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Beyond the Tablaos: Reviews of Two Madrid Flamenco Festivals

by Bonnie Rosenstock
July 1, 2015
My brief, two-week stay in Madrid fortuitously coincided with two Flamenco festivals, Flamenco Madrid and Suma Flamenca, the 10th Flamenco Festival of the Community of Madrid, both from June 3 to 30. The overwhelming 121-page Program Booklet for Suma Flamenca detailed 373 shows in 21 different spaces in Madrid and environs, consisting of theaters, tablaos and live music venues for baile (dance), cante (singing) and toque (guitar music). I saw "Carmen," based on a Triana (Seville) legend, and "Cartas a Pastora," based on the life of the legendary Pastora Imperio.

June 18, 2015

Teatro COMPAC Gran Vía
Calle Gran Vía, 66
Madrid, Spain 28013
Metros: Santo Domingo or Plaza de España
Tel.: +34 915 41 55 69

Carmen: A Flamenco Opera with Cornets Band and Drums of the Hope of Triana
By Salvador Távora
June 2 to July 5
www.carmensalvadortavora.com


This Carmen is far from the literary and romantic versions, popularized in the novella "Carmen" by Prosper Merimée (1845), and turned into an opera by Georges Bizet (1875). It is not even close to Carlos Saura's groundbreaking film (1983) or the myriad dozens of other works based on this compelling tale. This Carmen is rooted in popular Andalucían tradition, "when the real Carmen existed," declared Távora. He based his story on historic documents and was inspired by the tales his great grandmother related about the gypsy cigar worker from the Triana (then gypsy) section of Seville, who rebelled against the social conventions of the period. She was poor, a woman, a worker, a gypsy, wanted to be free and was murdered for it.

"My mother's grandmother's eyes, her memories filled with sadness when relating the suffering of these overwhelming injustices," Távora said. "And bright, green and incandescent when she spoke to me of the beauty and seductive beauty of this Carmen, who was dignified before she was converted into a distorted myth."

Of course, there is the basic story of the cigar factory worker who seduces men and discards them like the ashes of a cigar. However, this no-nonsense Carmen is a patriot and participates in rebellions against the French occupiers. There is a scene in which she is standing on the top of a ladder, holding a huge flag that is blowing (a nice effect), which says, "Viva la Constitución, 1812, Cádiz." The Spanish Constitution of 1812, very liberal for its time, established Spain's first national sovereign assembly in Cádiz (in the province of Andalucía), but it never took effect as France ruled most of Spain at the time and the assembly was illegal.

The narrative is told through martinetes, deblas y tonás, using lyrics from the period. All three cantes a palo are sung a cappella, with the tonás considered by traditional flamencologists to be the oldest surviving flamenco musical form. There are also nods to the Bizet opera in the form of those lovely recognizable arias, played with canned instrumentals.

There are more than 30 artists in the production, which includes a large number of cornet players and drummers on both sides of the stage. The principal roles are performed by María Távora as the seductive gypsy Carmen; Juan Manuel Rodríguez García, El Mistela, as the jealous, rejected and murderous Don José; Jaime de la Puerta as Luca, "El Picador" whose dancing and spinning white horse from the Haute Ecole dressage made quite a sensation; three cigar workers, Ana Real, Cristina de Tovar and Elena de Carmen, the fabulous female cantaoras who narrated the tragic tale; a cigar worker bailaora, Fátima Moreno; two amazing guitarists, Manuel Berraquero and Miguel Aragón; and other assorted terrific male dancers.

Since its debut in 1996, it has been performed more than 1,000 times in 24 countries and 32 international festivals. José Antonio Gallardo, the general manager of the company, told me they are planning to embark on another international tour, which will include New York.


June 19, 2015

Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa
Plaza de Colón, 4
Madrid, Spain 28001
Metros: Serrano or Colón
Tel.: +34 914 36 25 40
www.teatrofernangomez.com.

