“Azul”, a new play by Tanaquil Márquez: Getting Under Picasso’s Skin!

Two women, Inez Korff and Liliana Ruiz, in traditional black dresses dance the fiery flamenco. No music is even necessary because their feet beat the rhythm in a precise yet complex zapateo. Later, the guitar and drums, played by Blane and Donna Bostock, join in—their soulful and passionate sounds make a grand match with the dance, to bring out the duende, first theorized by Federico Garcia Lorca, Andalucía’s native son. The flamenco comes from Spain, specifically Andalucía, from the “Roma” people, los gitanos, or more universally known as “the gypsies.” In her new play, Azul, Tanaquil Márquez weaves flamenco dance, movement, Spanish music and multilingual spoken dialogue into a collage of Pablo Picasso’s life before he became famous. Azul, presented by La Fábrica at The Drake Theatre in Philadelphia, is also directed by Márquez, and the score is composed by Blane Bostock.

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Márquez dives into the reason or motivation for Picasso’s “Blue Period,” hence the title, which means blue in Spanish. Azul is a play packed with the love affairs, friendships, and eccentricities of Picasso’s early life. His painting “La Vie” (the life), is the point of departure and also the cohesive element connecting the music, dance and the scenes. Two of the characters, Carles, Picasso’s best friend, and Germaine, a woman they were both involved with and who both tried to kill, are seen as subjects of the painting La Vie” in Azul. Picasso’s blue period is characterized by an emotional despondency, triggered by the death of his best friend. In this phase of his life, his art was seen at the time by collectors as “depressing” and not “sellable” due to the subjects and the limited palette.

Azul is an ambitious and epic work, more than two hours long. It requires much attention from the viewer, since the characters speak Spanish, French and English. There is a poem recited in Catalan by Carles too. Picasso at least translates it into Spanish in the scene.Márquez (in her writing) and the cast handle the languages expertly—they flow naturally and effortlessly. As a fluent speaker of Spanish and English, and a former student of French, following the language shifts was not a problem for me, but I imagine for monolingual English speakers, especially those without much knowledge of Picasso’s life or work, it could be challenging. In that case, Azul would offer a completely different experience.

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Nevertheless there is enough going on with the music, dance and movement to captivate even the monolingual audience member. Particularly strong are the scenes in the second act which incorporate dance, choreographed by Liliana Ruiz: when Picasso visits the woman’s prison and the bullfight/dance with Germaine. Both captured the respective moods and communicated the message without words.

Márquez also directs the extremely talented ensemble of performers. As Picasso, Zach Aguilar, is a very likeable protagonist, perhaps much more than Picasso himself and he delivers well in both Spanish and English. He has a commanding stage presence that reflects the charisma that Picasso probably had in real life. Paloma Irizarry as Odette, was a sweet and sympathetic lover, and she also displayed versatility as the other “positive” women in Pablo’s life, Nina, Conchita and Fernande.   I was impressed by her natural quality in both French and Spanish.

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As Germaine, Sol Madariaga was cruel and brazen. Madariaga excels as the villian, displaying a calm unfeeling exterior at times, and then bursting into a rage. She was the one who rejected Carles, and later engages in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship with Picasso. Germaine was appropriately over the top, aggressive and irritating. She was the perfect contrast to Odette, and she was the menace loved and hated by Carles and Picasso. Germaine is depicted as a negative influence on both men, yet she appears as a subject of “La Vie.” As Carles Casagemas and Max Jacob, friends of Picasso, Cameron Del Grosso, shows tremendous acting range. Carles comes across as a fragile yet romantic and sincere artist, while Max is confident and much more in control. Inez Korff, Yajaira Paredes, Veronica Ponce de Leon Placencia and Liliana Ruiz round out the cast and deserve extra praise for dancing and playing both male and female characters convincingly. Dramatic and effective lighting was designed by Alyssandra Dochtery and costumes by David Reese Hutchison.

