Q&A with Peña - Briefing Document

► Key messages

·       The presentation of Paco Peña’s Patrias at Sadler’s Wells marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the

Spanish Civil War, July 18th 1936. (It ended on April 1st 1939.)

·       Patrias is a multi-layered piece of theatre that reflects on the experience of war, and specifically the Spanish Civil War  – a conflict that still holds significant resonance today, both in Spain and internationally. Patrias combines flamenco with spoken word, both live and recorded, audio effects and video projections.

·       At its heart is the genius and tragic death of the great Andalusian poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca, who was executed by General Franco’s Nationalist troops in August 1936. Lorca is often described as the greatest Spanish writer of the 20th century.

·       The word Patrias (the plural of the Spanish word ‘patria’) literally means ‘homelands’, ‘motherlands’ or ‘fatherlands’. For the Spanish today, the word ‘patria’ is fraught with ambiguity as a consequence of rhetoric in the Civil War. In choosing the title Patrias – the use of the plural is unusual and arresting – Paco Peña emphasises that Spain was ‘two countries’ during the Civil War and that there was enormous suffering, cruelty and also heroism on both sides,.

·       Patrias was first seen at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival; Paco Peña had been invited by the festival to create a show to mark the centenary of World War I. The Daily Mail wrote that: “Patrias, inspired by one genius and brought to life by the music of another, is truly beautiful and truly tragic. It is the very soul of Spain.” Now, Peña has made a new presentation of Patrias to mark the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War.

 

What is Patrias about?

Patrias is a reflection on the experience of war, and specifically the Spanish Civil War, which began 80 years ago in July 1936 and lasted until April 1939. At the heart of Patrias is the genius and tragic death of the Andalusian poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca, who was executed by General Franco’s Nationalist troops just a month after the Civil War began.
 

What is the format and content of Patrias?

Patrias at Sadler’s Wells will run for c.120 minutes (including the interval) and calls on 10 performers: guitarists, percussionists, singers, dancers and an actor. It combines flamenco with spoken word, both live and recorded, audio effects and video projections.

 

As a multi-layered piece of theatre, Patrias does not provide a conventional historical or biographical narrative, but is more impressionistic in nature. There is no actor or dancer playing Lorca in the show. Like all Paco Peña’s work, Patrias draws on the tradition and expression of authentic Andalusian flamenco, but here the music and dancing is combined with readings (in both Spanish and English) from the works of Lorca and other writers (including his friend, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda), and with visual and aural evocations of the Spanish Civil War.

 

What was the genesis of Patrias?

Paco Peña was invited to create a work for the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival to mark the centenary of the start of World War I. As a Spanish artist, and as a specialist in Andalusian flamenco, he decided to focus on the Spanish Civil War and on one of its most prominent victims, the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Lorca identified closely with his homeland of Andalusia and its multicultural heritage. Paco Peña, a native of Córdoba, was born in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and grew up in the restrictive environment of Francoist Spain before coming to live in the UK in 1966, exactly 50 years ago. (The Francoist era came to an end in 1975 with the death of General Franco and King Juan Carlos’ assumption of the Spanish throne, after which Spain transformed itself into a vibrant democracy.)

 

The presentation of Patrias at Sadler’s Wells in July 2016, marking 80 years since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War on July 17th 1936, is the show’s first staging since its success at the Edinburgh International Festival at 2014.

 

► What does the word Patrias mean?

Patrias is the plural of the Spanish word ‘patria’. It literally means ‘homelands’, ‘motherlands’ or ‘fatherlands’. For the Spanish today, the word ‘patria’ is fraught with ambiguity as a consequence of rhetoric in the Civil War. In choosing the title Patrias – the use of the plural is unusual and arresting – Paco Peña emphasises that Spain was ‘two countries’ during the Civil War and that there was enormous suffering, cruelty and also heroism on both sides.

