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Noche Flamenca's "Antigona": Greek Tragedy Perfect Fit for Flamenco

by Bonnie Rosenstock
August 7, 2015
West Park Presbyterian Church
165 West 86th Street (corner Amsterdam Avenue)
New York, NY 10024
212-362-4890
www.westparkpresbyterian.org
On a recent trip to Madrid, I happened upon a demonstration. This in itself is not an unusual occurrence in a country that has many reasons to demonstrate. This one, however, was not about recent economic and political policies, but one that has haunted a part of the population for almost eight decades: the recovery of the unidentified dead, which are said to number between 120,000 and 200,000. They were political prisoners executed by the fascist Franco regime between 1936 and 1945, and their loved ones want them identified and given a proper burial. In 2011, the Spanish government published on the Internet the first countrywide map showing the location of more than 2,000 mass graves, and last year, the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory disinterred four mass graves containing more than 300 corpses in northern Spain.

In Sophocles' play, "Antigone" (ca. 441 B.C.), in Spanish, "Antigona," the burial of the dead is the impetus that sets the wheels of destruction in motion. The play struck a chord with Noche Flamenca principal dancer Soledad Barrio, and her husband, artistic director Martín Santangelo, when in 2010 human rights activist, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, a vocal advocate for exhumation, was suspended from his duties. In 2012, Garzón was convicted of illegally wiretapping conversations between remand prisoners and their lawyers in a political corruption/money laundering scandal, which implicated members of the PP, the major right-wing party in Spain, and given an 11-year suspension.

For Madrid-born Barrio, it was also personal. Her mother's family lived through the Franco dictatorship, surviving abject hunger and civil war in which her female relatives proved their mettle. As the program notes tell us, as the first female heroine, "Antigone was not afraid to show her strength, her pain, and her passion, all attributes that are deep at the heart of flamenco."

The story: Oedipus kills his father, marries his mother, blinds himself when he finds out the truth, goes wandering, accompanied by his daughter Antigone. After his death, the throne of Thebes goes to his two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, who are supposed to reign every other year. When Eteocles refuses to give it up, Polyneices lays siege to the city, and they kill each other in battle. Creon, the new king, gives Eteocles a heroic burial and declares that Polyneices be left to rot on penalty of death. Antigona defies those orders and attempts to bury her brother. She tries to enlist the help of her younger sister, the beautiful, vain and obedient Ismene, who refuses. As this is Greek tragedy, there is bound to be a high body count. When woven into the fabric of flamenco with its gypsy, Arabic and Jewish roots, the tragedy will be infused with intense song and dance.

The 90-minute, 18-member production August 7 opened with a prayer to Zeus to break the family curse. The prayer is taken from the Koran, which is reminiscent of what Sophocles wrote in his trilogy, said Santangelo. ("Antigone" was the last of the three although written first.) Honoring the Greek tradition of sung poetry with musical accompaniment, Santangelo re-wrote the original text (the Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald version) into lyrics, which he translated into Spanish. Santangelo and guitarists Salva de Maria and Eugenio Iglesias created the vocal interpretations, added verses and composed the music. With the aid of supertitles in English, it is very easy to follow the plotline.

Emotion needs no translation, however. Barrio's expressive, pain-wracked face and body and indomitable spirit dominate. Whether she is dancing one of her many impassioned solos or in duets with Ismene (the remarkable Marina Elana); Haemon, her lover and son of Creon (the fabulous Juan Ogalla); or with the three wonderful women of the chorus, the indefatigable Barrio, who created most of the choreography, commands our full attention.

The singers are also extraordinary. Creon's (Gago) strutting at his coronation, set in a bullring, is a biting burlesque of Franco. Pepe el Bocadillo (the blind seer Tiresias) and Gago are well matched for their dynamic duet in which the seer castigates Creon for betraying the gods, the dead and the living. Bocadillo's voice is deep and strong, while Gago has a higher range, which is equally powerful.

Eteocles (Ray F. Davis) and Polyneices (Pepito Jimenez), the sons of Oedipus, dance their way to death. The strong-bodied Davis performs hip-hop and the slight-of-build Jimenez stamps out flamenco, to contrast their different characters. Davis's choreography and execution are uninspiring, all leaping and posturing, albeit gracefully. Dance advantage goes to Jimenez.

Masks and cloth were used effectively. The play opens with a billowing black fabric that disgorges six characters wearing masks on the backs of their heads. A solo guitar interlude has Iglesias in profile, wearing a mask on the side of his face that seems to stare at the audience. And at first, the downstage dead Polyneices (Jimenez) is wearing a mask until he is surreptitiously replaced by crinkled brown cardboard or carton, which creates the illusion of decay.

The high-ceilinged intimate space at the West Park Presbyterian Church was an ideal venue. The wooden pews were fitted with soft cushions, the ceiling fans were blowing, and we were given hand-held fans and cold bottled water. Welcome pampering for the gut-wrenching mayhem that ensued.

Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca "Antigona" continues through August 15. www.nocheflamenca.com
Front - Soledad Barrio as Antigona<br>Behind- Laura Peralta, Xianix Barrera, Elisabet Torres

Front - Soledad Barrio as Antigona
Behind- Laura Peralta, Xianix Barrera, Elisabet Torres

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Juan Ogalla as Haemon, Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Juan Ogalla as Haemon, Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Front - Soledad Barrio as Antigona, Juan Ogalla as Haemon<br>Behind – David Rodriguez on cajon, Salva de Maria guitar, Eugenio Iglesias guitar, Chorus Laura Peralta, Marina Elana, Ray F. Davis, Xianix Barrera

Front - Soledad Barrio as Antigona, Juan Ogalla as Haemon
Behind – David Rodriguez on cajon, Salva de Maria guitar, Eugenio Iglesias guitar, Chorus Laura Peralta, Marina Elana, Ray F. Davis, Xianix Barrera

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Eugenio Iglesias guitar, Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Eugenio Iglesias guitar, Soledad Barrio as Antigona

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Front – Soledad Barrio as Antigona, Ray F. Davis God of the Underworld <br>Behind – Elisabet Torres, Xianix Barrera, Marina Elana, Laura Peralta

Front – Soledad Barrio as Antigona, Ray F. Davis God of the Underworld
Behind – Elisabet Torres, Xianix Barrera, Marina Elana, Laura Peralta

Photo © & courtesy of Zarmik Moqtaderi


Demonstration at the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain, June 11, 2015, demanding the government help them locate their loved ones, buried in mass graves, so they can receive a proper burial.

Demonstration at the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain, June 11, 2015, demanding the government help them locate their loved ones, buried in mass graves, so they can receive a proper burial.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock

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