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Azul is definitely a “must-see” for artists and lovers of Picasso’s art, if only to commiserate in the representation of his struggles. It provides background information about his life and his creative inspiration. It shows onstage the dilemma of “how do I sell my art and still be true to my own self/voice” that all artists face at one point or another. Flamenco aficionados will enjoy the dancing, and Spanish speakers will appreciate the opportunity to attend theatre in the language in Philadelphia.

Hopefully we will be seeing more of La Fábrica and of works by up and coming playwright, Tanaquil Marquéz. Azul plays through Sunday August 29 at the Drake Theatre in Philadelphia. For tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/azul-tickets-35309378301

For more information about La Fábrica: https://www.facebook.com/LaFabricaTheater

To read a review about Azul in DCMetro Theater Arts: DC Metro Theater Arts

Ballet Hispanico At the Annenberg in Philadelphia

Ballet Hispanico, a professional dance company from New York City, presented three pieces in their dance concert at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on February 5, 2016. Very different in theme, each dance contained hispanic inspired music (Bury Me Standing uses traditional gypsy melodies, which are recognizable today by many in Spanish flamenco)  and also showcased the versatility, artistry and innovation of the company: Sombrerísimo, (choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in 2013), Bury Me Standing (1998 by Ramón Oller) and Flabbergast (2001 by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano).

The first dance, Sombrerísimo, featured male dancers with hats, hence the name, which translated from Spanish, would be something like “extremely hats.” According to the program it was based on the artistic works by Belgian René Magritte, which were of men wearing bowler hats. The style was mostly “modern” with a little bit of latin (as opposed to classical ballet), in which the feet and the rest of the body are able to take on movements outside the ballet vocabulary. The hats were tossed around and became characters as well.

The longest and most serious piece of the evening was Bury Me Standing.  I love the title. It comes from a Romani proverb, referenced in the book by Isabel Fonseca: “Bury me standing, I’ve been on my knees all my life.” This refers to the oppression that the Roma (aka the gypsies or gitanos) have experienced for centuries. Ms. Fonseca’s book, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, was published in 1995, based on her own observations drawn from four years of living with the Roma. The choreographer is from Spain, and Spain has a huge Roma, or gitano population in Andalusia. Having spent part of last summer in Granada, I visited Sacromonte (the Roma part of town) and flamenco was all over Granada so  their culture was still fresh in my mind.

Bury Me Standing is a tribute to the Romani, but never replicates the footwork or the intricate handiwork of the flamenco, although there are glimpses of it. The choreographer goes beyond what we usually see as gitano or flamenco dance to invoke a mood and tell the story. Only the men do the hand movements at one point. Everyone is barefoot in the dance so even in a lined up formation, no noise could be made or heard from the stylized footwork that recalls zapateo. The style is contemporary or modern dance, with some flamenco/gypsy inspired movements. The choreographer makes excellent use of the stage–there is no part of it that is not used at some point in the piece. Levels are also varied, with some steps taking place with the dances on the floor, on their knees, or jumping. There is a table too, and two women relate on the table. All of this results in a very multidimensional and multilayered performance.

Through the intense choreography and imaginative staging, they communicated the somewhat foreign context of the Roma. The emphasis on the collective, the group consciousness and unity was evident, as well as a charismatic male leader, who had a few solos. We see some of the conflict that occurs in this group, as the women walk on their knees, gossip and cross themselves repeatedly. Some men also walk on their knees, but the group of women doing it is singled out and very striking. The Roma are more traditional and patriarchal than mainstream Spanish culture today, and this was well depicted through the dance. At the same time, the crawling and walking on the knees, refers back to the Roma proverb, and is a reference to the oppression that the Roma have experienced for so long, no matter what country they live in. The dance ends with all of them running in place, which could have various interpretations–perhaps a more positive one is that they are standing up and empowered. Bury Me Standing is a  moving tribute to the Roma, these “nomadic” people who have spread throughout Europe and even to the United States.