La Lupi
Cartas a Pastora (Letters to Pastora)
Compañía La Lupi
Lalupiflamenco.es


Málaga-born bailaora Susana Lupiáñez Pinto, artistically known as La Lupi, presented her new work, "Cartas a Pastora," a loving homage to Seville gypsy bailaora and cantaora Pastora Imperio, at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa from June 19 to 21. She said it was inspired by a lecture-demo solo performance she presented as part of an exhibition of the works of painter Julio Romero de Torres: "Between Myth and Tradition" (2013) at Málaga's Carmen Thyssen Museum on the day dedicated to Imperio's role as one of his muses. From that day forward, she realized this was going to become her new work. "I was inspired by her photographs and the few visual documents that were preserved and in what my mother told me about Pastora since I was little: the way she moved her arms, her elegance, her bearing, her majesty," she said in the program notes. "My admiration kept growing, and I felt the necessity to tell Pastora, and from there to write her letters."

In a riveting 90-minute show, the 44-year-old La Lupi, captured the spirit and artistry of Imperio (1887-1979) who had a tumultuous, but extraordinarily acclaimed life. The tumultuous part was her brief, yet passionate marriage to the matador Rafael Gómez, "El Gallo" (which by some accounts the two never got over). The union didn't produce any children—the green-eyed Imperio had an out-of-wedlock daughter by the cousin of King Alfonso XIII, which Gómez recognized as his own. Her creative life included debuting Manuel de Falla's "El amor brujo" in 1915 and being credited for introducing the bata de cola (long-frilled train) to flamenco.

La Lupi sculpted her torso, arms and hands into remarkable shapes, reflecting passion, sadness, pain, happiness. Her footwork solos or sizzling and emotional duets with the charismatic Angel Rojas (co-writer and co-choreographer) reflected a lifetime of experience in the art. In one of them, wearing identical red, black and white bullfighting clothes, they were toreando, mimicking bull and bullfighter, in playful and not so playful movements. At the finale, she appeared in a black bata de cola with a red lining, which she whipped around like a twirl of the finger. She owned it.

The other excellent performers included singers Antonio Nuñez,"El pulga" and Antonio Campos; guitarist Curro de María; percussionist David Galiano; violinist Nelson Doblas; and on palmas, Robert Jaén.

In the lobby there was a moving tribute in words and pictures to the life of Antonio Gades, revered pioneer flamenco and Spanish dancer, choreographer, co-founder of the Spanish National Ballet and political activist, called "50 Years of Spanish Dance." There were tears of sorrow over his passing in 2004, and his loss is still felt by flamenco fans across the globe.
Poster of Flamenco Madrid festival at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid Spain, June 3-30.

Poster of Flamenco Madrid festival at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid Spain, June 3-30.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Homage to Antonio Gades, exhibit at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid, Spain, in conjunction with Flamenco Madrid.

Homage to Antonio Gades, exhibit at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid, Spain, in conjunction with Flamenco Madrid.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Homage to Antonio Gades, exhibit at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid, Spain, in conjunction with Flamenco Madrid.

Homage to Antonio Gades, exhibit at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, Madrid, Spain, in conjunction with Flamenco Madrid.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


A scene from Salvador Távora's 'Carmen.'

A scene from Salvador Távora's "Carmen."

Photo © & courtesy of Paulino Martínez Moré


A scene from Salvador Távora's 'Carmen.'

A scene from Salvador Távora's "Carmen."

Photo © & courtesy of Paulino Martínez Moré


A scene from Salvador Távora's 'Carmen.'

A scene from Salvador Távora's "Carmen."

Photo © & courtesy of Paulino Martínez Moré


La Lupi. Photo courtesy of La Lupi Flamenco

La Lupi. Photo courtesy of La Lupi Flamenco


La Lupi.

La Lupi.

Photo © & courtesy of Alvaro Cabrera

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