FEDERICO, LINDSAY, BLOOD AND POETRY
Duende is a difficult concept to explain. Literally, it’s the name of a mysterious Andalusian gnome, an earthy folkloric creature, used as a symbol to describe the intense trance-like abandon sometimes achieved by Flamenco musicians and dancers.
What has that got to do with Lindsay Kemp? Everything. Because he was a living embodiment of Duende.
In Lorca’s famous prose-poem and death-tinted lecture in Buenos Aires in 1933 – titled ‘Juego y Teoria del Duende’, (‘Reverie and Theory on Duende’) – Federico Garcia Lorca transmitted the Spanish concept of Duende, and sent it echoing endlessly around the world. Roughly thirty years later, in London, circa 1972-73, Lorca’s long poetic flood of darkness and beauty inflamed the young Lindsay Kemp. When I met him in late 1973, we shared our loves for Federico. Lindsay loved reciting Lorca’s poems and plays (in translation of course), and also fragments of his Duende essay, sometimes acting out his favourite passages. One we especially loved went “Years ago, in a Flamenco dance competition in Jerez de la Frontera, competing against beautiful women and young men with watery waists, an eighty-year-old woman won the first prize simply by very slowly raising her arms, flinging back her head and stamping wildly a few dozen times… obliterating both angels and muses by dragging her dying duende wings like rusty knives along the floor.”
Lorca needed thousands of words to assemble and define Duende, (“like Goya painting with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks”.) He returns frequently to a conceptual pagan trinity of inspiration, consisting of Angels, Muses and Duende: “the Angel and the Muse come from outside. The angel brings illumination, the muse brings shape and form. But the duende has to be awakened in the deepest chambers of blood, chasing away the angel and kicking out the muse, until all fear is burnt away.” This kind of poetic intensity came naturally to Lindsay, throughout his life, but Lorca’s fascinating concept offered him a somehow deeper form, draped unknowingly in the awaiting robes of martyrdom.
Further Lorca fragments: “Once, in a famous challenge with a rival , the great gypsy singer Pastora Pavon leapt up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and then began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath or colour, but…with duende. She tore down the scaffolding of the song, but let loose a furiously burning duende.
“In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah!Allah!’… so close to the ‘Olé! Olè!’ of Flamenco and corridas. In the songs of Southern Spain, the arrival of the duende is followed by cries of: ‘Viva Dios!’… deep, human, tender encounters with divinity through the five senses, as the duende takes hold of the voice and body of the dancer.”
The paragraph above floods me with the memory of Lindsay’s countless uncontainable “Olés” echoing across the years: they would burst up towards the ceiling and down towards his public in smoky late-night bars, dancing among the half-filled glasses on table tops in Barcelona’s sin-filled Barrio Chino district, urged on by passer’s by, fans or friends… and once on top of the British Ambassador’s table. Whether drunk or dry, this spontaneous choreography just spilled out and spread out… arms waving and eyes aflame, often until there was no one left in the bar except me, waiting to guide him discretely out as the barmen closed the bar.
This is not to confuse duende with drunkenness: alcohol and other substances, all over the world, have always offered short cuts to different kinds of ecstasy, but rarely do they penetrate totally to the inner duende of shamans, singers or dancers. In his inspired homage to Duende, Lorca repeatedly described its equivalents in other cultures, citing examples such as Goethe, Eleonora Duse, Nietzsche, Paganini, or the old Gypsy dancer La Malena, who once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That’s duende!’ (she was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud). Near the beginning of his essay, Lorca declares “I hope to transmit to you a simple lesson on the occult spirit of long-suffering Spain”, but also “Everything that carries deep dark sounds has duende in its roots”… making clear the universal nature of the mysterious impulses which in Spain are buried beneath the pulsing heart of an ancient earth god.
Sometime in early 1980, the idea of naming Lindsay’s developing production tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca and to Spain simply as Duende, (at first including the subtitle Poema Fantastico per Federico Garcia Lorca) was a stroke of genius. I can’t remember whose genius, but never mind. The central drive of the production lay in the overlapping of Kemp and Lorca: two magnets attracting one another across the decades. At the time of preparing the production, Lindsay repeatedly swore that when he looked in the mirror he saw Federico. When we were pre-rehearsing in Valencia, in the partly ruined Sala Escalante Arts Theatre, in September and October 1980, Lindsay often insisted on the company rehearsing and improvising in total darkness or underneath the stage, searching for Duende’s duende… and for the dead poet, in Andalusian trances and screams.
