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January 2004
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Interview

God & I: Igor Yebra

The Spanish ballet dancer, now and international celebrity, talks about his past life and recounts its fundamental turning point…

by By Friar Mario Conte, OFM Conv.

WHEN DID YOU start to dance?

 I started when I was thirteen. This was not very early as most professional ballet dancers begin a lot earlier.

Did you always think it would have been your lifeís work or was there an event that sparked your enthusiasm? 

 Both my parents had always been music and dance enthusiasts. They even got to the point of calling me Igor, in honour of the main character in Borodinís opera Prince Igor. They also enrolled my two sisters in a dance school when they were very young. My parents themselves opened a dance school for children. I therefore grew up surrounded by dance and ballet. The idea of becoming a professional dancer was far from my mind though; my childhood dream was to become a soccer player, just like most  other children. One day, however, my parents took me to the theatre to see Aram Khachaturyanís ballet Spartacus, performed by the company of the Bolshoi Theatre. Spartacus was played by the great Russian dancer Vladimir Vassiliev, an outstanding phenomenon in the history of ballet. It was then that I saw that dance could also be a very masculine art. I began to attend courses in Bilbao, moving to Madrid the year after to enter the school of Victor Ullate. After having obtained an Honorary Degree from the Royal Conservatory of Madrid, I became principal dancer in the company of Victor Ullate, El Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, and remained there for six years.

You said that you would have liked to become a soccer player. Are you a fan of any team?


Definitely. Iím a great fan of Bilbao Athletic, the  soccer team from the town I was born in. Itís one of the few teams in the world which only has players from its own region. Iím very proud of this team and follow all the matches like any real fan. I donít exaggerate, though: itís not the end of the world if they lose a match!

Ballet is generally seen more as a feminine rather than as a masculine art. Were you ever made fun of by your peers or suffered hardship during your training?


 Yes, unfortunately. When I decided to take ballet lessons almost all of my school friends began to make fun of me because they regarded ballet as appropriate only for girls. Fortunately, my family stood by me and this gave me the strength to continue. I have always refused to be influenced by those who nurture ill-will against me.

Which performance has given you the most satisfaction?


At first my dream was to perform in the great classical ballets, like Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, Don Quixote, etc. I have to tell you that I felt like a very special person after every performance. However, three years ago, I was lucky enough to dance in a ballet called Laudes Evangelis, a choreographic mystery on the life of Jesus Christ with music by Valentino Bucchi and choreography by Lorca Messin. I had the great privilege to play the role of Jesus. I regard that performance as a turning point in my career. I am quite sure that I will never again find a character and a ballet like that one.

In what way is that ballet a turning-point in your career?


 Itís hard to explain. I am a Catholic, but apart from that, the personality and story of Jesus, and what he means for all men, has always fascinated me. When I was asked to play the role of Jesus in that ballet, I began to study Christís personality even more deeply and I realized that I was dealing with an individual who had an incredibly human dimension; someone I would very much like to imitate. I know itís impossible, but I believe and hope that I will at least be able  to become a little like him. This is the explanation for that turning-point in my life and career.

Do you see yourself as a religious person?


 Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor, once said that artists are the most religious people in the world and at the same time those with least faith. I think there is some truth in this, I think that we artists are all very sensitive people and that we therefore sometimes feel very close to God. At other times, though, we are so self-centred that we only think about ourselves. But to get back to your question; yes, I do regard myself as a religious person.

In a recent interview for a Venezuelan magazine, you said: ďIím a down-to-earth person but I draw life from my faithĒ. Could you explain this?


 What I meant was that I am, above all, a very practical sort of person, I love to see and touch reality. I donít like abstract notions. Artists, at times, abuse their profession and believe that they have the right to do absurd and strange things. I think the most important thing is to be simple, practical and matter-of-fact.

To be, letís say, a practical person, who lives within this contemporary worldÖ


 Absolutely. I prefer facts to words. I like it when people actually do things. It annoys me when people talk and talk and then do nothing. This is why Iím a down-to-earth sort of person. Also, faith is very important for me. A faith which is also hope. I canít understand how a human being could live without hope because for me, hope is the most important thing. Hope is based on faith and expresses itself through love.

How would you define God. Who is God for you?


 Men and women have been asking themselves this question since the beginning of time. I believe that a lot of people are still struggling for an answer. For me God is a force we all have inside of us. This force is love. God is love.

A great Italian ballet-dancer, Liliana Cosi, once said: ďBy dancing one gets nearer to GodĒ. Do you agree?


 Yes, because by ballet, we dancers have the good fortune of getting into contact with our own souls, and the soul is what allows us to get closer to religion and God.

What do you consider as your best quality?


 Itís hard to say. I demand a lot from myself. Maybe the fact that I try to be a simple person without any strange ideas in my head.

And what donít you like about yourself?


 Quite a number of things. Iíd like to be a better person than what I am: more humane and closer to other people. Iíd like to do more for my neighbour because, unfortunately, we live in a selfish world. We have to change. I think that helping others can also be a way of helping ourselves. We must realise that the world we live in belongs to all of us and thus we must all seek to create peace, harmony and equality.

Why is there so little classical dance on TV?


 The strange thing is that when a classical ballet is performed on the stage, the theatres are always sold-out. It is  highly appreciated. I can find no answer to this as far as TV is concerned.

Your job takes you on tours around the world. Which is the most receptive nation in the world to classical ballet?


 It is difficult to make comparisons between nations because of globalisation and the ease with which one can travel. Nowadays, dancers and choreographers can travel from one city to another in no time. What you see in Rome today, can be seen in New York or Moscow tomorrow. I believe, however, that cities like St. Petersburg, Moscow, New York, Paris and London are still very receptive to classical ballet.

What advice can you give to anyone who would like to start a career in classical dance?


 Before I start answering your question, I would like to say that I donít like to give advice to others because every human being is a world in itself, and what is right for me might not be right for someone else. However, I believe that the most important thing, not only for a ballet-dancer but for any art or trade, is to try to be a good person; this makes everything that comes after easier. As far as ballet is concerned, one must love this art as oneself because it is a very difficult and complicated profession  and one must give it total dedication. One cannot become a ballet-dancer overnight, but I think the same holds for  a lot of other jobs.

Thank you for having given us your time and all the best for your career.
 It was a pleasure for me to get to know you and your magazine, Friar Mario. The message which you are trying to get across to the whole world with your magazine is identical to the one which I, as a dancer, but above all as a human being, would also like to communicate.

A brief biography

Igor Yebra was born in Bilbao (Spain), 27 years ago. He began studying ballet at the age of 13. He moved to Madrid the following year to continue studying, this time under Victor Ullate. After obtaining an honours degree at El Real Conservatorio de danza de Madrid, he entered in the theatrical company of Victor Ullate, El Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, in which he remained for six years. In 1996 he began his career as principal dancer, with a repertoire of works such as Giselle, Don Quixiote, La Sylphide, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, etc., and started touring the world with Australian Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet, Balletto dellíOpera di Roma, etc. He has recently become solo ballet-dancer for Ballet of Bordeaux. He has won various awards and this month (January 2004), he will debut in the Kremlin Theatre, starring in Sergei Prokofievís ballet Ivan the Terrible



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