 

The word ‘patria’ derives from the Greek word meaning ‘fatherland’ and is related to such English words as ‘patriot’ and ‘expatriate’. The word appeared regularly in the rhetoric of General Franco and his Nationalist party (similarly, its German equivalent, ‘Heimat’ was appropriated by the Nazis) and it has thus become loaded with ambiguity and even negative connotations. In giving the show the arresting title Patrias, Paco Peña’s aim is to highlight the true, positive significance of the word ‘patria’ while acknowledging the burden of history and expressing the division of Spain into ‘two countries’ at the time of the Civil War.

 

It is estimated that a total of as many as 500,000 people died in the war as a result of fighting, bombing and atrocities. Paco Peña has also chosen the name Patrias to emphasise that the show acknowledges the enormous suffering, cruelty and also heroism on both sides in the Spanish Civil War. It was Spain as a whole – and the Spanish people as a whole – that went through its trauma.

 

► Why and how does Patrias use flamenco to reflect on the Spanish Civil War?

Over the last 45 years Paco Peña has created a series of shows that have used flamenco in a variety of dramatic and scenic contexts, but which have always remained true to its authentic idiom of music (guitar, voice and percussive elements, such as hand-clapping and footwork) and dance. When invited by the Edinburgh International Festival to create a show to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, Peña worked in his natural idiom of flamenco, an art-form that has its roots in Andalusia, but which has come to be symbolic of Spain as a whole: Patrias is about the Spanish Civil War, not just about the Spanish Civil War in Andalusia. Though the show’s scale is relatively intimate, and its scenography is sober, it is probably the most artistically ambitious show that Paco Peña has created: it looks at a momentous historical event through the genius of a great writer and goes beyond flamenco to incorporate literary and filmic elements.

 

The show’s ambitions are embodied in Lorca, a son of Granada and Andalusia who is recognised throughout Spain and around the world as perhaps the greatest Spanish writer of the 20th century. He was only 38 when he was murdered, but he had proven himself as something of a ‘renaissance man’: an important poet and dramatist and a highly talented musician and graphic artist. As an Andalusian, Lorca had close links to the spirit and world of the Gypsies – his greatest success as a poet was his collection Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads) – and his interest in flamenco was such that in 1922 he collaborated with the great composer Manuel de Falla, another Andalusian, on the first-ever competitive festival of cante jondo, the ‘deep song’ that constitutes the very essence of flamenco.

 

Patrias does not push any political agenda. Lorca was a liberal by nature and his brother-in-law was the Republican mayor of Granada, but he was not an overt political activist and counted Nationalists among his friends. In its very name and in the approach it takes, Patrias depicts the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War for the Spanish people, whether supporters of the Republican or the Nationalist cause, and its mode of expression, flamenco, is always deeply personal – a cry that is ‘torn out’ of the performer.

 

► What significance does the Spanish Civil War hold today?

80 years on from the Spanish Civil War, its consequences are still felt in Spain – Paco Peña feels that there is still noticeable polarisation in the society of Andalusia and Spain as a whole. In a wider sense, parallels may be drawn between the Spanish Civil War and conflicts in the world today – for instance we can think about such issues as the intervention of foreign powers in civil war, and the recruitment of volunteer fighters from around the world.

 

● The Spanish Civil War and its context – a brief summary

In the 1930s, Spain was divided between the right-wing Nationalists and the left-wing Republicans. Broadly speaking, the Nationalist party comprised monarchists, landowners, businesspeople, the Roman Catholic Church and the army, while the Republican party comprised urban workers, the trade unions, agricultural workers, socialists and liberal intellectuals.

 

An economic crisis had contributed to the fall in early 1930 of the military government – led by General Primo de Rivera and supported by King Alfonso XIII – that had been in place since 1923. Elections took place, the Republicans came to power and the King left the country (he died in exile in Rome in 1941). A succession of governmental changes and crises culminated in elections in February 1936 which resulted in a leftist Republican government. This was followed in July by a well-planned military uprising against the Republicans which marked the start of the Civil War. General Francisco Franco assumed leadership of the Nationalists, who rapidly gained control of a substantial proportion of Spain, and he took charge of a parallel government based in Burgos while the Republican government remained in Madrid.

