After many years at the Paris Opera Ballet, Jose Carlos Martinez left that fabled company in 2011 when he reached its age limit of 42 for an etoile (principal dancer) — and took up the post of artistic director at the Spanish National Dance Company (Compania Nacional de Danza).
That return to his homeland by Martinez, who has legions of fans in Japan, followed the 2010 retirement of Nacho Duato, during whose more than 20-year tenure the Madrid-based company rose to worldwide fame, with many of his own choreographic works to the fore.
“Right now I’m working on expanding the repertoire and establishing a new identity for the CND,” Martinez said straight off when we met in Tokyo in July. “For a long time, the company’s dancers didn’t use pointe shoes, but I changed things so we do classical and neo-classical works as well as contemporary. I’m also working on the creation of contemporary avant-garde works.”
In addition, he said, he is “proactively assigning work to choreographers living in Spain, and Spanish-born choreographers working overseas.
“I am also focusing on the potential of young artists, as I want to raise the standard of dancers and choreographers — and audience appreciation, too. In other words, I’m aiming to enliven the entire dance world of Spain.”
To further that end, Martinez has integrated the company’s junior and senior components “to split people up depending on their technical inclinations, not age: whether they are better with contemporary-style work or classical and neo-classical.”
Still an active dancer, he is a practical inspiration for his troupe.
“In the daily morning class lessons, I’m not just sitting in a chair watching — I’m taking the class together with them,” he said. “And when a new dancer auditions, I have them take a class together with the company members, and I take it as well and watch that person from within the class.”
Clearly, Martinez aims to foster not just skill but a sense of belonging, too.
“One of the tough parts of dancing at the Paris Opera Ballet was when I was treated as a replaceable being — so I want this to be somewhere dancers feel they can do what they want, and also make the most of their individuality in their work,” he said.
As for stepping into the shoes of Duato after his predecessor’s long reign, Martinez observed, “The first year, dancers who had joined to dance Duato’s works resisted, and there were people who left in my second year. But others who understood what I was trying to do stayed, and new dancers joined. “Consequently, I now feel they are ‘my dancers,’ all 43 of them from 14 countries — but one significant characteristic is that the number of Spanish dancers is growing.”
Next, Martinez said, he aims to undertake a grand ballet — though this month he’s bringing Spain’s national company to Japan with a wide range of pieces.
The program comprises “Sub,” an energetic contemporary piece for male dancers by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili; “Falling Angels,” a sensual work for female dancers by the Czech icon Jiri Kylian; U.S. choreographer William Forsythe’s “Hermen Schmerman,” which is contemporary but danced en pointe; an extract from “Les Enfants du Paradis” which Martinez himself choreographed in his Paris days; and “Minus 16” by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, which involves audience participation and questions the act of appreciating art.
As to what Japanese dance lovers might expect to see uniting such variety from the refurbished CND, Martinez said: “Physically, and in the sense of them all having learned their craft in different places, they are each individual — and the company is really full of diversity. But they all have the same goal of dancing together, so they have the power to work as one.
“I think these things create a unique strength and emotion.”
The Spanish National Dance Company performs Nov. 30. at Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya and Dec. 5-6 at Kanagawa Arts Theatre in Yokohama. For details, visit aac.pref.aichi.jp and kaat.jp. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.