The last dance, Flabbergast, was light and funny, and a good ending to the evening. They broke the fourth wall, sung while they danced: “voy a bailar, ” and talked to each other. In this dance, which the program says ” exposes with humor our stereotypes and preconceived ideas about new and foreign places… telling the story of a newcomer coming to a place for the first time”. somebody is always doing their own thing on stage! Ballet Hispanico ended the concert with a pose and a smile–after a varied and polished program that entertained and encouraged the audience to think, laugh and feel.

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Ballet Hispanico was founded in 1970 by Tina Ramírez. The company specializes in Spanish and Latin American inspired dance. In addition to their professional touring company, they also maintain a thriving school to train young and aspiring dancers in Spanish dance, Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance. The current Artistic Director is Eduardo Vilaro.

 

 

¡Flamenco por todos lados!

Granada es una ciudad que toma en serio el arte de flamenco–cante y baile. Se puede ir al barrio de los gitanos mismos, el Sacromonte, y comer platos típicos y asistir a un show de flamenco. Durante julio y agosto de 2015 hay un espectáculo de flamenco muy profesional y entretenido en el Teatro de Generalife, “Rafael Amargo–un poeta en Nueva York,” sobre Federico García Lorca. Además, por dondequiera en Granada hay anuncios sobre más espectáculos, restaurantes de flamencos y clases de música, cante y baile flamenco. Pero el flamenco en Granada no solo aparece en forma “oficial,” en un tablao o escenario con público que paga, sino también en la calle, a veces improvisado y a veces preparado.

photo by Celeste Mann

photo by Celeste Mann

En la plaza cerca de la Catedral baila y canta “Cristo de Anda.” No cobran nada por su show, pero el público suele darles unos euros al final. Hoy vi a este grupo por eso de las 7:30 de la tarde. Perdí al bailaor, pero sí, asistí a los bailes de las dos mujeres y pude escuchar el cante y la música que las acompañaban. Los bailarines y músicos estaban completamente metidos en su estilo y en la ejecución del flamenco. Como de costumbre, las danzas eran serias y las bailarinas exihibían buena técnica y sobretodo mucha emoción y pasión.

Photo by Celeste Mann

Photo by Celeste Mann

Se puede tomar clases con Cristo de Anda en su escuela en el Albaicyn, y aprender más sobre la historia de flamenco. ¡Anímense! Allí se hablan francés, español, inglés e italiano. Para más información: cristodeanda@gmail.com
cristodeanda.wix.com/cristodeanda

Ainadamar: Breaking the Spanish Silence

Some 80 years ago Spain was being torn to shreds from within. The Spanish Civil war, of 1936, saw the deaths of many, including Federico Garcia Lorca, probably the most important playwright since the Golden Age’s Calderon de la Barca. Lorca was shot by the Falange, along with thousands of others, and thrown into an unmarked grave in Granada. For years Spaniards have keep silent about these crimes (on both sides). It is only in the 21st century, a generation after Franco died, that the silence has been broken.

Novels about the “disappeared”, demands for the exhumation of bodies, and actual public discussion about the Franco era, started to emerge over the last 12 years. Curiously, the composer of Ainadamar, which is about Lorca’s execution, told from the perspective of his friend/colleague, Margarita Xingu, hails from another country in which dissidents were disappeared and children given away. Osvaldo Golijov does not choose to compose or write about Argentina, but about Spain, and specifically about Lorca. He personalizes this tragedy by focusing on Lorca, but this is the story of many, and it’s about time that the world hears it.

Ainadamar, in the Opera Philadelphia production (originally mounted in Granada, Spain), is a tightly woven musical, dance and theatrical experience. The set and the projected video and stills greatly enhance and complement the score. Most of the cast comes from Spain, and the passion and spirit shines through. This is of cultural and historical significance—this generation of singers and dancers were not under Franco’s rule—yet they are able to participate in a retelling of Lorca’s execution as if they were present. Their bodies and voices resonate with Lorca and their countrymen’s memories.

