Antonio Gades: One Mans Steps to Freedom

The Sunday Times - the Culture  London, 1996, 1,500 words; adapted extracts
Versin en espaol  

Antonio Gades was widely known as a choreographer and dancer when I interviewed him, but the politics central to his work were generally sidelined by journalists writing about him. So I decided to explain how they were the well-spring of his work. The cancer from which he was to die in 2004 had already been diagnosed, but Gades had not made it public.

"I don't move forwards in flamenco, I go backwards," says Antonio Gades decisively. "Where there is a flamenco singer and a guitar, you kill their power by adding an orchestral arrangement. On the other hand I like flamenco dance set in a different context so it isn't set up as if the audience is being asked to watch the dancer and say, oh, doesn't he dance well and isn't he handsome."

Gades, aged 60, is talking in the office of his dance company's Madrid studio while his dancers are rehearsing a sequence from his work Carmen. On the street outside the studio it would be hard to guess he was a dancer. Wearing a discreet striped shirt, jeans and unframed glasses, he is slightly built yet remarkably lithe for a 60-year-old.

By the 1970s performing was not enough for Gades. He began to experiment with theatrical settings for flamencos abstract emotional power. I simply began to tell stories, he says....

For the first time in London, he will not be dancing the lead male role of Don Jos. "No, no, no," he says, "It's not that I'm giving up, but there are so many good young dancers who should be given a chance rather than be left waiting and watching, like the reserves at a football match. Right now, I think I'm more useful teaching, looking on and commenting as a director."

. . . .

Among aficionados Gades is as well known for his teaching and choreography as his dancing. He was the first director of the national Spanish dance company, the Ballet Nacional, where Joaqun Cortes and other stars of today's younger generation began their training.

The job was short-lived for political reasons, so he returned to the stage, where he continued to evolve a powerfully sober, masculine style in marked contrast with that of Antonio, the star of the previous generation, who, by importing women's arm movements, had made male flamenco a somewhat florid affair.

DANCER, STORYTELLER, ACTIVIST

By the 1970s, though, performing was not enough for Gades. He began to experiment with theatrical settings for flamenco's abstract emotional power.

"I simply began to tell stories," he says, shrugging. "At that time I was very unusual among flamencos and lucky, I think, in having friends who made me read books, look at paintings and architecture to free me from the complexes that make you closed to new ideas."

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