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Handsome Is AND Handsome Does

An Interview with Igor Yebra

by Patrizia Vallone

December 16, 2003 -- Rome

Igor Yebra is a very handsome, 29-year-old Basque. He started studying dance in Bilbao, his home town; a year later, he entered Victor Ullate's dance school in Madrid. He was still very young when he joined the Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, where he performed mostly contemporary ballets.

As danseur noble, he has performed all the major classical and Romantic roles, including Albrecht ("Giselle"), Siegfried ("Swan Lake"), Florimond ("Sleeping Beauty"), James ("La Sylphide"), the Prince ("The Nutcracker"), Franz ("Coppelia"), Basilio ("Don Quixote"), and Solor ("La Bayadere").

In 1996 he started performing as guest principal in renowned ballet companies -- the Australian Ballet (where he was permanent guest principal from 1997 to 1999), the English National Ballet, the Scottish Ballet, Ballet de Nice, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Ballet Argentino, Ballet Estable del Teatro ColÚn, Ballet Nacional de Venezuela, the Lithuanian National Ballet, the Kremlin Ballet, the Greek National Ballet and others. He has often danced in Italy with the Verona Arena Opera Ballet, Aterballetto and MaggioDanza, as well as in the Rome Opera Theater's most recent productions of "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake," "Romeo and Juliet," and "The Firebird."

He is currently guest principal of the Bordeaux Ballet, directed by Charles Jude.

A few weeks ago he was back in Rome, partnering Svetlana Zacharova in "Swan Lake." I met him between rehearsals, and he very kindly stopped to chat and answer my questions.

What is the situation for male dancers in Spain? For instance, the Italian National Dance Academy has only about 30 boys among its 400 students. How about Spain?

Itís even worse! A Spanish professional-level dance school has no more than five or six boys!

So, how did you start?

My parents both loved dance and had studied it, though not professionally. They loved going to performances and passed this passion on to me -- it was a natural thing for me to try to study dance. My parents always encouraged me.

Youíre from Bilbao. Are there good dance schools there?

No, unfortunately. That's why after a year of dance school I had to move to Madrid, where I entered Victor Ullate's school.

Victor Ullate was principal in Maurice Bťjart's company for many years. Is his school more focused on modern ballet?

No, his school is absolutely classical. We often had guest teachers from Russia or Cuba, who taught us a rigorous academic technique. I was very lucky to meet Victor Ullate, who took me into his company when I was really very young. I danced mostly modern, neoclassical-type ballets.

Did you also study the Graham technique?

No, I never went that far. Technically speaking, all the modern ballets I've danced have been academic.

Many dancers, even very good ones who usually perform modern ballets, seem uncomfortable when dancing the great repertoire, as if there were something wrong with their interpretation. This does not happen to you. Where does your confidence come from?

Certainly from the classical dance school I went to, which taught me to handle the repertoire adequately.

These past few years you have been dancing mostly on a free-lance basis. Do you manage to study and keep in shape while changing teachers and companies all the time?

Luckily, this past year and a half have been quite busy for me. It's the kind of life I've chosen and that I really like. I really enjoy doing barre exercises, and lessons are not torture for me, as they are for many of my colleagues. For me, a day without the barre is a day of life wasted. I always try to pick up something and learn all I can from all the teachers I meet. They all have experience to pass on, and I'm eager to receive it, to enrich myself and become better and better.

I'm very happy to be here in Rome, with Carla Fracci, who's now part of the history of dance. I think itís very important to work with such a great artist, who has so much to teach me. In Bordeaux, I have the great opportunity of working with Charles Jude, who was a great dancer in his time and is now a great teacher.

You are changing partners all the time. Is that a problem?

Not at all, I'm used to it by now, and I've got enough experience to adapt to different ballerinas. Sometimes it's they who are uncomfortable at first, because they're used to dancing always with the same partner, but everything always works out all right. Also, I learn from each ballerina, they all have something to teach me. And now I've got the great chance of dancing for the first time with Svetlana Zacharova, a truly great artist. I hope there will be other occasions to do so in the future.

Recently you seem to be specializing in "danseur noble" roles. Some dancers feel trapped when they are dancing "prince" roles, because thereís not much room for expression. How do you find these roles?

I love danseur noble roles; I find they offer many staging and expressive opportunities. It's true, though, that when I've danced too many princes one after the other, I feel like screaming! Luckily, modern dance comes to my aid, so that I can express myself and portray more realistic characters.

Right now I'm studying "Ivan the Terrible," which I'm going to dance in Moscow with the Kremlin Ballet, in January. I'm working with both Yuri Grigorovich and Yuri Vladimirov, who created the role in 1975. It's a great honor to study with two such great people. It's a very difficult part, both technically -- this is where the great academic school I was lucky enough to attend comes to my aid -- and in terms of expression. If necessary, I'll grow a beard!

You recently danced the Zarevich in "The Firebird," here in Rome. Though this is not a strictly technical role, you seemed very tired at the end of the performance. What are the difficulties of the part?

Don't forget that Mikhail Fokine created the role for himself. This ballet is a major chapter of dance history. Ivan is onstage for the entire ballet, 40 minutes in all. All the action, and therefore the whole performance, rests on him. All the effort in this role lies in interpreting the character and in the concentration you need to do that. So, though it presents no great technical difficulties, the role is quite demanding and very tiring.

What will you be dancing in the near future?

"Nutcracker" in Bordeaux and "Ivan the Terrible" in Moscow, then weíll see.

Will you be back in Rome soon?

I donít know, but I hope so.

We all do too! Thank you very much.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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