Víctor Ullate and Eduardo Lao.

Autor Maia Hoetink

Two tireless figures of Spanish contemporary dance captivated by the energy of Villanueva de la Vera.

Victor Ullate and Eduardo Lao make up one of the most influential couples in Spanish contemporary dance. With a decades of experience and dozens of works composed and directed behind them, these dancers, choreographers and directors at the Victor Ullate Dance School and the Victor Ullate Dance Foundation didn’t have common beginnings. “I remember that my family lived in the kitchen and as a baby, when I heard music, I would laugh or cry, and dance all the time,” recalls Víctor (Zaragoza, 1947). His parents did not take long to sign him up for dance classes, but it was Antonio Gades who first noticed the young dancer’s potential and encouraged him to enter María de Ávila’s dance school. “It was a school for snobby girls, but I was admitted and had to have my classes early in the mornings before the girls arrived.” Four years later he was joining Antonio Ruiz Soler’s company, which allowed him to travel abroad. “It was a gift from God. Coming back to Spain was very hard,” the dancer assures.

Eduardo, on the other hand, came to know the dance world in a different way. “I used to spend my life in discos, it was what I liked most. When I finished my homework, when I was 13 years old, I would go to the disco and win all the dancing contests that I presented myself to” he says with a smile. Granada-born Eduardo went to Madrid to get a formal education and came across Victor Ullate’s school, where he would develop his career as dancer and choreographer for the next thirty years.

In 2019 the school and foundation were closed, marking the end of an era and leaving a bittersweet taste. “I have awards here, but when it comes down to it they are worthless because the school was ruined. A school that had been running successfully for 36 years, has been ruined. It makes me sad to think how hard I worked for it, to see it ruined now,” Ullate regrets. Eduardo blames it on a lack of general interest, claiming that “in Spain, there’s no interest in culture because people don’t have a basic cultural education. How are they going to find something interest if they don’t know about it?” But he adds a note of optimistism: “Our legacy remains, as well as our reputation. It was a dramatic ending, but here things are quickly forgotten.”

“Extremadura’s charm is that it is not crowded and its tourism is not massified. That things focus on cultural and culinary tourism seems very good to me.”

One door closing has led to another one to open: getting to know La Vera de Gredos and turning it into their new home. In Villanueva de la Vera they have found an oasis far from the noise and hurried pace of the city, in a beautiful house with views of the Almanzor mountain peak, which they share with their dogs and two parrots. A much needed breath of fresh air that allows them to start on new projects.

Question: You ended up coming to La Vera. Why did you choose this area?

Eduardo: About ten years ago we came to Candeleda to spend the weekend and we realized the area was still undiscovered. It was so beautiful, we loved it, so we looked for something around here. We found this house and liked its energy, we wanted wild nature and to really be in the mountains.

Victor: We saw lots of areas. They told us we wouldn’t be able to build here. We liked the spot and there was already a house, although we would have liked to build something from scratch.

E: Yes, but the spot is what matters.

P: Now that you know it a bit better, what do you find most attractive about the area?

E: Since we’ve had such an abrupt change in our lives, we like everything: we like the quietness, the people…

V: People are different. In Extremadura, people are very friendly. Now we realize that Madrid is much more hostile and harsh. People in Madrid used to be more hospitable, but in the last few years it has become a very aggressive city where no one has time for nothing. It drives me crazy. We know people here in Madrigal, we have friends in Villanueva too. But we haven’t had dinner parties yet. Meanwhile, we’re perfectly entertained anyway.

P: What reputation do you think this area has in the rest of Spain?

E: It’s known for the pimentón (smoked paprika) and little more. People in Extremadura know the north of Caceres is special. There is a lot of water, opposite to what people usually think of Extremadura, they see it as dry land with nothing but good sausage. In terms of nature, it’s amazing. I was very surprised a few years ago with the amount of water there is here.

V: I don’t like the rain too much. Especially when the dogs don’t want to go outside. But we owe all these views and this lush nature to it. It’s wonderful when it’s sunny. I must admit I get hypnotized by the Almanzor, I look at it at every hour of the day and it’s always different depending on the light, the day… It’s never the same.

P:  Is there something you’d like to see change or develop?

E: I think things need to be done carefully. Extremadura’s charm is that it is not crowded and has avoided tourist massification. That thins are focused on cultural and culinary tourism seems very good to me. But we have to stay away from the massified tourism to keep the region’s essence.

P: Do you have any projects cooking?

V: Last year we did Antigona in Mérida and it was a huge success. The president of Extremadura wanted to start a dance school in Cáceres with our foundation to give underprivileged children the chance to dance. We also talked about creating a Victor Ullate Museum of Dance, which I suggested to the mayor of Villanueva. That’s where we are.

We also want to teach classes and intensive courses on weekends and holidays. With the pandemic, we’ve had to put it on hold because people from outside can’t come here at the moment. We hope to be able to take it up again next year so that students and professionals can come enjoy nature.

E:  Our idea wasn’t to create a school, we’ve already done that. We’d like to give master classes to people who already have some level and who want to disconnect yet continue training at the same time.

P:  Was it difficult to adapt to the new quiet pace after so many active years?

V:  Its was difficult in the beginning, but I’ve come to realize what a pleasure it is. To not have constant obligations or financial worries or pressure. I had two heart attacks and another one last year, so that was enough.

E: In the end it turns out we were lucky that all this happened.

P:  If you imagine La Vera de Gredos in five years from now, what would you like to see?

E: To tell you the truth, when we moved here, we were very excited about the summer courses and we spoke about it with the mayor. We wanted them to be a unique reference in the world of dance, different from what is available elsewhere. To be able to offer classes with Victor Ullate to attract people from all over the world. In addition to the good installations and the brilliant teacher, you add the beauty of the area and the activities you can do with the students that come, and you can make Villanueva de la Vera known for a very attractive cultural activity. When all this blows over, we would love to make it happen. If Victor starts teaching again, it would be a big hit, but we need to plan it well to do a good job when all this blows over.