Over the years, of all the many creative alter-ego heroes Kemp identified with in order to conceive, create and direct shows (and to perform their central roles), the closest, most intense and tender, cruel and intimately personal, was Federico Garcia Lorca. The peak of intensity – in 1980-81 – would eventually, like all Lindsay’s heroes, abate as the next new production approached. But during the making of Duende Lindsay and I made various pilgrimages to Lorca’s places and traces, gazed at the many photos and drawings depicting him, and at his own drawings and read his poems and plays: he was obsessed with becoming Lorca.
(N.B. Photo Gallery One contains a superb hand programme, produced for the production’s World Premiere on the 19th of November 1980, in the Teatro Parioli in Rome: this offers Lorca’s illustrations, a biographical short cut to his world, life and death, and programme notes on the creation of Duende… at the moment its texts are mostly in Italian… but Wikipedia can provide you with Lorca’s biography.)
TWO DREAMS OF HISTORY
Spain, and above all Andalucía and Flamenco, offered deep performing resonances with Lindsay’s natural impulses from childhood onwards, i.e. in spontaneously sparkiling improvisations around a fixed structure, both in dance and music, thus combining tradition and invention.
Another link: as well as their shared homosexuality, Lindsay and Federico both broke away from bourgeois backgrounds (the former working class, the latter wealthy). Both headed for their capital cities as soon as possible: Lorca from Granada to Madrid, to life in the liberal Residencia de Estudiantes and studying at Madrid University; and Lindsay, penniless to London, working occasionally in bars and studying at Ballet Rambert and wherever possible. Lorca, more intellectual, was a fine musician, exhibited his drawings, and published his first poems and plays. He soon made contact with Buñuel, Dalì, and the poetic ‘Generation of 27’… a moment in politics and culture when Spain reached out fervently towards contemporary European avant-garde, blending it with Spanish traditions.
Perhaps, in terms of similar Lorca-Kemp echoes across time, we can concede ourselves a brief meditation on their historical destinies: on one hand, the young Lorca rode the exhilarating waves of Republican, anarchist and anti-clerical artistic movements that led to the heady freedom of the Spanish Republic, massively elected in 1931, which soon triggered the fury of extreme rightwing reaction that led to fascism and the Spanish Civil War (and Lorca’s execution on August 19th 1935), and then all over Europe in the holocausts of World War Two. Lindsay, on the other hand, thirty years later, growing up in post-War Britain flowed through the nineteen fifties and sixties towards a similar outburst of national creativity as Lorca had experienced in the Spanish Republic. Both men’s experiences of cultural and political revolution also included periods of increased sexual and homosexual liberty… but only Lorca’s ended brutally in front of an execution squad in Granada.
But if we want to think of Lorca-Kemp echoes, we do better to remember their flair for magical non-realistic show-making, and the way they both reveled in long periods of touring theatre, echoing the tradition of circus shows… Lorca with his touring socialist “La Barraca” theatre group and its poetic rural shows, and Lindsay with his small ‘poor theatre’ troupe in the 1960s and 70s, and his later more ambitious non-stop global tours from1976 to 1996, always with a gypsy soul.
THE SPANISH INFLUENCE
We should soon get down to describing the nuts and bolts of Lindsay’s “DUENDE” production, which opened in 1980, but firstly let’s consider some important roots and inspirations, starting from roughly 1972, when he first became attracted to Spanish culture (see Chapter 6). Let me introduce you to a very special person.
