28 Mar Javier Torres on ŻfinMalta’s upcoming ballet intensive: Developing technique and artistry
This Easter, locally-based ballet students and professionals will have the opportunity to take classes with Javier Torres. Javier is the upcoming Artistic Director of The Finnish National Ballet and regular guest teacher at companies and schools including The Stuttgart Ballet, The Lyon Opera Ballet, The Czech National Ballet, and Netherlands Dans Theatre.
We spoke to Javier about his teaching style and approach, and gained some insight into what can be expected, and what invaluable skills and lessons can be gained from his classes this Easter, especially for those making their transition into the professional dance world.
I think taking professional open classes is one of the best tools to widen the perspectives and understanding dancers have of both dance technique and artistry.
How was your experience teaching in Malta last season, and what are you most excited about for your return to the Maltese Islands?
I loved my experience in Malta. I found that the dancers of the ŻfinMalta Company as well as the freelance dancers and students I worked with had a warm open attitude that enabled a positive and open exchange. It is this kind of atmosphere that allows any teacher to pass on what he has learned and developed.
Although I only stayed in Malta for a week, thanks to the maturity and openhearted attitude of the ŻfinMalta dancers, I feel we bonded. Nothing makes me feel more excited that meeting again people that I feel close to. I also loved the island and its sensual rhythm and manners. Besides my classes I am looking forward to enjoying the sun, the sea and the land that this small yet energetic country has.
What do you think are the benefits for any student or professional of taking a professional open class?
I think taking professional open classes is one of the best tools to widen the perspectives and understanding dancers have of both dance technique and artistry. I believe there are as many “truths” as there are heads on the planet, and although it is important to be faithful to those philosophies (techniques) we believe in, we should constantly question them. After all, we are all evolving beings. Many times what worked for us at some point stopped working and if we don’t question it and are prepared to let it go for something that could work better, we get stuck. Open professional classes are a great opportunity to question ourselves, and hear other ways of doing things that could help us improve. On top of this, taking these kind of classes can help dancers gain confidence by simply presenting themselves to another teacher. Among other things, it is thanks to positive criticism from people that don’t know us on a day-to-day basis that we can improve our skills.
Open professional classes are a great opportunity to question ourselves, and hear other ways of doing things that could help us improve.
What experience can students expect from taking your class? Do you teach a specific style?
I believe in the intimate link there is between technique, artistry and the joy of work. Therefore I would like the dancers that work with me to have a deep sensation of enrichment and fulfilment when they finish my class. When speaking about ballet styles such as the American, the Russian, or the Danish, the way I teach is closer to the American style. However, after 22 years of research in the anatomical and psychological aspects of ballet, as well as the use of breath as part of ballet technique, I could say that I teach my style.
What can students gain from your classes, that they can carry through to their everyday training?
Questioning. In most traditional ballet schools the communication between the teacher and the student (or professional dancer) is done in one sense, meaning the teacher gives their opinion, the dancer listens and then executes. This way of working slows down the dancers capacity to become her-his own teacher, creating a dependency on the teacher(s). In modern pedagogy, questioning the students has proven to be most helpful both in accelerating the learning process as well as in helping them develop self-awareness and self-criticism. Many times in class before telling a dancer that fell in a pirouette why I think it didn’t work, I ask her-him their opinion. If the dancer cannot answer, I ask them to think about it before giving my feedback. Many times the result is that the dancer finds the problem themselves, fixes it and comes back with a sense of achievement, telling me what they discovered. In most cases what the dancer finds out is exactly what I observed. At this point and if still needed, I am open to give more feedback.
“My work in classical ballet aims to help dancers discover in a joyful manner, healthy ways of overcoming technical difficulties. For this, I share my understanding of the natural biomechanical movements of the body, the use of breath and the importance of the relationship with the music. I believe that besides a training, a ballet class can be a deep personal and artistic experience”
What should students focus on when preparing to transition from training to more professional environments?
They should focus on artistry and self-security. Technique seems to have taken the leading role in most fields in our modern society. However, while technique is very important many dancers going into the professional field are so focused on technique that they forget that dance is an art form. As such, it is important that dancers looking for a job, show beside their technical level, a mature level of artistry and self-confidence. It is a common mistake to believe that a good technical level assures a good artistic one.
What do you most enjoy about your job, and travelling to teach in such various places, with different types of dancers and artists?
When I was younger, traveling and seeing new places was a big part of my excitement when going to work with different schools and dance companies. Now that I am older I still enjoy it but not in the same way. I have been fortunate enough to seen many wonderful places, and return to them several times. Nowadays the focus of my joy when travelling has shifted from discovering places and companies, to discovering and rediscovering dancers I will work or rework with. After so many years of research and experience in teaching, there is nothing like seeing the results when I help a dancer achieve a technical, artistic of even personal goal.
We spoke to some of the company dancers of ŻfinMalta ahead of Javier’s Easter intensive, and heard about some of their experiences last season taking morning class together.
ŻfinMalta National Dance Company aims to provide excellent opportunities and exposure to high quality dance artists for students and professionals, by bringing international guest teachers from the best companies and schools around Europe, to Malta.