find ingratitude; but I was always an open book for my students. I swear on my honor that even knowing that they might do me a bad turn, I gave and still give everything I know to others. I love to teach, and any good teacher has to spill everything upon her students, while assuming that ingratitude will be one result.”
– From your words, we know you’ve created a school of dance. How does your school differ from others?
“In everything. I’ve created a form of dancing, a way of dressing and being onstage; even in the opening “saludo”, and in the way of combing the hair and sitting down with the kidneys placed; in this kind of comportment and expression. This is what Matilde has given to the dance, remembering that my school is based in part on Pastora, and the Seville school in general. A woman of Seville has never based dance on force, or raised the skirt even to the knee. Never! (Una mujer sevillana jamás ha bailado de fuerza ni se ha levantado la falda para versele ni siquiera la rodilla; jamás!)”
– Is Seville above other regions in the dance?
“People have always distinguished Seville’s dancers and those who drank from this fount from others. Seville has the spark that other schools lack. I mention this, not referring to something that comes from study because in that respect La Corte (Madrid) has fine schools. Ay, if only the people of Seville had the help and resources that Madrid has! I die of grief to see the official organizations saying they want to create an Andalusian Dance School [in Seville] but that there’s no money for it. Well, there always seems to be money for mounting a production by that lady or that gentleman… Why is this? I cry out: It is imperative for Andalusia, for our culture, to have a School of Andalusian Dance. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, just that it be created and run well.”
– Do you teach for the love of dance, to assure an income, or for fear that your school might disappear?
“My vocation and commitment are so great that sometimes I forget I’m 57 and can’t give more than I’ve got, and that my husband and children need me. Economically, we’re fine; thanks to our sacrifice and ardor, we have enough to live decently, and I breathe freely knowing that my school — my style of dance — won’t be lost because it’s in the hands of dancers of great category, who know how to impart this knowledge to others.”
– Today, we seem to lack real personalities in dance. Why is this?
“It’s a fact. Now people know how to dance, but lack personality. I think that in earlier days, necessity and troubles drove us to keep improving, going beyond ourselves, to analyze the gamut of flamenco, lacking the means and comforts that we now have in abundance. In general, people lack dreams (ilusión) because everything is within their grasp.”
– Is all your teaching focused on flamenco, or do you work on other types of Spanish dance?
“I impart flamenco, and also do choreography for stylized dance and for compositions by the great Andalusian musicians.”
– Up to what point should flamenco allow influences (aportaciones) from other styles of dance?
“Flamenco dance is the ‘guiso‘ [stew] that can admit everything else if the substance itself is of high quality. Flamenco enjoys a wide-angled opening, one that can accommodate other roots and lend them something wonderful (que encajen de maravilla).”
– How has the dance evolved?
Only in study and technique, a fact that is justifiable in such fundamental instances to avoid stagnation [estancamiento]. But perhaps it is getting too far away from its origins and its purity.”
– Have you seen important innovations in recent years?
“Gades has had a special way of dancing, with a plasticity that is out of the ordinary.”
– After a long life of effort and sacrifice, have you been fairly rewarded?
“I think so. People respect me and admire me, and those who don’t greet me I ignore. As in any field, here too there are detractors and destructive people. I keep looking ahead, and don’t want to be the enemy of those who think I’m their enemy. I don’t want that — partly because it would make me fearful.”
– What are you especially proud of?
“Of having known how to dance, and having danced for the people of Andalucía all my life; of having a husband and children who are wonderful; and of having countless good friends who respect the fact that I have loved the dance above all in my life.”
– Is Matilde Coral discontent with anything?
“Yes; with the ingratitude of some people. Of those who came to my house with their eyes covered, and to whom I lovingly showed the best I had, and who today ignore me and never mention my name; yet I think when they do this, that’s when they are caring most about me (al hacerlo es cuando mas me estan queriendo). In this very magazine, a former student of mine spoke of this same ingratitude — and perhaps God put that phrase in her mouth, so I wouldn’t be so hurt when she completely ignored me in that same interview.”
– What do you think of the “Compás del Cante” prize [occasionally awarded to outstanding dancers and guitarists as well as singers]?
“I think it’s been well done to date. I think the last one went to the singer José Menese, and he deserved it because he’s had a fine professional career. I’m in complete agreement with the company that underwrites this award (Cruzcampo beer?), because it supports the dignification and diffusion of this great art called flamenco.”
– Would you like to have the third such prize, for dance?
“In a way, it’s all the same to me, whether or not I’m honored for a special reason: On not getting it, I know that I’ll still be admired in the same way. I know that in a way I’m still acknowledged because I’ve taken the dance to all the stages of Spain and the world, bringing Andalusianism and the compas of the dance with me. I’ve danced for the best, everywhere.
On the other hand, to say I wouldn’t be happy to get that prize would be untrue. I’ve had so many detractors that I am afraid to dream too much, or have too many illusions. For now, I’m satisfied when they invite me to the awards, and I see it go to companeros who deserve it.”
– Official prizes aside: do you think Matilde Coral has had due recognition?
“No, absolutely not. (No, en absoluto.) I say that with all my heart. When it comes to Andalusianism, no one can top me — because the first, early hunger I en endured in life was because I was Andalusian. I have the Llave de Oro de Baile de Sevilla, and the Bronze Medal of Rey San Fernando, but in this life there are more important values than mere material ones, and at times other things can be more gratifying, even if some people make certain omissions and don’t give artists their due (no se hicieran determinadas omisiones y escasos reconocimientos.) For that reason, the most precious medal I carry in my body is to be from Seville, to be Andalusian, and to be from Triana.”
– What dreams do you have today?
“That Triana have a School of Flamenco Dance at the level of Official Organizations, where those who pass a test can receive free classes It’s the dream of my life, and I don’t want to die with the sorrow of knowing that it’s still unfulfilled.”
– Anything else to add?
“Only that I hope the Junta de Andalucía will recognize the need to support aged flamenco artists, since it’s so important. We should never forget the old artists who endured so many humiliations and deprivations, and did so much for our culture.”
End of interview with Matilde Coral from Sevilla Flamenca.
October 24, 2011 No Comments