She is probably the Basque Country’s most international dancer. Dancer, choreographer, and teacher, Iratxe Ansa has been leading the multi-project ´Metamorphosis´ platform for the last 7 years. Metamosphosis International Residency, an itinerant dance residency programme, is one of the platform projects. Its third edition was held in San Sebastian (Basque Country) in 2016 and became the subject of a documentary which was presented at the New Blue Dance festival in Toronto (Canada). We spoke to her about the project.
-This week METAMORPHOSIS INTERNATIONAL RESIDENCY - SAN SEBASTIAN 2016, the documentary about your dance residency programme was presented in Toronto. Tell us about it, what can we expect to see?
You’ll see lots of dance. The documentary follows the month-long project in chronological order. You’ll see rehearsals at the Victoria Eugenia theatre, in Tabakalera, the San Telmo Museum, Chillida-Leku, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and, finally, you’ll see the performance on stage.
We actually got round to producing the documentary after years of fun playing around with the camera. We thought it would be a good idea to get the whole project on film, but, initially, we were only thinking of doing it for ourselves because we thought it might be useful. As the project went on, we started seeing its potential, and it started taking a different direction.
-How did you come up with the idea for Metamosphosis International Residency? What is it exactly?
It came up quite naturally and spontaneously. For the first edition, we ran an intensive course in dance for Chinese dancers in Beijing in 2014. Dancers came from Australia, Spain, the U.S.A., and other parts of China to take part. When I realised that the dancers had travelled from so far away just to be there I felt the need to offer them everything I could, both inside and outside the studio. So, apart from the course we were doing, I introduced them to different Beijing dance companies and we organized several improvised events with local dancers in cultural spaces around the city, and we made a few dance videos. So the project is quite broad: it’s an intensive course in dance, choreography development, a performers’ platform, and a meeting place for dancers and international artists.
We choose the city first, and then the dancers. Once that has been decided, we focus on what we call “Encounters”, that is, the activities we organize in cultural spaces. The whole process takes about three or four months.
-It is definitely an international itinerant project: Beijing, Mexico, San Sebastian... So far it’s been a different country every year, with dancers travelling from all over the world to participate. Why is the international perspective so important? What do the different editions have in common?
For me, the word international is very natural. I have always worked abroad, and that’s where I’ve grown as an artist and as a person. Having had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the world’s great dancers made me want to travel to their countries to visit their companies. That’s how I started developing a network of contacts with dancers and artists.
I love the diversity of bringing together artists from different countries and different cultures, I think it’s a really positive experience. It has been a constant in my life as a dancer. The reason why the word international appears in the name of the programme is because it travels around the world and the dancers who participate come from all over the world. So far, dancers from sixteen different countries have taken part.
-You organized the third edition in your native San Sebastian, during its year as European Capital of Culture. After so many years carving a brilliant career abroad, how did it feel to work at home?
I have danced several times in San Sebastian during my career, but being a member of a dance group is very different from bringing one you’re in charge of home. There was a sense of responsibility, mixed with pride, and delight that people know where I’m from; I always like to tell people where I’m from, I want everyone to know about the Basque Country.
It was very interesting because I learnt a lot. It was very intense too, collaborating with so many institutions, it was really demanding trying to do so much. It was very intense but very rewarding. Spending a month at the Victoria Eugenia was exciting and inspiring, for me the moments spent in the studio are like gold dust. I loved the experience in the studio, in Chillida-Leku, at the San Telmo Museum... It awakened a sense of pride, the smell of wet earth, memories, roots…
-The documentary chronicles the third edition of the project, but you are already on your way to Shanghai for the fourth...
That’s right. Just as we are releasing the documentary about the 2016 edition, we’re putting the finishing touches to the preparations for Shangai.
We’ll be taking part as dancers and choreographers in Shanghai Fashion Week and we’re working on the last details at the moment. We are delighted because all the institutions we’ve shown the project to are really enthusiastic about it and have given us the go ahead.
We’ll be using the Shanghai International Dance Centre as our headquarters, and our cast will be made up of a mixture of Chinese and international dancers. We’ll select the Chinese dancers from the 60 national dancers in the Shanghai Dance Theatre company, and we have already chosen the international dancers. There’ll eighteen dancers and thirteen different nationalities.
The project is part of your Metamosphosis platform for dance-related projects. A quick look at the website is enough to see that the initiatives range from developing your own teaching method to fashion-related projects. Tell us a bit more about it.
Igor Bacovich and I have very curious minds and we love getting into things we know nothing about. We travel a lot around the world and are lucky enough to meet many artists and inspiring people to work with, or ones we’d like to work with.
Metamorphosis is our brand, and it definitely is a sort of catch-all for projects that share a certain philosophy and work method. Our METAMORPHOSIS METHOD for teaching and coaching dancers developed spontaneously and gradually. When we saw that the choreographies we presented at the international residencies were well received by the public, we decided to set up the METAMORPHOSIS DANCE COLLECTIVE, a company of dancers who could perform our choreographies in theatres. When we saw that many of the artists we met showed an interest in fashion, we decided to launch our own METAMORPHOSIS DANCE WEAR range.
We love to create and we love to foster and support the creativity of our collaborators, so I expect there’ll be more of these projects in the future.
-You were enjoying a brilliant career dancing with prestigious companies and European institutions when you decided to give it up in 2009 and work independently as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. What brought about that change in direction? What about your plans for the future?
I think the move from being a company dancer to becoming a freelance artist came very naturally. During my career I had the chance and the fortune to work with marvellous and inspiring artists, but I never fully identified with being a dancer that works with a choreographer or with a company. Rather I always felt I was myself, Iratxe. I have always had a strong personality, right through my entire career.
My decision to leave the NDT (Nederlands Dans Theatre) in 2010 and go freelance after twenty years in dance companies came naturally and spontaneously. Once I started out on my own I felt free to create new projects and to develop as an individual. I saw it as a great opportunity. I am really happy about how it is impacting my life and my career, and I want to continue creating projects that help me grow, and contribute to the world of culture and art.