Surrender to the heat of September as the Antonio Gades Company brings its sultry blend of ballet and flamenco to Tokyo, showcasing three of its classic works in two separate programs at Bunkamura’s magnificent Orchard Hall.
Japan has long been a hotspot for ballet and also flamenco — Spain’s traditional performing art of dance in which singing, guitar-playing, clapping, tap and assorted passionate cries also play powerful supporting roles — and as the company’s artistic director, Stella Arauzo, admitted in a recent interview with The Japan Times, she felt “both moved and a sense of responsibility” ahead of their first shows here since 2009.
“We are looking forward to meeting old fans of the maestro,” she wrote, referring to the late, great flamenco dancer and choreographer who started his eponymous company in 1981 after a short stint as the founding head of Spain’s National Ballet.
“We also hope that many other people will fall in love with the world of the passionate Gades,” Arauzo added.
The world of the “maestro” is a world of passion, discipline and genius. Born near Valencia in southeastern Spain just months after the three-year Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Gades grew up in Madrid before leaving school at 11 and working as both a boxer and in bullfighting. Then, when he was 16, Pilar Lopez — who ran the country’s leading dance company — spotted him dancing for small change in a bar and convinced him to train with her troupe.
In one year, he would become their star. Celebrated for bringing flamenco into the popular realm, Gades later trained in classical ballet after fleeing Franco’s Spain for Rome, and his fusion of the two dance forms engendered a powerful storytelling structure for traditional Spanish dance.
In fact, in the way he adapted his country’s folk tales and classical literature for the stage, Gades has been said to have redefined Spanish art.
One of his first triumphs will be featured in the company’s two A Program shows on Saturday, Sept. 17.
These open with his 1974 adaptation of famed Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1932 tragedy “Bodas de Sangre” (“Blood Wedding”), featuring Stella Arauzo as the mother, Alvaro Madrid (the bridegroom), Maite Chico (the wife), Maria Nadal (the bride) and Miguel Lara (Leonardo).
As Arauzo explained: “It is an important, pioneering work for dramaturgy. Gades skillfully takes Garcia Lorca’s text and transforms it into a simple flamenco dance, harmonious with Lorca’s drama.
“It’s hard to believe that a story can be told with so few things — just the guitar, soloists and extremely simple costumes.
“That is where the expressive magnanimity of dance plays a huge part; it represents a shared connection between arts. An aesthetic based on artistic minimalism and ethnic roots is characteristic of Gades, and the same thing can be said of Lorca.”
The A Program also features “Flamenco Suite,” Gades’ stylistic perspective on flamenco itself. Comprising eight short pieces that represent his early choreographic work, among its highlights is sure to be “Solea,” in which Miguel Angel Rojas dances to one of the most basic forms of flamenco music.
Meanwhile, the B Program, on Sept. 18 and 19, presents the full-length “Carmen,” Gades’ masterpiece based on the 1845 French novella by Prosper Merimee about an unfaithful gypsy heroine that has been retold in opera, ballet and film.
Arauzo, who herself played the role of Carmen under Gades’ direction, explained how much she enjoys continuing his legacy with younger dancers.
“Esmeralda Manzanas, who stars this time, played her first lead role as Candela in (Manuel de Falla’s ballet) ‘El amor brujo’ (‘Love, the Magician’), and she’s worked her way up to play Carmen,” Arauzo said. “She’s a bright woman who practices hard and is passionate about Gades. She is also a beautiful person and I am happy to have a chance to share with her what I’ve learned from Gades over my long life.”
About the production itself, Arauzo said: “You can feel the soul of Antonio Gades every night. Just to be there is an honor.”
Arauzo obviously feels honored to be a part of the maestro’s vision, beginning her career with him in 1981.
“It has made up my entire life as an artist,” Arauzo said. “I started in the corps de ballet, and gradually was given more responsibility and bigger roles. However, I never imagined I would become the company’s artistic director, but I’ve been in this position for 11 years already and it is my dream job — but it’s also a huge responsibility.”
Arauzo praised all the company’s 16 dancers, nine women and seven men, in addition to the crew — including Gades collaborator Dominique You, the lighting and technical director — for its continued success since the founder’s death in 2004.
Crediting the troupe’s musicians, too, Arauzo said, “Antonio Solera, a guitarist from Granada, has been with the company the longest. He worked with Gades from 1972, and composed the music for ‘Carmen’ and (Gades’ acclaimed ‘peasants’ revolt’ ballet from 1994) ‘Fuenteovejuna.’ ”
“Gades always drilled into us the importance of loving and respecting ourselves, our traditions, and our ethnicity,” Arauzo concluded. “That is because the maestro felt the need to carry on traditions.
“So it’s like a dream come true, to bring our traditions back to Tokyo. We always feel very loved by Japan, and I believe we connect with each other in many ways.”
The Antonio Gades Company performs at Bunkamura’s Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Sept. 17 (featuring two A Program shows), and on Sept. 18 and 19 (featuring the B program). For more details, visit www.bunkamura.co.jp/english/orchard/20160917.html.
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