Franco, Flamenco and Federico

Our new Culture Editor reviews a performance by the highly renowned flamenco dance company, Paco Pena, based on the famous poet Federico Garcia Loca during the Spanish Civil War. 

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This month at Sadler’s Wells saw the performance of Patrias, a piece by the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Accompanied by the virtuosic playing of the world- renowned flamenco guitarist Paco Peña, dancers performed pieces inspired by Spain’s brutal three- year conflict, which pitted supporters of the elected government against nationalist forces controlled by General Francisco Franco. Through flamenco, principal dancers Angel Munoz and Mayte Bayo brought to life the stories of various groups of civilians affected by the war, including members of the persecuted liberal elite, of whose number Federico Garcia Lorca was one.

One of the most popular Spanish poets at the time of the Civil war, Lorca’s poems focused on an idyllic youth spent in Granada, Southern Spain, in the shadows of the Alhambra and in colourful co-existence with troops of gypsies, themes which feature heavily in his early works. Lorca is a particular focus of this piece, as he was assassinated at the beginning of the civil war by soldiers loyal to Franco. Historians believe that Lorca’s assassination was in part due to his criticism of nationalist forces. In one of Lorca’s most famous works, ‘Romance de la Guardia Civil’, this reproval is evident from Lorca’s acerbic descriptions of the soldiers as having ‘skulls made of lead’ and souls of ‘patent leather’, ruining all in their path as they ransack the cities they pass through. To this day, Lorca’s remains have not been found, which appears to have been augured by Lorca, as his poem ‘The Fable And Round of the Three Friends’, has for its final lines: ‘then I realised that I had been murdered. They looked for me in churches, cemeteries and cafés… but they did not find me.’ Several decades after his death, Lorca’s poems remain popular, with his most famous work, 1928’s Gypsy Ballads, included in Le Monde’s 100 books of the century.

Patrias really brought to the fore the systematic rooting out of liberals and intellectuals by forces loyal to Franco. One of the most striking examples was that of the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, whose story was told to the audience by powerful spoken word poetry against a background of crescendoing guitar chords. Unamuno presided over Columbus Day celebrations in 1936 at the University of Salamanca, where he was a Rector. Unamuno boldly addressed the crowd, attacking the heavy- handed approach of Franco’s nationalist forces and criticising Millan Astray, one of Franco’s generals who was present in the audience. Millan Astray angrily replied with the cry ‘death to intelligence’, which was met with rounds of applause by supporters in the audience, and ordered Unamuno to leave the ceremony. Within months, Unamuno was removed from his post as Rector and, by order of Franco, placed under house arrest, only to die later that year. The lives of Unamuno and Lorca were but two of the hundreds of thousands lost during the civil war, yet are not forgotten through their work, which remains popular and continues to inspire pieces like Patrias 80 years on from the conflict.

Image courtesy of Sadler’s Wells.

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