Carrying the torch, proudly

Stella Arauzo, artistic director of Antonio Gades’s flamenco company, could hardly have brought more stirring works to Israel.

Antonia Gade's  flamenco311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Antonia Gade's flamenco311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Aflamenco tour de force will blow into town later this month, courtesy of the Antonio Gades Dance Company of Spain. The company will present two programs in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem between February 24 and March 1, one featuring dance adaptations of Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, Flamenco Suite, and Prosper Merimée’s Carmen.
Gades, who died in 2004 at the age of 67, has been credited with revolutionizing flamenco and turning it into a popular art form across the globe. He has been recognized as the greatest Spanish male dancer of his generation, and as an even greater choreographer.
The current artistic director of Gades’s company is 45-year-old Stella Arauzo, who was a major component of the company during the last two decades of Gades’s life. She first danced with Gades when she was 17, and eventually became the leading performer of the company.
Arauzo could hardly have brought more stirring works to Israel for a tour that coincides with the 75th anniversary of Gades’s birth.
Blood Wedding, a milestone work for the genre, was created in 1974 and premiered in Rome on April 2 of that year. At the time Gades, who was born in Alicante in southern Spain, said he was perfectly happy to unveil the six-scene work to the public outside his home country in a place which, he felt, had much in common with his own roots.
“I was born into Mediterranean culture – which is a culture of jealousy, love and death – which not only exist in dance, but also in literature, painting and other arts. There is a constant sense of tragedy. Blood Wedding is a true Spanish story, a tragedy rooted in folklore.”
Gades also felt a strong bond with Lorca and his work.
“I have always been interested in his writing, particularly because it portrays, with great depth, the intentions and the fate of the Andalusian people.”
Arauzo worked very closely with Gades during her tenure with him, and shortly before his death, he appointed her to the position of artistic director of the company and entrusted her with keeping his legacy alive.
It is a responsibility that Arauzo takes very seriously.
“I always keep Gades’s instructions uppermost in my mind,” she says. “I constantly watch his DVD so that we can continue improving our works, just as they were performed during his lifetime. All his works are performed according to the guidelines he left.”
It may be a labor of love, but it is also labor-intensive.
“It is a heavy responsibility to direct this company,” Arauzo continues. “Before I take any important step I always wonder what Gades would have wanted to happen had he been around.”
THE 1974 production of Blood Wedding featured Gades in the role of Leonardo, opposite his leading female dancer at the time, Cristina Hoyos. Arauzo eventually took over that mantle from Hoyos.
There are few more emotive works in the entire dance genre, and Gades described the standoff between Leonardo and the groom as one of the most difficult scenes he had ever encountered.
At the time, he said that the scene was carefully constructed to illustrate “that pain dances like a man that is going to die and is meeting his death with austerity, without becoming frantic or making a spectacle.”
As the two men lie dead on the floor, the ballet closes with the bride looking at her blood-stained hands.
Seven years later, Gades collaborated with compatriot film director Carlos Saura in putting Blood Wedding on the silver screen, and the two subsequently joined forces on two more film versions of Gades’s works: Carmen, in 1983, and El Amor Brujo, in 1986.
While Blood Wedding showcases Andalusian culture, Flamenco Suite looks at traditional flamenco through Gades’s artistic eye. The work is a collection of dances with which Gades originally began his solo career in 1963. The eight pieces of traditional flamenco were formed over five years and compiled into a suite.
Carmen, the second program on offer by the Gades company here, features Vanessa Venaso in the lead role, taking over from Arauzo, who performed it during the company’s previous visit here in 2009 and has since retired to make way for younger blood and to devote herself to her directorial duties. The production set is based on minimalist lines, which only serve to accentuate the highly expressive nature of the dance. It is a role which Arauzo says she always enjoyed performing.
“Dance always reflects who you are inside, and that is why I always like to dance roles with character. Personally, I think I am an extrovert, but also quite shy. In any case, the magic of the stage can change people completely. A dancer can be introverted in his personal life, but very extrovert on stage.”
Arauzo also cites her role as the mother in Blood Wedding as a highlight of her professional dancing life.
“That was something really special for me. I was only 22 when I first performed it, and it was a considerable challenge for me.”
More than anything, Arauzo says she wants to keep Gades’s work alive and kicking.
“Gades was my teacher. He was everything for me, in my work and in my life. Antonio was the one who got rid of all the superfluous ornamentation flamenco and left just the essence, and the expression of a people stripped bare. He was the driving force and inspiration behind our work, and helped you to easily understand your work and why you do everything.
“I miss his integrity, his love for everything he did, his respect and humility. I also miss his passion and his great strength.”
Arauzo says she is delighted to be bringing some of her late mentor’s work back to this part of the world.
“Bringing Antonio Gades’s art anywhere in the world is very inspiring for me. I am very excited about meeting Israeli audiences again. I know flamenco is very popular in Israel. I think Israelis connect strongly with the music and the tradition.”
The Antonio Gades Dance Company will perform Blood Wedding and Flamenco Suite at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on February 24 at 8:30 p.m., the Haifa Congress Center on February 25 at 9:30 p.m.
A performance of Carmen will take place at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on February 25 at 1 p.m., and an as yet unannounced program there on February 28 at 8:30 p.m. Carmen will be performed at the Haifa Congress Center on February 26 at 8:30 p.m.