Spain’s national ballet swirls up a storm in Tel Aviv

“Great works must not be buried.”

 BALLET NACIONAL de Espana in action.  (photo credit: BALLET NACIONAL DE ESPANA)
BALLET NACIONAL de Espana in action.

In search of a leitmotif for Spain’s national ballet, The Jerusalem Post discovered a gem in the Ballet Nacional de Espana’s (BNE) master repetiteur (“rehearsal director”) Maribel Gallardo, who is back in Israel for six performances at the Tel Aviv Opera (July 12-15).

After full-time positions as a dancer and prima ballerina, today, at age 62, she performs the title roles in selected productions. We are witnessing, she says, “a marvelous moment in the development of Spanish dance.”

Gallardo has embodied all the choreographies in the ballet’s repertoire, including works choreographed especially for her by her legendary teacher Victoria Eugenia, “Betti,” who from 1993-1996 made up a triumvirate of women artistic directors of the BNE.

By 2002, after 22 years of experience dancing the choreographies of the entire BNE repertoire, Gallardo was put in charge of passing down the choreographies “as I have danced them” with the masters themselves.

The challenge in this handing over of dance traditions, she explained, is that “I have to forget about myself and put myself in[side] the skin, and [behind] the eyes of the choreographer because you can easily get carried away with your own vision.”

 MASTER REPETITEUR Maribel Gallardo.  (credit: JESUS VALLINAS)

It is their vision, she said, that must be respected, for “above all is the importance of maintaining the legacy of the choreographer.”

A native of flamenco country, Cadiz, Gallardo grew up in Madrid studying ballet and Spanish dance from the age of six. At 14, she collaborated in the foundation of the National Folkloric Ballet. In September 1980, on the advice of Betti (her teacher since she turned age 10) Gallardo enrolled in the ballet school that fed into the Spanish National Ballet – and by December had joined the company.

The recently established BNE (1978) was guided by the artistic directorship of mythical flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades until 1980, so Gallardo just missed working with him, as another flamenco dancer and choreographer, Antonio Ruiz Soler, “Antonio el Bailarin” took over the helm from 1980-1983.

Gallardo ascended to prima ballerina under the next director, ballet dancer, and teacher Maria Dolores Gomez de Avila “Maria de Avila” who assumed the mantle for the next three years. She counts Betti, Maria de Avila, Antonio el Bailarin, the BNE’s fourth director, Jose Antonio Ruiz de la Cruz, “Jose Antonio,” and the current and 10th director Ruben Olmo, as particularly influential in her development, and considers she owes them “a debt of gratitude.”

Asked how the ballet company’s foundations remained firm as it evolved over four decades through a series of directors, Gallardo spoke of foundational pillars and values set in place by Gades that remain sacred. He designed the ballet to adhere to a timetable of early rising, morning dance classes (unless on tour), an hour and a half daily ballet practice, and one day a week dedicated to each of the “other dances.”

“These pillars always remain in place,” Gallardo said, “even when the directors change,” although “each director brings his or her own essence.” She considers herself extremely fortunate to have “learned from them all.”

“A mastery of ballet allows for freedom of expression from a place of knowledge,” she explained. “Ballet is at the core of all dance.”

Gellardo's history at the Tel Aviv Opera House

GALLARDO FIRST performed at the Tel Aviv Opera House in the 1990s in the title role of Medea, choreographed by prestigious former danseur noble Jose Granero, “Maestro Granero,” whose signature was encouraging the dancers to work on dramatic expression. “Everyone called him ‘maestro,’ she said. “Whatever he touched, he turned to gold. The artists he touched were transformed after a day. He brought out corners of my being I had not discovered.”

In 2021, under current BNE director Olmo, Gallardo danced the main role in La Bella Otero, the story of a mistress of kings and czars (which Olmo had choreographed). Touted as “one of the most influential ballet dancers on the national scene, and who has gained great international recognition,” she was honored with Spain’s Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, for lifetime achievements, presented to her by King Felipe VI of Spain in 2022. 

One of her treasured memories was forged at BNE’s 10th anniversary, when Jose Antonio invited Gades back to the BNE, to stage his dance adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre.

“I had studied the choreography while sitting in my chair, but never danced it,” she said, “but I knew that Gades always chose the same people to dance with.”

She had never danced with him, so, shortly after the show opened, she was unprepared to see her name on the theater bulletin board announcing her as Gades’s partner on the morrow. After a magical performance, they embraced and he congratulated her.

“I admired him so much, and to be dancing with him was a beautiful experience,” she said. In 2002, Gallardo was awarded the Premio de APDE for her artistic trajectory, during an award ceremony that conveyed the same honor to the famed Gades.

Special homage to Mario Maya

THIS YEAR’S show in Tel Aviv, Invocacion, includes a special homage to innovative flamenco dancer and choreographer Mario Maya (1937-2008). Despite being one of the founders of the Flamenco Teatro Andaluz and a revolutionary in fusing flamenco with ballet, his work had not yet been included in the BNE repertoire.

Gallardo praised the “greatness” and “humanity” of current director Olmo for including the “magnificent choreography of a genius” in BNE’s repertoire. Olmo gathered former students of Maya’s who were taught by the dancer himself when they were young, in order for them to pass on his choreography to the BNE dancers.

“Great works must not be buried,” she asserted.

Ballet Nacional de Espana will perform at the Opera House in Tel Aviv on July 12, 13, 14, and 15. Tel: (03) 692-7777;