In 1944 Celestino Coronado was born in a village close to Zafra, near Badajoz, in Extremadura, bordering on Andalucía. In the late 1950 she left home for Madrid, where he studied Political Sciences and moved to London in 1967, “stifled or threatened by Franco’s regime”, as he insisted. His period in Madrid and his first years in London are today swathed in an unfortunate biographical fog, except for autobiographic interviews or articles he wrote later, in the 1970s and 80s, not always reliably confirmed: this reminds me of Lindsay’s youthful penchant for inventing his own autobiography, happy to create a light-hearted aura of mystery. What is abundantly confirmed is Celestino’s flamboyant creative talent and intense political fervour, expressed through film-making and writing, and the importance of his role in Lindsay’s career for several vital decades… above all by inspiring the first seeds of his passion for Spain. Around 1971, like many others, Celestino – having read that David Bowie had a mysterious mentor and teacher –decided to meet Lindsay Kemp, and so began doing‘dance-mime classes’ with him, in The Dance Centre in Floral Street, in Covent Garden. In cafés and bars nearby, a lively creative friendship gradually developed, from early 1972.
In that period Lindsay was also living and performing in Scotland, mostly in Edinburgh. Celestino followed him there, and began taking part in Lindsay’s happenings and improvisations, and to advise to him on his performances and projects, gradually establishing himself as part of Kemp’s Counter Culture Troupe.
In Edinburgh 1973, Celestino made his first film: “The Lindsay Kemp Circus”, a 16mm short in 30 minutes, featuring various Kemp numbers filmed in a decadent imaginary cabaret, peopled by handsome young men, tired tap-dancing waitresses and large Kempian Cocteau-inspired graffiti scrawled on the walls… typical of his aesthetic in those years. Celestino described it as “a dance-film, a soundless musical, a homage to vaudeville, to Keaton and the masters of the best silent films”… he also treated himself to a languid appearance as a sexy underworld voyeur. A year later he began studying Film and Television in London, at the Royal College of Art, but this soon coincided with “Flowers” opening in London’s West End in March 1974, and his role as assistant director in that first triumphal season which considerably slowed down his eventual RCA graduation in 1976!
The melodramatic story of Celestino Coronado – his various films, but also his many failed film projects and his frequent clashes with institutions, his friendship and collaboration with The Lindsay Kemp Company, his fragile talent and his drawn out and largely forgotten tragic end – deserves a much fuller portrait, but here I need to focus specifically on his role in initiating Lindsay to Spain, Andalucía and Duende.
In this, of course, he was soon joined by another Spanish influence, the Chilean composer Carlos Miranda, who Lindsay first met and chose as composer for Ballet Rembert’s “The Parades Gone By” in 1976 (Carlos would go on for many years to create brilliant work for the majority of the Lindsay Kemp Company’s productions, also creating numerous successful compositions, including the music for the Inauguration of the Barcelona Olympics, as I have written at length elsewhere).
Lindsay, Celestino and Carlos soon formed a high octane triangular friendship, usually in my presence. This was reinforced when Carlos moved in to share Celestino’s ground floorflat in Brechin Place, South Kensington… which would become a legendary home to countless late night music, wine and dancing seances over many years.
Lindsay was soon immersing himself in all things Spanish, and when Ballet Rambert commissioned another show from him in 1977, he proposed a Lorca Ballet to Christopher Bruce, with his choreography, Lindsay’s dramaturgy, Carlos’s music and Celestino’s expert flamenco supervision. “Cruel Garden”, set in a huge abstract bullring, opened on 5th July 1977, and became a hugely successful international masterpiece, revived again and again many times.
All that was needed now, to crown Lindsay’s deep and growing Spanish Influence, was for him to take the Lindsay Kemp Company to perform in Spain. For the occasion, Celestino and I were billed as the company’s Associate Directors, and at the end of November the Company set off in an ancient hired brown coach, destination Catalunya, where “Flowers” opened on December 1st 1977 at the Teatro Romea in Barcelona, immediately becoming part of an impatient thirst for liberation throughout Spain Lindsay was determined to fulfill his desire to “make love to Spain”.
Franco had died over a year before, in November 1975, but despite arriving a year after the dictator’s death, arriving in Barcelona in 1977 “Flowers” was entering a country ruled by a brutal fascist government which was still imprisoning antifascist politicians, but also outspoken artists and performers. One of these was Albert Boadella, (a radical Catalan director, founder of Els Joglars), who was arrested on December 2, the day after our first performance in Spain. This caused a wave of furious protest, and from the next day, at the end of “Flowers” Lindsay stopped the applause and the music of the bows to pronounce (with some variations, given his uncertain grasp of Spanish) a vibrant call: “Dedico este espectaculo… a Albert Boadella y… a La Libertad!!!” This never failed to bring the house down, especially being proclaimed by a figure dressed in white veils and splashed with blood from head to foot, with one arm raised on high like the Statue of Liberty.
