“Mediterranean Trilogy” – Filipe Portugal choreographs “Spanish Rhapsody”: “The personalities of the dancers are the greatest inspiration”

2 February 2022

“Mediterranean Trilogy” is a ballet evening with choreographers Giovanni di Palma, Maša Kolar and Filipe Portugal, with the expected premiere on February 4 at 7:30 PM. Pulcinella, Afternoon of a Faun and Spanish Rhapsody, or Stravinsky/Pergolesi, Debussy and Ravel in one evening! Or – the modern Faun has been embraced by the neoclassical Pulcinella and Spanish Rhapsody en pointe! Secure your place at one of the reprises on February 5, 7, 8 and 16!

Filipe Portugal, choreographer of Spanish Rhapsody by Maurice Ravel, is a young artist with a unique vision; his ingenuity, unique style and charisma – both his and that of the dancers who inspire him – can be found in every detail.

Find out how much in the interview.


While watching your rehearsal, I experienced the choreography as both neoclassical and modern, refined, with poses that elegantly merge the scenes; they look extremely gentle and extremely demanding, with many beautiful details.

I’m happy to hear you say that. Of course, classical ballet is at my core, however my choreographic work aims to explore my own language. It is natural to draw from one’s own foundations; one should not run away from it. Maša Kolar wanted a part on pointe shoes, which I’m happy about. I generally like to use them in my choreographies because I like the shape of the dancers’ legs in pointe shoes. Also, giving up pointe shoes is easy when you are a modern choreographer – in stockings everything flows easier and more connectedly. On pointe shoes you sometimes can’t achieve that ease. I still believe that we can achieve a lot. Knowing that the Rijeka Ballet has a mostly modern repertoire, dancing en pointe is particularly satisfying and challenging.


How does the Rijeka Ballet respond to neoclassical demands?

I’m not afraid to make demands. They are also used to that material. It’s nice to follow the process from the moment they get used to pointe shoes again to the moment when they no longer even notice them.


Based on your calm, quiet tone at rehearsal, as well as right now, it seems that you very calmly yet clearly are not prepared to make any compromises? 🙂

Exactly. I don’t like to say it has to be this way or that way. There are really many ways to make it the way you envisioned it. I allow myself to be inspired by their personalities.


And there really are a variety of personalities in the Rijeka Ballet. How has your experience been with the Ballet with character?

Everyone is different. It doesn’t always have to be comfortable or easy to deal with their personalities. Artists are sometimes egocentric and self-centered. Everyone wants to achieve something. It is interesting for me to follow how I react to each of them, how I accept each personality and try to lead, how often a completely different approach is effective. That is inevitable. They are not machines. If I told them to do something and they did it perfectly, where would be the fun in that?!

There is always a way, especially if there is also talent. It’s good that I don’t get upset, but in the end, it’s important that they understand the choreographic thought and manage to perform it deftly. I accept everything they have to offer. I give them the movement, the starting point, and they add something of their own to it. The better I get to know them, the more my knowledge influences how I choreograph.


This is really visible on stage; they often perform exactly the same choreography but present it completely differently.

We work a lot on feelings. Every moment tends to lead the dancer into a feeling, a movement that then melts into something else and flows on…

I wouldn’t like robotic choreography in which everyone does the same thing at the same time. Also, I don’t want them to dance just as if they were alone in front of an audience, but to react to each other, and if they smile at each other and feel connected, that’s wonderful; I want them to enjoy the moment. Every day is different.


You say that your choreography for Ravel’s Spanish Rhapsody had its own dramaturgy. Is there a story there, or…?

There is no story. It has dramaturgy in the sense that it is able to tell a story, but the story is the music itself; I wasn’t trying to create a new one. The music is very famous, mysterious, very seductive. I like to connect with the music I choreograph to. The dramaturgy is within that dialogue. I strive for one to be able to listen to the music and see it in my choreography. Like a living image emerging in front of you. Music is associated with movement; movement and dancers in vivid colors will reveal and hide dark panels; light and shadows will create a story.


When you say “Spanish Rhapsody,” there are already some images and associations in your head. What your choreography depicts is certainly not a cliché to be associated with that phrase. It’s different. Unexpected.

I didn’t want to be a slave to expectations. I wanted to offer something different. There are some starting points that one would associate with Spain, but it evolves into something different.


When you create a new work, how much time do you spend per day with the music you’re choreographing to? You’ve also worked on the music of Shostakovich and Bach and Glass and Pärt and Richter and Adams and Sibelius and Debussy and Piazzola and Khachaturian and Wagner…

I listen to that music constantly. And images keep popping up. I become one with the music. My choreographic material definitely comes from listening to the music. Whatever period it is from, it is important to me that it touches and affects me.


For every choreographer the steps are important. What are your choreographic steps like?

I really care about every step and the way I connect them. Dancers sometimes don’t care; sometimes it’s just a passage through the choreography from one step to the next. For me, every step is special. I am interested in what we can do and how much we can achieve with each intermediate step.


Sometimes the dancers count steps during the performance on stage, which can be distracting. What do you think about that?

I understand counting, but…when I start working on steps, I already know the music well. Musicality is 50% of the work for the dancers; it is extremely important that they feel the music. For example, as a choreographer I work with the music and not against it, each emphasizing and underlining the other.

You can learn by counting and practicing when you dance, but it’s much better to feel and hear when you dance. As a dancer, I can say that sometimes the music is such that you have no choice but to count, but at some point one should be able to stop counting.

I always prefer notes over numbers. Counting becomes the music after a while – if you’re counting, you aren’t listening to the music.


What can worry you as a choreographer? And what would you single out as the choreographic highlights so far?

I don’t perceive my choreographic experience as just a few highlights. Every experience is too important for me. I don’t need a highlight – everything is a highlight. It all means a lot to me.

I first traveled abroad as a choreographer to the USA, to the Charlotte Ballet, and I was worried because I had worked for the Zürich Ballet until then, and I had known all of the dancers by heart – I knew who could do what, what I could expect of them and how they would react. Upon arriving in America, I had the music and choreography, but I was worried about what it would be like to work with dancers whose personalities I didn’t know nor their ways of moving… I realized then that I just have to give myself time to get to know the troupe and slowly start a dialogue, to indulge in the opportunity to get inspired, to take in everything I see and that only then does the choreography take shape. I have wonderful memories from America as well as from China, from Cannes and so on… The images engraved on me of memories with different people in all these places stay with me for a long time. I give so much to every piece I do; I’m in love with music and what develops, and then I have to look away and leave…sad…but in the end, you leave with a nice feeling because you worked and created something.


How do you like it in Rijeka?

I really like Rijeka. It’s special. The Rijeka Ballet is made up of people who have a lot to give.


Conversation with Andrea Labik