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Feeling lucky

Posted on January 24, 2019


Jonathan Gray talks to Northern Ballet’s Javier Torres. Photographs by Izuky Photography

“Do you mind if I stretch out my leg?” asks Javier Torres, premier dancer with Northern Ballet, who is nominated for the Dancing Times Best Male Dancer Award at the forthcoming Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards this month. We were sitting on high stools in the foyer of the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, where the company was performing The Nutcracker on tour. Tall, dark, friendly, and very handsome, you can’t imagine anyone denying Torres the opportunity of stretching out during his break between rehearsals and performance, and so he gets another stool to rest his leg on whilst we settle down to talk about his career with Northern Ballet and in his native Cuba.

Torres smiles broadly when I congratulate him on his nomination, announced earlier that week. “I was so surprised. I’ve been dancing for 20 years and feel like I’m appreciated. It’s important for dancers in companies who are not always nominated, as you can see you don’t have to be in a big company to be recognised – it’s a reward for your job.”

The nomination came after a highly successful year for Torres, one in which he made a great impression in a number of works, including the title role in Kenneth Tindall’s Casanova and Mr Rochester in Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre, as well as the national celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Kenneth MacMillan, most notably Las Hermanas and Gloria. A naturally gifted dramatic dancer, Torres says the role of Rochester is one of his favourites, but adds, “Dancing in the MacMillan ballets was one of the best experiences of my life. It was wonderful having something new to do, and we were very well coached. I really enjoyed it, and performing Gloria at the Royal Opera House was amazing. I loved Las Hermanas, too, and I like the idea of sharing between companies, and more integration.”

Torres joined Northern Ballet in 2010, but for the previous decade had been a notable presence in National Ballet of Cuba, one of a group of exciting male artists in the company at that time. Why did he swap the sunshine and tropical heat of his homeland for life and a career in Yorkshire? “When I left Cuba, I was fed up. I needed to go and I needed a change, and Northern Ballet in Leeds was the only company I found at the time that matched the kind dancer I was. I wasn’t sure English National Ballet was the right company for me, although it had a lot of Cuban dancers then, so it was David Nixon [director of Northern Ballet] who opened the doors and windows for me. I like the kind of work the company does, especially as I see myself as a dramatic dancer – I don’t like the happy endings!

“Although the work process at first was hard for the way I was used to working, I have been incredibly lucky that lots of roles have been created on me. I missed the classical ballets at the beginning, but not anymore. The less time you are in white tights, the better!

“My first created role was Julius Caesar in David’s Cleopatra, which was a big role, and I could suddenly see what you could achieve without wearing tights! I enjoyed it and worked really hard. Creating a character in a ballet is very rewarding, and I’m lucky it has played such a large part in my professional life at Northern Ballet.”

His appearances with the company have been extensive, and over the years I have been highly impressed by the intensity he brings to his work, as well as the rich beauty of his dancing, in ballets such as Nixon’s Dracula and Ondine, Casanova and Jonathan Watkins’ 1984. “If I had to pick just one role, it would be Rochester in Jane Eyre, which was very special. American Ballet Theatre [ABT] is going to dance it later this year, and the company is really excited about it. I wish I could go there.” He hopes ABT won’t make the ballet “bigger” when it is presented at New York’s huge Metropolitan Opera House. “One of its strongest points is that Jane Eyre was made for small theatres, and I don’t think it should lose that intimacy. The theatre in Doncaster was the perfect venue for it, really, as everyone was very close to us dancers.”

Torres is happy, then, with the work he has been doing in the UK, but I wonder if he still has a hankering for performing the classics. “Will I ever do another Albrecht or Siegfried again? Well, I do if I go back to Cuba [Torres had just returned from appearing with his former company during the Havana Ballet Festival]. I danced Albrecht here with Northern Ballet once; I haven’t done it since, but I left Cuba because I did too many of them.”

A longer version of this interview is available in the February 2019 issue of Dancing Times. Click here to purchase a copy.


Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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