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FLAMENCO: GYPSIES CONFRONT THE DEATH CAMPS

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 8 APRIL 2013 — With Lo Réel / Lo Real / The Real, the Seville-born (1973) dancer Israel Galvan has created a harsh, violent and brutal world which could well disturb the non-initiated, unsuspecting spectator, particularly purists expecting to see a classical Flamenco performance. For Galvan, who for the last fifteen years has been ‘revolutionizing’ Flamenco by infusing traditional dance with his own style of contemporary movements, chose to base his latest work on the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. In his latest creation, premiered in Madrid last December, he makes reference not only to the murder of the many thousands of gypsies across Europe in the late 30’s and 40’s, but also to the statute of gypsies today, for to mention only one example, did not ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy of France deport some 1,000 Roma two years ago.

Israel Galvan, the son of Jehovah’s Witnesses despite his name, and part gypsy himself on the side of his mother, grew up with the knowledge of the persecution of the gypsy community, a fact which finally pushed him into creating this work of "madness", as he himself puts it.


Lo Real

The work opens with some 8 or 9 soberly dressed musicians dramatically aligned at the back of the stage as Galvan enters, pale faced and bare-chested, his ribs sticking out and clad in clinging black trousers held up by elastic braces which he pulls this way and that, wrapping them around his body, using them as an integral part of the choreography. The atmosphere is oppressive as he starts to move his skinny, angular body in rapid, jerky gestures. As a man possessed, dancing the "impossible", he jumps awkwardly in the air, stamping and whirling in flamenco inspired, irregular counter-rhythms. Lying on the floor, he twitches and shudders, a victim yet a survivor of extermination.

The superb bailaora, Belén Maya, who follows him onstage and who is pushed to her psychological as well as physical limits, is not a survivor. Her life is extinguished, enmeshed as she was in an electrified wire fence around the concentration camp; the spectators share in her suffering, pain and anguish. She is not dressed in the traditional Spanish frilled frock, but wears a modest patterned straight skirt together with an ill-assorted, blue-striped top, reminiscent of a gypsy of today. A brown scarf covers her hair as she mesmerizes the audience with the grace and beauty of her dance. She gave a riveting performance, dancing with wooden clogs on her feet in the first half of the work, the sound of her stamping reverberating over the music.


Lo Real

A second bailaora, Isabel Bayon, seductively clad in a red halter top and black, fluid skirt was Carmen la Cinche but her somewhat surprising, possibly superfluous intervention, serving as a form of interval, was not to relieve the tension, but rather to illustrate the fascist fascination with Spanish culture. Both women had previously worked with Galvan in the Compania Andaluza de Danza.
  
Throughout the piece, the scenery, imagined by Pablo Pujol and Pepe Barea, was reduced to the bare minimum. A rusting, out of tune old piano is pulled apart and the strings which emerge are then stretched across the stage to represent the barbed wire of the death camp, while in the second part of the work, huge steel columns or girders are erected and then banged down hard upon the floor, ostensibly to represent the tracks of the railway lines used to transport prisoners, Jews, Communists, franc masons and gypsies to their deaths.


Lo Real

However, what held this ambitious and macabre production together was the inventive music, particularly as the words of the songs were translated on illuminated boards. But what to make of the words of the song, "Hitler in my heart", and particularly the line, "from corpses, flowers grow"? Historically speaking, the Nazis actually used the ashes from the crematoriums to fertilise their vegetables.

Singers David Lagos and Tomas de Perrate together with guitarist Chicuelo and the accompanying musicians, Juan Jimenez Alba on the saxophone, Alejandro Rojas Marcos on the piano, Eloisa Canton on the violin, and percussionist Antonio Moreno, gave the work another dimension. 

icia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the Anglo-Bengali choreographer and dancer Akram Khan.

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