Antonio Gades

Antonio Gades (1936–2004) never imagined that he would become a professional dancer, let alone one immortalized in groundbreaking films. But with the grace and agility of a skilled matador, noted for his still hips and tight pirouettes, Gades was not destined for anonymity. In a career that spanned a half-century, he earned more dance awards than any other Spanish dancer to date. He performed worldwide, directed four major companies, choreographed numerous works and was an outspoken human rights activist. With celebrated film director Carlos Saura,  he created the Flamenco Trilogy, where flamenco dance’s burning emotionality galvanized the story lines, making words almost unnecessary.

 

Born Antonio Esteve Ródenas near Valencia, Spain, Gades’ childhood was marked by the tragedy of his father, a day laborer, who was severely wounded fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Growing up in Madrid under General Franco’s dictatorship, Gades identified with the oppressed and persecuted workers, communists and non-Christian groups like the Gypsies. It was through the latter group that Gades found his calling in flamenco. He left school at age 11 to work odd jobs as a photographer’s assistant, apprentice bullfighter and nightclub performer. At 16 he was discovered by choreographer Pilar López, who directed the leading flamenco company, the Pilar López Spanish Ballet. From 1951 to 1962, Gades went from being her disciple to her lead dancer, and together the two are credited with transforming the state of Spanish dance from folk art to a fully staged and choreographed professional artform.

 

López gave Gades his stage name, which refers to the Andalusian city of Cádiz, once known as Gades. It also means, “walled stronghold” in Latin. Though neither a Gypsy nor from Andalucía (both considered provinces of flamenco authenticity), Gades was always faithful to the style’s core values of community, raw kinesthetic expression and suffering. He railed against the appropriation of flamenco (by Franco’s government) as a virtuoso exhibition of Romantic Spanish culture. “What is the point of doing four pirouettes,” he was known to ask, “if with one done extremely well, everything is said?”

 

While dancing with López, Gades also studied ballet in Paris with the Imperial Ballet–trained teacher Olga Preobrajenska. He mastered zapateado, percussive footwork, with the Madrid-based teacher El Estampío, and became devoted to the male dance form farruca, in which rapid-fire footwork contrasts with held lifts and falls, dramatic poses and flat-handed Cubist-style arm work. Renowned teacher Vicente Escudero, one of flamenco’s most rebellious bailaors of his time and author of the first book on the genre, provided Gades with his virile technique, marked by emotional sobriety and the sharp turn of his wrist from the inside toward the outside with fingers kept together.

 

In 1962, Gades made his film debut, dancing and acting in Los Tarantos with Carmen Amaya. The experience of using dance to tell a story made him decide to launch his own company and to dedicate himself to choreography. At its height, Gades’ company numbered 42 dancers. But in 1975, while applying makeup before a benefit concert for the Bolognese Communist Party, Gades learned of five more executions ordered by Franco. “I felt like a coward,” he said to a Spanish newspaper reporter. Soon after, he dissolved his company, became closely allied with Cuba and increasingly outspoken about politics.

 

Ironically, it was his Cuban friends, including Fidel Castro and Alicia Alonso, who encouraged him to return to dance. In 1978, Gades assumed the post of the Spanish National Ballet’s first artistic director. His tenure, however, lasted less than two years, as his presentation of dances from Spain’s politically independent regions clashed with the company’s nationalist agenda. In 1980, Gades formed another troupe, with famed flamenco dancers Cristina Hoyos, Juan Antonio and Enrique Esteve. Their rendition of Gades’ reinterpretation of poet Federico García Lorca’s tragic play, Bodas de Sangre or Blood Wedding (1974), inspired Saura, who attended a rehearsal of the ballet on the suggestion of his producer. Enthralled, Saura said, “I discovered the world of dance with Bodas.”

 

Gades and Cristina Hoyos in Carlos Saura's Bodas de Sangre (1981)

Saura transformed Bodas into a film in 1981. Its success spurred Saura and Gades to make two more dance films together, Bizet’s Carmen, winner of the 1983 Cannes Film Festival’s award for “Best Artistic Contribution,” and El Amor Brujo (1986). The three productions became known as the Flamenco Trilogy. They distilled and abstracted the traditional film format (of shooting in multiple locations, incorporating elaborate sets and costumes and focusing on dialogue) into a fleet-footed, explosively kinesthetic embodiment of the dispossessed and the disaffected. And rather than presenting flamenco steps that were traditionally confined to a limited space, Gades’ choreography traveled and devoured space.

 

Five years after the making of the Flamenco Trilogy, Gades was diagnosed with cancer. He became passionate about sailing and slowly began removing himself from the dance world. In 2004, weeks before his death, Gades sailed from Spain to Cuba to be decorated with the Order of José Marti, a prize bestowed on political leaders. “He was always on the side of the downtrodden,” said Spanish Culture Minister Carmen Calvo. For someone who could have found satisfaction being a stage and screen star, Gades thought little of his unique look or fame. Expressing the adversity of the Spanish people was his goal, making him an inimitable and unforgettable artist. DT

 

Stump your students! Click here to view and download a printable history quiz.

 

Freelance writer Rachel Straus is based in New York City. She holds graduate degrees from Purchase College Conservatory of Dance and Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

 

 

 

Additional Resources

 

ARTICLES:

 

“Antonio Gades,” by Ninotchka Bennahum, Dance Magazine, December 2004

“Antonio Gades,” by Pierre Lartigue, International Encyclopedia of Dance

“Bringing Carmen Back to Spain: Antonio Gades’ Flamenco Dance in Carlos Saura’s Choreofilm,” by Rosella Simonari, Dance Research, Winter 2008

“Flamenco Dance,” by Ninotchka Bennahum, International Encyclopedia of Dance

“Flamenco Puro: Art From Anguish,” by Ninotchka Bennahum, Dance Magazine, August 1992

“Spain: Theatrical Dance Since 1862,” by Laura Kumin, International Encyclopedia of Dance

 

FILMS:

 

Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, distributed by Eclipse (Criterion Collection), includes Bodas de Sangre, Carmen and El Amor Brujo

 

 

Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives.

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Blackstone

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In short, in a year filled with setbacks, there is still a lot to celebrate. Dance Teacher spoke to four teachers about the virtual victories they've seen thus far and how they hope to keep the momentum going back in the classroom.

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Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

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