Lindsay admitted that for this he was inspired by Isadora Duncan’s oratories to the Revolutionary troops in the Soviet Union. This continued every night, (10 history-making shows per week for 2 weeks, extended to 3), overcoming mounting fears about Lindsay being arrested for the same offence as Boadella’s, namely “disrespect towards the Guardia Civil”. The impact of Kemp’s dedication of “Flowers” may or may not have played some part in Boadella’s freedom, but the night before the prisoner’s final sentencing, he made a spectacular escape from prison, and was smuggled across the border to France! At first, Lindsay was ever-so slightly disappointed to have to renounce his heroic histrionics on the stage… but thankfully Boadella and others were soon pardoned and allowed back to Barcelona. In any case, Lindsay had begun his astonishing conquest of Spain, and Spain responded passionately, and remained so for over a further forty years.
DUENDE’S JOURNEY TOWARDS THE STAGE
Performance Lifespan: Nov. 1980 to mid-1982
The triumphal end of December 1977 led the Company, and its Catalan impresario Jordi Morel, to hurriedly prolong the Spanish tour. This started with a week in Majorca – where Joan Miró, after seeing “Flowers”, painted a fan as a gift for Lindsay – and then a season in Madrid’s Teatro Martin, a shabby strip club that seemed designed to house the underworld of Genet’s “Flowers” and which thanks to a sold-out three-week run became the hottest theatre in Spain. But… you may ask… when will we get to Duende??
The answer is… in 1980!! But meanwhile, 1978 and 1979 brought a parade of major dates for Flowers and Salomé in Spain and also outside Spain – long runs in Toronto, Caracas, Madrid’s Teatro de la Comedia, El Teatro Barcelona, numerous major international Theatre Festivals, and then the addition of Italy as a ravenous market for existing Kemp productions and new ones in the shape of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mr. Punch’s Pantomime. And, for Lindsay, various non-Company works as well. Somewhere around then, perhaps at Madrid’s Teatro de la Comedia, circa 1979, we met and became friends with Ian Gibson, the Irish writer famed for his books on Lorca, who saw ‘Flowers’, came backstage, became a friend and advisor and encouraged Lindsay to create a show about Federico… a seed well planted!
This finally brings us to 1980! Which began with continuing to bring a series of different productions to a series of different countries… while always looking ahead to create new shows. Around July, my archives start to mention discussions about a new show… despite expanding demand for the existing repertory. At the Avignon Festival, on 28 July I see a note “Planning meeting with Julio Alvarez on Lorca show”. And on 22 August, while hurriedly preparing to perform a small exclusive show the next day on the beach in Positano, during a meeting with Carlos Miranda, I see “LK+DH lunch with Carlos: planning dates for Duende”.
A few weeks later (‘Dream’ in Venice and Viareggio, and ‘Flowers’ in Pamplona… with fleeting rehearsals and discussions of Duende in hotel ballrooms, airports and coaches) we arrived in Valencia, where Armando Moreno, the director of the Teatro Principal – husband of Nuria Espert and father of Nurita and Alicia Moreno – was our ally. Directly and indirectly he played an important role in the birth of ‘Duende’, because he simultaneously provided his Theatre and also the nearby Sala Escalante, for performances and rehearsals from 15th of September to November 1st… an incredible and exciting six weeks of hospitality and collaboration.
A further vital gift from Valencia lay in being introduced to Julia Greco and her husband Juan Greco, providing us with a remarkable Flamenco dancer and choreographer (originally from South Africa) and a skilled spanish guitarist. For a time, this duel became dedicated and passionate members of the Lindsay Kemp Company, to the point of playing parts in ‘Mister Punch’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and always keeping in contact with us all through many decades.
