For over thirty years Isabel Bayón has established a reputation as a serious artist and one of the leading lights in contemporary flamenco. Driven by an uncompromising passion for dance, she has both shared the stage with, and drawn influence from some of the most important names in flamenco such as Mario Maya, Manolo Marín and more recently, Israel Galván. Since 2002 however, when she began her Del Alma show and started fronting her own dance company, Isabel Bayón has started to show us the kind of flamenco that really interests her. Her work is relentlessly modern and defies classification or labels – and yet remains firmly indebted to its roots.
At the time of this interview she was working on a personal tribute to Tórtola Valencia, “ a figure who was unknown but pioneered and revolutionised the world of dance in the 1940s”. The project was created with director Pepa Gamboa (who she also collaborated with in La mujer y el pelele and La puerta abierta) and by enlisting the help of Matilde Coral, Bayón’s first teacher who she met when she was just five years old. “Matilde Coral taught me almost everything I know. The beginning is crucial in any career and it can set you on the right path. So every time I see her I always say ‘Thank you for everything’”.
A. I started when I was very young so my first memories involve dancing. It was like a game for me but at the same time it was something I needed. But at that time I didn’t see flamenco like that, and you become hooked once you understand it. First you are only interested in it, but then you learn it, you start to look for things in it, you absorb it all and finally you begin to understand it. That is when you really begin to understand how amazing it is.
Q. And what do you understand flamenco to be?
A. My own understanding of flamenco is shown through the way I dance. It’s an art form that I can use above all else to show who I am and what I feel. It’s contemporary flamenco without the labels, without pigeonholing it.
Q. Your career has lasted over thirty years, what could you say is the “Isabel Bayon trademark?”
A. I’d like to say it’s my honesty. On stage I express myself even more because I feel freer. I also surround myself with people that I admire and who I am close to. I can look around and feel comfortable, that is a luxury. And I think people pick up on that.
Q. How do you feel about the last three decades?
A. After so many years I think that I must’ve done something right since I’m still here! I think I’m still making progress little by little, slowly but surely and I keep inspiring people and feeling inspired.
Q. Are you where you want to be right now?
A. I never envisaged being in a particular place. I just wanted to make a career out of this and enjoy what I do without struggling. And I feel fortunate because in my work I am doing something that I enjoy. That is my goal every day.
Q. When you are being creative, where do you usually find inspiration?
A. It depends, sometimes you just have to let yourself go. Other times you end up doing something that had never occurred to you before. At other times, something incredible emerges that you had never even dreamed of. When we worked on the show La puerta abierta, Pepa Gamboa and I said “let’s do something simple and intimate”. And the results were fantastic.
Q. Do you think about the public when you are being creative?
A. No, because I believe that if you are doing things that you enjoy one hundred percent, then the public will understand that and enjoy it as well.
Q. During your professional career you have worked with some of the biggest names in flamenco, has anyone really inspired you, does anyone stand out in particular?
A. Antonio Mairena. He said that I was “his little girl”. I remember that there used to be flamenco discussion groups on Radio Seville every Thursday with Mairena and I used to listen to them when I was a girl.
Q. And is there anyone you would still like to work with?
A. There are many people. People that I have a great deal of respect for like Paco de Lucía or Enrique Morente.
Q. You are a flamenco dancer, choreographer and teacher. Which of these do you enjoy doing the most?
A. Right now I enjoy the dancing most of all. There are moments on stage that I wouldn’t give up for the world and that are nothing like anything you’ve ever experienced before.
Q. And do you have to go to Andalusia to learn to dance flamenco?
A. I think you do. It is possible in Madrid and Barcelona, but its best to do it in Andalusia.
Q. What is it you most like about flamenco?
A. The part you can’t explain. Intuition. That’s the part you miss out on if you don’t understand flamenco. Flamenco can reach out to anyone but at the same time it has something deeper that only touches those who understand it. So I think that the real essence of flamenco is for the minority.
Q. And what do you least like about it?
A. The commercial side of it.