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REVIEW: COMPAÑÍA ANTONIO GADES

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 8 FEBRUARY 2016 — Charismatic and darkly handsome with his extravagant gipsy features, Antonio Gades, the legendary Spanish flamenco dancer, choreographer and company director who died in 2004, founded a company of his own in 1963. Before then, dance in Spain, and particularly flamenco, the traditional gypsy dance and music of Southern Spain, had been relegated to folk-dancing at country festivals, to dancing in the streets, bars and cafes. With elegance and a fair dose of arrogance and masculine virility, Gades gave respectability to bulerias, farrucas and alegrias, integrating them into his dramatic, theatrical choreographies and taking them into the theatre, all the while respecting the style and the tradition of classical Spanish dance. It was however, his filmed version of Carmen in association with Carlos Saura in the 1980’s which brought flamenco to the forefront of the international scene, paving the way for such artists as Antonio Marquez and Joaquin Cortes, as well as the present day choreographer, Israel Galvan.

The company, currently under the directorship of Stella Arauzo, who joined the company at the age of 17, brought two of his works, Carmen and Flamenca Suite to the Casino of Paris this winter.


Flamenca Suite
Compañía Antonio Gades
Photo: (c) Javier Del Real

Flamenca Suite, created with Cristina Hoyos, the greatest dancer of her generation, is inspired by their collaboration of over 20 years of dancing together.  Six tableaux, composed of solos, duos, as well as ensembles for 16 dancers retrace the history of flamenco via solea for bulerias for soloists, to bulerias and tanguillos for the whole company.

Elegant yet spirited, the whole troupe dancing with fire and passion, the piece contained some electrifying numbers, particularly from Jacob Guerrero and Miguel Angel Rojas while other tableaux demonstrated the beauty of the women, with their graceful, supple arm movements and precise stamping footwork.


Flamenca Suite
Compañía Antonio Gades
Photo: (c) Juan Diego Castillo

Carmen, set to live music, with four musicians on stage, and recorded extracts from Bizet’s opera, that most Spanish of French composers who never set a foot into Spain, is Gades’ most famous work. Few other choreographers have successfully adapted flamenco to narrative ballets, and the stroke of genius that Gades had was to present the story via a troupe of dancers rehearsing their own production of Carmen.

The ballet thus opens upon a simple, highly colourful dress rehearsal, with no scenery except large, full-length mirrors at the back of the stage which threw back the image of twice the number of dancers swirling round the stage outside the cigarette factory.

The corps de ballet was excellent, rehearsing flamenco with clapping, clicking fingers and castanets as a quarrel breaks out between Carmen and a fellow worker. Imprisoned, Carmen seduces Don José, who falls desperately in love with her, but true to her fickle nature, Carmen dumps him for a glamourous bullfighter, and thus seals her own fate. Merimée’s story, as does Gades’ ballet, ends with the killing of Carmen as her toreador is acclaimed in the bull-ring.


Carmen
Compañía Antonio Gades
Photo: (c) Luca di Bartolo

Filmed by Carlos Saura with Gades himself as the doomed hero and the beautiful, sensual Laura del Sol personifying Carmen, a girl whom it was all too easy to lose one’s head over, the film, though coolly received by certain critics, triumphed worldwide. Danced by Gades and Hoyos, it was a sensation.

If the ballet today, almost a myth, has kept its sweat and anguish, evident in the superb corps de ballet, and quality of the musicians, it is no longer Gades, the dancer who bared his soul, translating himself through dance into a pure state of emotion, who interprets Don José. Neither is it the exquisite, Laura del Sol, capable of seducing every man, woman and child around, nor yet the irreplaceable, slender Hoyos whose every gesture expressed passion, pride and love of liberty.


Carmen
Compañía Antonio Gades
Photo: (c) Luca di Bartolo

In December, Don José was danced by Miguel Lara, but technical brilliance alone is not enough for this role. Artistically he was too impassive faced with an overpowering Carmen interpreted by Maria José Lopez, a mature lady who gobbled up her youthful partner.  Full of vicious energy in her fight with her colleague, Lopez was a brazen, earthy Carmen, coarse rather than seductive, and it was hard to believe that Don José could have been so besotted with her. Her dancing was extraordinary, but the emphasis in this piece lies in the subtlety of the artistic, emotional interpretation. Danced as it was, the tragedy was lessened, for all the excitement of the work lay in the strength and talent of the company evident in the brilliantly crafted ensembles of the villagers.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.
 



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