50th Festival Internacional de
Text: Estela Zatania
Choreography and interpretation: José Antonio. Music: Ocho canciones populares de Federico García Lorca. Musicians: Chano Domínguez and group with Marina Albero (keyboard), Jordi Bonell (guitar), Guillermo McGuill (drums) y Mario Rossy (bass). Guest artist: Esperanza Fernández. Cante: Momi de Cádiz, Sebastián Cruz. Guitar: Diego Losada, Enrique Bermúdez, Jonathan Bermúdez. Palmas and percussion: Amador Losada. Main dancers: Elena Algado, Miguel A. Corbacho. First dancers: Cristina Gómez, Jesús Carmona, Sergio García. Soloists: Aloña Alonso, Esther Esteban, Jéssica de Diego, Tamara López, José Manuel Benítez, Juan Manuel Buzón, Eduardo Martínez, Isaac Tovar. Corps de ballet: Maribel Alonso, Mercedes Burgos, Sara Calero, Lucía Campillo, Carmen McCoy, Frida Madeo, Lola Maeso, Virgina Moro, Sara Nieto, Mª José Ramón, Yumi Saeki, Inmaculada Sánchez, Fco. Javier Caraballo, Jaime Cava, Antonio Correderas, Cristián García, José Manuel García, Alejandro García, Raúl González, Jonathan Guijarro, Antonio Jiménez, Ángel Lara, Álvaro Marbán, Alfredo Mérida. Percussion: Samuel Flores. Piano: José Álvarez, Juan José Sánchez.
The little town of La Union in southwestern Spain is in full celebration mode to commemorate the golden anniversary of the Festival Internacional de Cante de Las Minas. A half century ago, little did Juanito Valderrama know, the singer who urged the creation of this festival and contest that put the town on the flamenco map, that it would grow to such proportions, that even during an economic recession there would be such an impressive program of shows and parallel activities that the fame of La Unión and its festival would reach the cultural newspages of the entire world. It’s also possible he would scratch his head recalling the original intent of recuperating, conserving and cultivating this town’s indigenous cante; the baby grew up and has adapted to “globalized” flamenco which is now the dream of politicians.
After several days of preliminaries and preludes, including the keynote speech of Ramón Luis Valcárcel, president of the Murcia autonomous government, a mass in honor of all miners and a variety of awards and events, the elaborate festival got underway with the first of six gala shows.
Spain’s Ballet Nacional, under the direction of José Antonio, presented its production (because it’s much more than a mere “work”) “Café de Chinitas”. Dalí’s iconography and Lorca’s music and symbolism make up the dense conceptual core that reflects the distillation of a period of war and repression, and of generalized intellectual discontent. The genius of José Antonio, choreographer and director, and Chano Domínguez who is in charge of the musical interpretation, come together magnificently and perfectly in Café de Chinitas to recreate that pungent flavor, moving it into contemporary language without losing one bit of the original relevance. The eternal human topics of life death and sex are represented via well-conceived surrealism which is not only thought-provoking, but extremely entertaining as well.
It was a somewhat inadequate venue for such a vast piece of work, but the technical crew did what they could to adapt the old public market, remodelled years ago to become the “Cathedral of Cante”, to showcase this mega production in the best possible light. Originally presented in 1943 under the direction of Argentinita, Lorca’s music and the spectacular backdrops by Salvador Dalí have been conserved, but the actual staging and script come from the fertile mind of José Antonio. It would be easy to cite the lavish resources at his disposal as a guarantee of success, but one need only recall numerous recent works that drained the public treasury without resulting in worthy or viable productions. Here we can speak of an “ambitious work”, without that phrase being a euphemism for “failure of grand intentions”.
From the mysterious drone that sets the mood while cyclists wearing great loaves of bread as hats laconically cross the stage as if in a dream, we embark on a voyage to the center of the minds of the creators of Café de Chinitas where Lorca’s versions of popular folksongs such as the Zorongo, Los Cuatro Muleros, Las Tres Hojas, La Tarara, Anda Jaleo or Café de Chinitas itself, are a deceptively innocent musical backdrop upon which disturbing or provocative images are painted. The inherent coldness of a numerous corps de ballet moving as a single person, is spectacularly relieved by the warmth and personality of Esperanza Fernández, a sort of fairy godmother with compás, without whom it would be hard to imagine this show prospering. But the outstanding performance that will be remembered for many years for having been literally “unforgettable”, is that of José Antonio. Dressed bizarrely over-the-top as an aging transvestite, seated on the famous Dalí sofa made of giant red lips, fanning himself, then dancing, acting and inter-acting with Esperanza, only to end up persecuted and arrested by the powers that be, has all the power of the best dance theater, leaving you not sure whether to laugh or cry. This superb turn on the stage at La Unión has been announced as José Antonio’s last public performance after a lifetime devoted to Spanish dance.
And so the ribbon was cut for the 50th anniversary program of shows at the Festival de Cante de las Minas, and flamenco followers throughout the world are invited to the party.