Dancer, ( bailaora) and choreographer, Sara Baras, opened the gala performances which form a core part of the Festival Cante de las Minas in La Unión this week with her latest spectacular, La Pepa, paying homage to the Act of the Constitution in 1812, an act which aimed to formulate a Spanish constitution, and although this first attempt failed to achieve its aims in the short-term, laid the foundations for the modern Spanish Democratic Constitution.
The piece is set in Cadiz, and depicted the opposing sides of war: the sadness, death and destruction, the strength and optimism of youth crushed by the horror of war as young men full of life went to their deaths. Of ordinary families torn apart by war, lovers separated, couples divided eternally, families turned against families, the set sombre and dark, as the youth of Spain passed through to the other side, claimed by war.
Yet also showed the hum of everyday life, set against a background of ordinary people carrying out their daily business in the streets of the City, living, loving and losing, although joined together in ultimate triumph as the first Act of the Constitution was formulated, the figure of "La Pepa" depicted by Sara herself on a pedestal in a blaze of glory in a final caesaresque act of triumph, shining glitter raining down from the sky on her triumphant figure.
Of course, whilst beautifully depicted, the reality of the 1812 Constitution is a little further from this depiction, although the elements of costume, set and performance provided an atmospheric backdrop for the history behind the piece.
In 1808, Spain was faced with the prospect of an unelected French Monarch, as both Carlos IV and his son, Ferdinand VII, a virtual prisoner in France, were forced to resign their natural claims to the Spanish throne in favour of Napolean Bonaparte, who in turn, passed the throne onto his brother, Joseph.
However, although the elite in Madrid were accepting of this decision the Spanish people rebelled, the result being the Peninsular War, or War of Independence. An interim Spanish government was formed, with representatives from each province of Spain, meeting first in Aranjuez, then Seville, before finally being pushed by Napoleon's forces into Cádiz.
The British supported the Spanish rebels, engaged in their own fight against Napoleon and his plans for European supremacy, protecting the representatives until a Cortes could convene.
By 1810 basic principles were being agreed, which accepted the legitimacy of King Ferdinand as King of Spain, although reducing his powers, but also took steps towards creating a more efficient civil service, reforming the tax system, replacing feudal privileges, recognition of an owners right to use his property as he deemed appropriate and a reduction in the absolute power of the church, the crown and the nobility.
The first constitution was prepared against a backdrop of continued French attack, and promulgated on 19th March 1812 in Cádiz, nicknamed La Pepa by the Spanish as it falls on Saint Joseph's day.
This is a bit convoluted to explain, but Saint Joseph is San José, and anybody named José is nicknamed Pepe, and Pepa is the feminine form of Pepe.
However, when Ferdinand returned to Spain, and power in 1814, his first act as monarch was to abolish the constitution and demolish all the monuments built in its honour.
The Peninsular War left a considerable legacy in the Region of Murcia, French troops firing many churches and virtually destroying many settlements on their passage through the region, and you'll find these wars cropping up frequently in the histories of the towns, usually relating to the destruction and looting of their churches and monuments.
So this was the backdrop to this flamenco spectacular, which took attendees on a journey through human emotions, the human suffering and the final triumph of the foundation of democracy in Spain.
The performance began with a scene of mourning, of death, a backdrop of war, a pale-faced figure carried tenderly onto the stage by a grieving lover, the black-clad chorus twisting and writhing as the earth embraced her body.
Ordinary people, caught in a war, not of their own making, carrying out their daily tasks, country people in simple dresses, in a scene of everyday life, and the gradual refusal to accept suppression, and fight for independence from the suppression of the French.
A black clad figure, cloaked with the black of repression, the cloak cast aside to reveal a red core of rebellion, a spirit of independence which caught the imagination of the townspeople, her dance of red rebellion adopted by the young, who appeared on stage with red handkerchiefs tied to their wrists, followers of the cause.
Scenes of tender lovers, parted by the fighting, families divided by their loyalties, dances of triumph and sadness, as the youth of the town passed through into another world, scenes of whirling colour, martinetes, guajiras, zapateados, fandangos, seguirillas, soleá por bulerías, malagueñas, tanguillas, farrucas, alegrías and bulerías fusing into a seamless spectacle of light and shade as the story unfolded, concluding with triumph.
And throughout it all, Sara Baras, striking, imposing, strongly silhouetted against the darkness, feet tapping and fingers stretched to impossible elegance as she clicked through one whirling routine to the next. Fluidity and sinuous technical dexterity leaving no-one unmoved.
A true spectacle of masterful flamenco, delivered with passion, soul and style, the perfect start to a week of crisis-busting galas in this year's Cante de las Minas at La Unión.
Sara Baras herself is a top-level flamenco dancer, having danced with many of the most prestigious dance companies between 1988 and 1998, before forming her own dance company in 1998. Since then, she has presented many choreographed spectaculars throughout Spain and within Europe, as well as collaborating with a number of other projects, including audiovisual work.
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There are several more galas this coming week, as well as the competition bringing the stars of the future to La Unión. Click Cante de Las Minas 2012.
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