The mad ghosts of the Sala Escalante
The Sala Escalante was a faded Belle Epoch structure, with a simple stage and curved columns around the other three sides, and a flat but empty downstairs floor. It had been closed for many decades, but had recently been cleaned up a little by the Municipality, at least enough to make itavailable for exhibitions, rehearsals and other events, while waiting for a full restoration at some unspecified point in the future. Lindsay, of course, was more attracted to the past… the moment we first entered, his breath was taken away: it was just the kind of “theatre filled with ghosts” that hehad always adored! “Maybe the ghost of Lorca is watching us!” he whispered, in order to tease and stimulate the Company. “I can feel the Magic. The omens are on our side!”
He was also delighted with the beautiful apartment furnished in dark wood, right in the heart of the old city, which we had moved into on arrival the previous evening and would share for our six weeks in Valencia. Unfortunately, when we returned there after encountering the Escalante ,for our first lunch in the flat, we found that someone had broken in and stolen a lot of personal belongings, and some valuables of Lindsay’s, leaving all our clothes thrown on the floor. For a moment the magic crumbled horribly. “So much for the omens!” he moaned. But after a while (and a visit to the local police station) we both agreed that the thrill of the Sala Escalante was far more important than a petty burglary. In the afternoon the company assembled there, and we began exploring and preparing the various spaces of the Sala Escalante. We had four or five days to mount an extremely complex Kempian exhibition, and for some Duende preparations if possible. But actually the Exhibition and Happening events, due to open on the 15th of September, seemed much more urgent and exciting, so at first we concentrated on them.
The primal item of the exhibition was my wings… the huge spectacular feather wings of Jokanaan from Salomé, with their six metre wingspan, hauled high up towards the ceiling, facing the entrance. These had been hand-made, feather by feather, and assembled by Silvia Janssen four years previously, and had since flown me spectacularly in Australia, England, Spain, Yugoslavia, Belgium and Holland… the Icarian wings of a divinity hunted down by Herod’s soldiers and cut off time and time again.
The rest was a surreal installation based on numerous company costumes, furniture, props and display-models from various productions, plus huge panels painted boldly by Lindsay in abstract slashes and graffiti (at times splashing from the panels onto the flaking gold pillers and floors!). In a separate room there was also a display of Company photos by Richard Haughton, and of Lindsay’s paintings and drawings. As in nearly all his shows and installations over the years, the floor areas were scattered with sawdust, paper confetti and strange objects, including wooden mannequins who could be embraced by real sailors… and the air filled with incense and a collage of music from Company productions.
Incidentally, the mounting of the displays in the Sala Escalante benefitted from our precedent experience acquired in mounting the huge spectacular Exhibition & Happening which we had created four months earlier in the magnificent Miró Foundation in Barcelona: the Sala Escalante was smaller, but somehow more intense, and provided many more ghosts. Our freight trucks must have been busy transporting items for or from at least four shows, i.e. Sala Escalante, ‘Flowers’, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the as yet unfinished Duende… to be performed in both the Teatro Principal or the Sala Escalante.
That ghost-filled building turned out to be a unique opportunity to stimulate unforeseen and unforgettable creative encounters with the Valencian public. The exhibition ran from the 15th of September, and continued to be created and recreated thereafter, as the visiting daytime public was left wondering at constant surprises, while Lindsay and members of the Company unpredictably came and went or froze like dancing statues: were they performing, pretending, playing, rehearsing or what?
On the 20th, much of the exhibition was dismantled, and rehearsal-time for Duende was entirely abandoned in order to prepare for the Escalante Grand Finale, a full length show, largely consisting of material from ‘The Turquoise Pantomime’ with new additions, with a dress rehearsal on the 21st open to the public, who came in surprising numbers… and many must have encouraged their friends to go the following day, given the full house at the First and Last Night of “Kemp en la Sala Escalante”… little suspecting that they would later become partners in a sensual bacchanalia.
