Antonio Gades

Antonio Gades
Antonio Gades

Antonio Gades was a Spanish flamenco dancer who also was featured in films.   He was born in 1936 in Alicante.   He was a co-founder and artistic director of the Spanish National Ballet.   His films include “Los Tarentos” in 1963 and “Carmen” in 1983.   He died in 2004.

His “Guardian” obituary:

Recognised as the greatest Spanish male dancer of his generation and an even greater choreographer, Antonio Gades has died of cancer, aged 67. Most dancers only live on in the minds of those who saw them. But three stunning films directed in the 1980s by Carlos Saura show us Gades at his peak. These were Bodas De Sangre (Blood Wedding), Carmen and El Amor Brujo (Love The Magician).

Gades was a child of war and hunger. His father, a building worker and communist, left home when Antonio was a baby to fight fascism on the Madrid front in the civil war. After the war, the family reunited in Madrid, where Antonio had to leave school, aged 11, to be a messenger boy. Ambitious, he tried boxing, bullfighting, cycling and dancing.

By chance, dancing in a bar for a few pesetas, he was seen by Pilar López, who ran Spain’s leading dance company. She forced him to give up bullfighting (“Maybe you’ll be a great bullfighter, but I know you can be a great dancer and if a bull gores you, you’ll be neither dancer or bullfighter,” she told him) and within a year, aged 16, he was the lead dancer in her company. Gades stayed with López for nine years, concentrating on dancing Spanish classics.

Gades was a man of high principles, great stubbornness and exceptional discipline and rigour in his work. He never took advice from anyone, except perhaps López, who, he said, formed him as a person: “I learned not to be superior to anyone else, but only try to be better than myself.” This absence of unhealthy competitiveness and his rigorous dedication to self-improvement allowed him to develop his art.

In the 1960s Gades escaped Franco’s Spain. He studied classical ballet with Anton Dolin in Rome and became leading dancer at La Scala, Milan.

He debuted at Covent Garden in 1965. Like a waif, his ribs showing, short and a little curved in the shoulders, on stage he transformed himself. His style was direct: “Stop, walk, move, narrate,” he said. He made the hardest things look easy. It was an austere style, without frills and with enormous elegance.

Gades was moving and erotic to watch. “You have to caress the ground,” he explained. “Foot-tapping is not percussion. It is the continuation of a feeling.”

Through these years of hard work and apprenticeship, Gades was gestating his dance revolution. In 1969 he formed his own ballet company in Paris, introducing Cristina Hoyos, who was to be his stage partner for 20 years.

The revolution was born with El Amor Brujo in 1971 and Bodas De Sangre in 1974, both in Madrid, which he danced and choreographed.

This “fusion” of classical ballet and flamenco gave traditional Spanish dance the scale and technique of grand ballet. He took folk tales, which had been trivialised in popular films under Franco, and squeezed out of them “stories with movement”.

In 1975 he dissolved his company in protest against the dictatorship, and only returned to dancing in Cuba two years later at the urging of Alicia Alonso. With her he danced Ad Libitum and Giselle.

Antonio Gades was not just a dance revolutionary, but a political revolutionary. A member of the Spanish Communist party from a young age, he broke with it in 1981, as the result of a Stalinist split.

Orthodox communist to the end, he was politically loyal above all to Cuba. From 1959 until his death Gades was an outspoken supporter of the Cuban revolution. When he and the famous singer Marisol married in 1982, after having their three daughters, it was in Havana with Alicia Alonso and Fidel Castro as sponsors. These two sponsors summed up Gades’s life: dance and communism. His ashes will be scattered in Cuba.

With Franco dead, in 1978 he was appointed head of the Spanish National Ballet, but in 1981 was summarily sacked for political reasons. This was a happy event as it transpired, for most of the dancers resigned with him. They formed their own co-operative, which reached world fame on tour and through the Saura films.

Gades’s last choreography – though he hardly danced in it himself – was Fuenteovejuna (1994), an adaptation of Lope de Vega’s great play celebrating peasant solidarity. He rounded off his career with this cry for social justice expressed in the beauty and depth of dozens moving on stage to his design.

Gades married four times, the singer Marujita Díaz (1964), Pepa Flores (Marisol) in 1982, Daniela Frey in 1988 and Eugenia Eiriz recently. He had two children with the dancer Pilar San Segundo in the late 1960s. He is survived by all his wives and five children.

· Antonio Esteve Ródenas, ‘Antonio Gades’, dancer and choreographer, born November 16 1936; died July 20 2004

The above “Guardian ” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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