The creator's muse

The widow of Antonio Gades sheds light on her husband's need to give 'Carmen' a Spanish twist.

Carmen dance 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Carmen dance 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of Spain's legends passed away in 2004. He left behind him a trail of fans, broken hearts and a lifetime worth of dances. Antonio Gades was a well-loved man. A flawless performer, gifted choreographer and avid political activist, Gades was an inspiration to many. His creations captured the soul of a country, the lives of its people and his passion for the two. In order to ensure that his work would continue after he was no longer present, Gades established a company filled with people he trusted to continue his legacy. Next week, The Antonio Gades Company will perform one of its best known pieces, Carmen, in theaters around Israel. Carmen is one of the most important and prominent tales in modern theater. The first seeds of this gypsy fable are found in a poem published in 1840 by Alexander Pushkin. Five years later, Prosper Merimee used Pushkin's work to inspire his novella Carmen. In 1875, The Opera-Comique of Paris took Merimee's words off the page with the first version of what would be one of the most performed operas of all time. And that was only the beginning for Carmen. For over 160 years, Carmen has played the muse to writers, singers, actors, filmmakers and choreographers. The role has been played by such leading ladies as Rita Heyworth and Beyonce Knowles. British choreographer Matthew Bourne went so far as to turn Lady Carmen into a man in his hit show The Car Man. A patriot to the core, Gades felt the need to reclaim Carmen for its country. Together with acclaimed Spanish director Carlos Saura, Gades created an Oscar-nominated film version of Carmen. Eugenia Eiriz, Gades's widow, recently explained, "this Carmen mixes extremely well [for the first time] the marvelous opera of Bizet with the flamenco. Antonio Gades's Carmen is mainly based in Prosper Merimee's novel. These authors are French and what Gades and Saura said when working on this Carmen is that Carmen was taken to France - but they where bringing her back to Spain. Carmen's story is based in Seville, and on this occasion the real people of Andalusia are the authentic inspiration." In 1978, recognizing his understanding of local dance, the Spanish Ministry of Culture charged Gades with the task of establishing a Spanish dance company. Thus, The Ballet Nacional Espanol was created, where Gades went on to act as artistic director for several years. Eiriz spoke of Gades's intense relationship with his country. "The main inspiration of Antonio Gades was, without any doubt, the common people: their ways of expressing themselves through their dances, songs, celebrations. The everyday life, the very rich folklore of Spain and of course, flamenco as an authentic and primitive way of expression. He was also very demanding with himself when dealing with work. This was because of his enormous feeling of responsibility toward Spanish culture, to the people who so much inspired him," she said. ASIDE FROM being known for his electrifying stage presence, Gades was known for his strong political opinions. He was a member of Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peoples of Spain, a Marxist-Leninist organization. Shortly before his death, Fidel Castro decorated Gades with "The Order of Jose Marti," one of the highest honors in Cuba at the time. His ashes are, to this day, held in Havana. Gades's success was won with a great deal of hard work. Born to a modest family, he was forced to quit school at a young age in order to help his family maintain its household. Gades's creations were affected by some of the most influential artists of the time. "He made very good friends who appreciated him and gave him the knowledge he lacked of because of not having been able to go to school," said Eiriz. "Some of these friends were some of the greatest intellectuals and artists of the last Century in Spain: Picasso, Alberti, Miró, Buñuel, Dali. They taught him how to approach other disciplines of art. All these influences can bee seen in his choreographies, in the movements of the dancers, the scenes and the lights." Perhaps the most noted element of Gades's work is the enormous energy he managed to infuse into each and every one of his dances. This magnetism came from deep within his person. Eiriz explained, "Gades enjoyed life to its fullest. He was an extraordinary, gifted human being and he used all his gifts to work, to enjoy life and to give back in his pursuit of justice. He was extremely clear and brave with his political and social views and always trying to do things for others."