Joaquin Cortes, one of flamenco music's most talented dancer-choreographers, has not appeared on a Spanish stage for more than three years, time well spent in the preparation of his latest show: "Esencia" ("Essence").

Cortes _ born in Córdoba in 1969 _ said he was glad to be back, but it still shocked and upset him to rediscover just how difficult it was to get anything culture-related done in Spain.

"I should have left the country, perhaps then they would treat me better," he bemoaned. "I don't understand it, it is completely surreal," he acknowledged to EFE in an exclusive interview.

"Culture (in Spain) is like a poor relative. Why are there so many people like me, capable of filling 10,000 seat venues, but Spain tells them it has no money for them?" Cortes asked.

"I don't want to sound like the villain of this movie, but here they seem only interested in soccer, Ronaldo and Messi," the artist added.

At the beginning of May, he premiered his new spectacle in Barcelona, with "Esencia" being perhaps the most intimate of all his productions.

Cortes is set to perform in Madrid from the June 8-25 with a cast of 40 flamenco dancers and musicians.

The production, running at one hour and forty minutes, continues his ongoing fusion of flamenco and contemporary dance and tells the autobiographical story of a 12-year-old boy who wanted to follow the steps of his uncle and hero, flamenco dancer and choreographer Cristóbal Reyes.

The production was given the title "Esencia" because Cortes wanted to shed everything superfluous, concentrate on the important things and remind the public of his three-decades-long artistic career driven by hard work and his passion for "no-frills" flamenco.

He may not have performed in Spain these past three years, but he has kept very busy abroad, starring in two talent shows broadcast on Portuguese and Italian TV, an experience he enjoyed and would be happy to repeat.

"I liked it a lot and did not find it boring working in television. Dancing requires a lot of sacrifices but as soon as you stop, you begin to miss it," Cortes explained.

"I am coming to perform in Spain and the truth is I have no doubt how the Spanish public will receive me. To say the opposite would be false modesty," he added.

Cortes said he was very happy with his career because his name has managed to become a world-renowned brand exclusively on his own merits and effort.

He has a recognizable name because he became a fusion pioneer by blending different dance "languages" and seeking the sublimation of Flamenco.

Although his relationship with fashion model Naomi Campbell has filled endless gossip pages and hours of TV programming, Cortes said he tried to avoid that "circus."

"My private life is mine. One earns respect by demonstrating that you are not game to that," he said.

He said he learned not to look back on many things and has no idea where he will be in a decade, but he is certain he will have "the same sense of curiosity."

"The child we all have inside of us is still inside me. All that matters to me is anything related with art," Cortes said.

He explained that he had always been a "rebel with a cause," so if they ever offered him to direct the well established Spanish National Ballet (BNE), he would refuse.

"There would be a man in a suit telling me what to do and we would clash, although it would be in their interest to have me around," said Cortes.

He added that they would have to ask him to do the "favor" of accepting the job; if he did it at all, "it would be for the benefit of (Spanish) culture.

He said that "each news item about corruption" bored him to tears: "In this country, people just keep on stealing and nothing happens. If they arrest them, they spend two days in jail."

"And what happens with all the money they have stolen?" he asked out loud.

"If they invested in culture, in infrastructure, in trees... My goodness, it could be a completely different country!" Cortes exclaimed.

He considered it "deplorable" that in France the VAT for cultural products was six percent, the EU average was 8 percent and in Spain, it amounted to 21 percent.

"Because everything they said about lowering that tax, in the end, amounted to nothing. Maybe in another twenty years..." he added, with a slight dash of irony.

Cortes said he felt like a gypsy born in Spain, a "cordobés" and an adoptive son of Madrid; but he also disagreed with many of the things that were happening in Spain.

"I think it is disgusting how they are governing the country. I consider myself an artist and I want to live in a democracy, but what is happening here is surreal," said the flamenco artist.

By Concha Barrigos.