Interview: Joaquin Cortes

Posted: Thu Jan 29 2009

There's more to Joaquin Cortés than superstardom, his own celebrity fragrance and being 'pure sex', finds Lyndsey Winship. Although that's probably enough for most people…

The last time I interviewed a flamenco dancer it was in a Travelodge. This time I'm rocking up to the very plush and swanky Baglioni Hotel. This is clearly a very different proposition.

That's because I'm here to see Joaquin Cortés - the most famous man in flamenco, and probably, at one point, the most famous dancer in the world. He's known for his liaisons with a string of beautiful women (Naomi Campbell, Mira Sorvino), as much as his grandscale spectacles of flamenco fusion, which play to crowds of thousands around the world.

Cortés seems to have a certain effect on women. One that led Elle Macpherson to call him 'pure sex', and attracts the kind of fans who wait outside his hotel at four in the morning. His reputation precedes him - the ego, the red-blooded sex appeal, the oft-bare chest, and the sheer force of his dancing, where the feverish friction of his feet against the boards makes you feel the stage could go up in flames any moment. I half expect to be met by a barrel of testosterone, but in person he's more of a pussycat.

Sure, he checks himself out in the mirror, he holds your gaze in a quietly charismatic way, he casually flirts, but he's older and wiser now, and pretty chilled out, not least about turning 40 this month. Despite the milestone he's in no hurry to stop dancing. He couldn't, he says: 'It's my drug.'

Cortés will be pulling out all the stops for another world tour later in the year, but for now, what's got his juices going is a rather more intimate two-nighter at the Roundhouse. He visited the venue to see Elbow play and instantly decided he wanted some of that energy and atmosphere for himself. The 'in the round' setting is similar to the bullrings he performs in in Spain, except the fans can get a whole lot closer.

While Cortés's show won't feature any epic indie rock, he does say it will be 'like a rock 'n' roll show', with 13 musicians on stage and the star dancer taking on the frontman role. If criticism in the past has been that his shows were too slickly choreographed, this new outing will be an opportunity for spontaneity and improvisation, taking cues from the crowd. 'It depends on the feeling in the audience. Maybe the show will be one-and-a-half hours, maybe it'll be three hours. Maybe I'll fly,' he says.

His agent chips in. 'They're really going to feel him as a person in this performance. He's going to get stripped down - in body and soul .'

'It's really who I am, I'll show my true self; it's Joaquin Cortés,' insists Cortés. So who is Joaquin Cortés? I ask. 'I don't know,' he laughs.

Is the whole hot-blooded gypsy thing a bit of an act? 'No, no,' he says. 'I try to be myself all the time. When you do a film [he's done a few, with the likes of Almodóvar], yes you have to transform yourself, it's acting. But dancing on stage, the transformation is quite different. It's you. You're not acting, just expressing yourself, your essence.'

As well as Almodóvar, Cortés has collaborated with a whole host of huge names - Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez - and is close friends with Georgio Armani, who designed his costumes for ten years. It's all these famous friends - and things like, say, having his own celebrity fragrance - that has led to a certain snobbishness about Cortés' credibility, but he has serious dance credentials.

Introduced to flamenco by his uncle, dancer Cristobal Reyes, Cortés performed with the Spanish National Ballet before striking out solo. His particular brand of fusion, with influences of flamenco, contemporary and classical dance, flashy staging and a heavy dose of showmanship, was scoffed at at the time, but, as Cortés says, they're all doing it now.

'Flamenco is something very traditional and at the beginning it was quite hard to cross that line [into fusion]. But now lots of people who were negative about it in the past are doing it. They are all looking for success, so if this is success, why not?'