Patrias

Devised by Paco Peña

Paco Peña Flamenco Company

The Edinburgh Playhouse

From 27 August 2014 to 28 August 2014

Rating: *****

Review by Vera Liber

A white-haired man on a chair under a spotlight, a guitar speaks—speak memory—directly to the heart. A man in black, a mop of black curls, enters, stands, listens, and performs a dance that draws the pain of life to his feet and strong body in a duet with the guitar, a conversation that speaks of a common humanity.

World-renowned Paco Peña needs no introduction: his guitar playing takes you out of this world. In this case to the Spanish Civil War, to the cruel death of poet, musician, collector of Spanish folklore and songs, artist and playwright, Federico García Lorca, by Franco’s death squad who couldn’t look him in the eye.

The flamenco dancer is Ángel Muñoz (regular dancer with María Pagés Company, though he has his own). If you’ve never seen him, seek him out. He dances not with his mind but with instinctive musicality, delicate in diminuendo and a charging bull at full steam. I’m blown away in the first few minutes.

Classical dancer Mayte Bajo follows him with a lyrical softness, a pleading in the wrists, arms seeking to embrace what is not there. And then it’s the interval. The strings of our willing hearts strummed so soon, the lights are rude and sharp. Do we have to stop now?

Words from a divided nation—Unamuno’s (Salamanca 1936) "you will conquer… but you will not convince…" scroll on the backcloth as people go off to buy ice-creams… Life goes on whilst battles rage.

In this centenary year of the First World War that scarred so many, Peña returns to words of death and honour, of love and sacrifice, and the war that scars his nation still, in a belated homage, a celebration and a wake for a man, a tragic loss to a beloved country divided by ideology and opinion—Patrias in the plural you note.

When the lights dim again, what comes next is an overwhelmingly intense emotional hour of the best of Andalucian flamenco dancing and singing to Peña and his small band’s moving evocative playing, rising as if from the hills and plains of Spain’s parched lands.

Peña’s handpicked flamenco company includes singers Gema Jiménez and José Ángel Carmona, Paco Arriaga and Rafael Montilla on guitar, Nacho López and José Manuel Ramons ‘Oruco’ (he dances too) on percussion, and barefoot narrator Rio Muten Mariscal.

Duende and cante jondo (profound song)—words that speak of deep emotion, life’s mystery, and death—a simple community comes together to grieve. The struggle of life…

Symbolist poet and symbolic figure, Federico García Lorca’s words are recited in the original and in voiceover translation. But it is not only Lorca who speaks. Pablo Neruda (You will ask: And where are the lilacs) and Antonio Machado (The Crime Occurred In Granada) add their words of support.

A pity there seem to be no Spaniards in the audience—they would not sit in stunned silence. They’d be as vocal in their encouragement as Neruda and Machado. I miss my late exiled Civil War veteran friends Paco and Mavi, vociferous, voluble, kind and down to earth, surrogate parents.

Mavi’s funeral was all Lorca and how we howled. Lorca’s poems always bring forth a deluge. Put to music they are devastating.

Peña has produced a dramatic musical concert. Whilst animated images from Frédéric Rossif’s 1963 Mourir à Madrid play across the backcloth—both the nationalist (Peña in the wings for this) and republican anthems are sung—the narrative of the war is fought out on the stage in cries, stamps and claps that sound like rifle, machine gun, and explosive fire.

Loud, tender, all of life is here in the vocals and the music, the dancers the visual expression of passions rising up from the soul and the soles. Solos and duets, choreographed by Fernando Romero, she liquid to his stone, sweat-inducing numbers, exorcisms, call and response, and a shaped balanced narrative.

Lorca sonnet and Lorca evocation "He had said: If I die, leave my balcony wide open…", traditional Spanish folk music and songs—fast pace bulerias, tanguillos from Cadiz, farruca and seguiriya profound songs, crackling radio and rallying cries… Patrias, a personal work of long-buried emotions, speaks truth to power—if only it would listen.

Letters dance on the screen, words and sentences—mi país en el corazón—emerge, and Picasso’s Guernica takes form. Lights out. For a moment the audience does not stir. Then bursts of applause and whistles... The people have found their voice…

“Friends, for the poet / erect a monument of stone and dream / in the Alhambra, / over a fountain where the water weeps / and repeats eternally: / the crime occurred in Granada, his Granada!” “Be alert, be alert, be alert!” (Machado).

Tenderness and affection bring a special evening, a world première, to a dying close. Wrung out and elated by the beauty of the dancing and the music, I hope it comes to London soon.