 

Over the course of the Civil War, in which up to 500,000 people are thought to have died, the Nationalists received support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (whose airforces undertook the notorious bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937), while the Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union, and from the International Brigades, which comprised volunteers from the rest of Europe and from the United States. Famously, the volunteers included such figures as the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell.

 

The Civil War came to an end in March 1938 when the Republican government took exile in France, its armies surrendered and disbanded, and Nationalist forces entered Madrid. General Franco remained Spain’s head of state for 37 years, until his death in 1975. Just three years later, with the signing of a new Spanish Constitution in December 1978, Spain had made the transition from a dictatorship to a democratic constitutional monarchy under Franco’s chosen successor, King Juan Carlos I (the grandson of King Alfonso XIII).

 

► Why did Paco Peña build Patrias around the genius of Federico García Lorca?

Lorca, often named as the greatest Spanish writer of the 20th century, was executed by Nationalist troops 80 years ago, in August 1936 – just a month into the Spanish Civil War. Like Paco Peña he came from Andalusia, the home of flamenco.

 

Lorca’s roots were in Andalusia, and the spirit of the region informs much of his work – notably his famous trio of Andalusian tragedies (Bodas de sangre,Yerma and La casa de Bernarda Alba); his most popular book of poems, Romancero gitano, and his collection Divan del Tamarit, which evokes Al-Andalus, the period when much of Spain was ruled by the Moors from their capital of Córdoba (Paco Peña’s native city). Lorca was also a gifted musician and the region’s folk music was also important to him – notably, in 1922 he collaborated with the great composer Manuel de Falla, another Andalusian, on the first-ever competitive festival of cante jondo, the ‘deep song’ that constitutes the very essence of flamenco.

 

As an Andalusian artist, and specifically as a citizen of Granada, Lorca was sensitive to multiculturalism. Shortly before his death he said: “I believe that being from Granada gives me a sympathetic understanding of those who are persecuted – of the Gypsy, the Negro, the Jew, and of the Moor which all Granadinos carry inside them.” These words have a particular resonance in today’s Europe as it seeks to integrate a wave of refugees.

 

But Lorca was not simply an Andalusian: he spent a substantial and formative period of his life in Madrid and became celebrated throughout Spain – and outside Spain, for instance in the US and Latin America – as an embodiment of Spanish culture. He remains one of the comparatively few major Spanish writers whose works are firmly established in the global literary canon.

 

Over a writing career that lasted just 19 years, but which was richly filled, Lorca drew on multiple influences: the great Spanish writers (both of the past and of his own time); the folk and Arabic traditions of Andalusia; Shakespeare, Goethe and Chekhov; his close friend, the surrealist Salvador Dalí; Japanese haiku and more. Lorca’s work also embraces and fuses a multiplicity of styles, including modernismo (the late-Romantic Spanish movement closely related to French Parnassianism and Symbolism) and Expressionism.

 

If Lorca’s philosophy and genius make his work highly distinctive and personal, he is also a writer who typifies the diversity and vigour of artistic endeavour in the first decades of the 20th century. This helps to make him an artist of universal significance.

 

Paco Peña has said this about Lorca and the creative process for Patrias:

 

“The music in Patrias includes a variety of songs that Lorca recovered from Andalusian folklore and songs that he himself performed on the piano. From the basis of these, an important part of the musical components develops, giving shape to the pieces performed. Developing Patrias, I have also looked at a collection of simple songs of the time, used as hymns, or rallying or morale-boosting cries for combatants and supporters on either side of the conflict, and at references to some episodes that took place in the war. When looking at visual records of the war, some poignant, stirring examples of personal suffering leapt out at me, notably from the moving French documentary Mourir à Madrid (Frédéric Rossif, 1963), and I felt they too deserve to be briefly displayed during the performance in order to try to bring home the harsh reality of what Spanish people lived through at that time. I hope this humble embracing of the work and the person of this great Spanish artist, plus the brief look at the tragic times and circumstances that so cruelly took his life, help to remind us that Federico García Lorca is and will remain essential.”                  

 

Prepared by Yehuda Shapiro