Vocal highlights of this performance are María Hinojosa Montenegro, who sang Margarita Xingu, and Alfredo Tejada, the flamenco singer. Ms. Hinojosa voice has a rich and beautiful timbre, and her singing is clear and strong throughout. (Of note, the Spanish singers were amplified, something that is not quite acceptable in American opera houses). In addition, Ms. Hinojosa is especially adept at coloring her voice to reflect the necessary emotion. The cante jondo by Afredo Tejada is spectacular and really brings a raw Andalusian/ gypsy feel to the piece. A stunning scene is the death – in which the gunshots contribute to the rhythm of a dance of zapateado. Spanish music, popular and classical, has always been about rhythm, about dance. Underlying the lyricism of this opera, the rhythm of Andalusia pulsates in the dancers’ feet and in the percussion in the orchestra.

Golijov depicts an imaginary Granada, an Ainadamar, through tone, while the production team uses old newspaper articles, photos of Lorca and friends, and videos of nature to set the backdrop of the drama. The physical scene and the music are not the Granada one visits in Spain, where the blend of Byzantium and mozarabe meet, in centuries old romantic architecture, inhabited by both royal and ordinary ghosts and 21st century folks, but Golijov’s interpretation. Nevertheless, it works. There is a tension from the opening number, in which 5 female dancers in pink/purple dresses dance in front of the stones that are soon covered with water—symbolizing the fountain of tears. This same montage is repeated at the end of the opera, marking the end of this journey through Margarita Xingu’s memory and that of many unidentified Spaniards and their descendants. The silence has been broken.

Art Imitates Art: “La nuit espagnole” in Lower Manhattan

A small group of artists decided to run with the concept of multimedia performance in a show called “La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard” in the Between The Seas Festival in Lower East Side Manhattan (DROM) on July 24, 2013.

I attended virtually from my laptop since it was streamed live. This was not equal to witnessing this event live since the image was blurry and it was hard to see some of the performers’ expressions. They also did not capture the projections of art work on which this mélange was based. However, the sound was quite good.

The show was an interpretation in music,  dance and images of the “La noche española” exhibition at the Reina Sofia in Madrid from December 2007- March 2008. (For more information on that exhibition:

http://www.museoreinasofia.es/exposiciones/noche-espanola-flamenco-vanguardia-cultura-popular-1865-1936 )

The performers for the evening were: Anna Tonna, a lovely mezzo-soprano, Rebeca Tomás, flamenco dancer, Anna de la Paz, dancer, María de los Angeles Rubio, pianist, Pedro Cortés, guitarist, and Barbara Martinez, flamenco singer.

The dancers were phenomenal. I studied flamenco in New York City, so I know how challenging it is to get your “roll” on the castanets and to coordinate arms and legs while playing an instrument. Unlike some other dances, feet do one thing and arms and hands do something else. It takes training to build up the muscles in the legs and feet. The feet function as another instrument, providing a contrasting rhythm, “zapateo” in the special flamenco shoes. Head, expression and carriage are extremely important to reflect a Spanish style and stance.

It was surprising to see a female dancer dressed in pants and vest, and dancing a farruca, which is traditionally danced by men. This reminded me how far Spain has come in bending traditional gender roles, from the Franco era. At that time women’s behavior was tightly modeled and controlled. Nowadays there are even female toreadores! (bullfighters).

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“Córdoba,” by Celeste Mann 2012

Both singers sang with gusto and technique and expression appropriate to their genres. Even though there was a mix of music—from popular/folk/flamenco to the opera/ballet of Manuel de Falla and the “Córdoba” of Albéniz, the music blended well from one number to the next. This attests to the very strong dance rhythms inherent in Spain’s musical traditions. De Falla was also inspired by popular/folk music (i.e. Siete Canciones Populares) and elements of “cante jondo” from flamenco singing are evident in his operas and ballets.

One can view the show at the DROM website. It won’t be live but it will give you a little taste of Spain, wherever you are! https://www.gander.tv/event/drom-medfest-2013-anna-tonna-724-715pm-9pm

Related Links:

http://spanishsongslinger.wordpress.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6ru59tLb-I (Julian Bream playing “Córdoba”)