The performances that night were originally intended to be more or less prepared, but somehow morphed into something else. The main show was centred on historical material from Lindsay’s‘ Turquoise Pantomime’, evolved from the mid-1960s and 70s… but now transformed by a mischievous Carpe Diem spirit, with Dionysian ghosts, and Duende daring, and the entire company improvising in a gradual crescendo explosion. In the Torquoise Pantomime, one after another, Lindsay’s Circus characters entered confidently and ended disastrously, but sensing his growing hypnotic hold on the public, the Clown began to stretch time and invent faces reflecting all the follies of humanity. On the battered piano in the corner, I struggled to keep up with his endlessly repeated gestures and changes of plan, as he pushed to achieve increasingly surreal flights of baroque nonsense. In comparison, accompanying Jack Birkett, the Incredible Orlando, belting out his cabaret numbers in top hat and tails was a joy for me. So was François Testory’s brilliant acrobatic Harlequin, opening the show, showing the canvas banners with the titles of each number, and weaving soprano airs on Baudelaire’s poetry.
Lindsay returned as the narcissistic ‘ballerino’ of ‘Aimez-vous Bach?’, who after tapping one foot delicately on the floor over 90 times did so again with the other foot, but eventually ended up sewing his mouth shut and then cutting his intestines into chunks of flesh and juggling madly with them as the lights faded… having tortured me into playing Bach’s Gavotte from his fifth French Suiteat least seventy times. This was follow by five other surreal flights of baroque nonsense.
Fortunately, on the last two nights Celestino Coronado shot a fragmented video, otherwise no one might ever have believed what happened on the last night, the twenty second of September. Thankfully, his video survives, some parts of it continuously and others tacked on loosely in a random patchwork of images. Its lack of editing is in many ways more apt and fascinating than a smooth edited version.
I will continue here, simply saying that when the planned show finished, to untiring applause, Lindsay -backstage- suddenly shouted to the company, something like “let’s do an encore… quickly! A completely different show! More madness! Improvise together! Get ready!!” This was completely unforeseen. After a few rushed preparations (the public were still applauding), rhythmically a mad slow procession gathered, made up of the entire Lindsay Kemp Company swathed in savage fabrics or nakedness, or masked or body-painted. Slowly flowing to primitive brass music from our ‘Salomé’, the crazed pageant crawled across the stage and down the wooden steps onto the floor, and spread out among the public. Some of us on stilts, others waving fire brands, playing drums and trumpets, moaning, crying, laughing, lost and found.
Then Lindsay began screaming hellishly, repeating an unbearable soprano screech “Jokanaan!!… I will kiss thy mouth!!” in various languages, pulling Jokanaan’s head up by the hair until Salomé slowly bent downa nd cruelly kissed my lips, as I knelt on the ground … again and again, my two-headed Janus faces screaming like gargoyles… the white plaster face cast behind me and the blood stained Gorgon in front. Fortunately, the music turned into fast Brazilian hoodoo percussion, blended with Joji Hirota’s delirious drumming and Neil Caplan’s fire juggling… and the public began standing up and dancing with each other, and then dancing with the performers. Strangers embracing and kissing. Everyone together. Well over a hundred freed people!
Sheer divine uncontrollable trances. Incredible that we weren’t all arrested or wounded. Am I exaggerating? Not as much as that unbridled carnival. It’s there on video, shot on the 22nd of September 1980, in the Sala Escalante, in Valencia. Olè!
RETURN TO DUENDE
What about Duende? The day after the night before, did rehearsals of Duende finally begin in earnest? No. Not due to bruises or hangovers, but because it was time, on the 23rd, to perform ‘Flowers’ in the Teatro Principal… a triumph, as always. After the first few days, time could be found for further development of Duende in mornings and afternoons, before performing ‘Flowers’ in the evenings. Many discussions with Celestino Coronado, Carlos Miranda, Julio Alvarez, John Spradbery and our technical team took place in our apartment.
On 3 October ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ replaced ‘Flowers’ in the Teatro Principal, where it ran for several weeks. Meanwhile the Sala Escalante became an extraordinary multipurpose base for preparing and performing individual or group improvisations by members of the Company, all open to the public, with happenings, mdiscussions or lectures, showing videos of Company productions and films by Celestino, or events and classes with Lindsay or other members of the Company teaching classes. The extraordinary thing was the spirit of all-day Open Theatre: how everything was shared with the public, either watching or participating, drifting in and out of the theatre, with individual members of the Company improvising live shows, night and day… as always over the years, Neil Caplan’s genius inspired his students for life. All these activities were interwoven with intense Duende rehearsals and work on costumes and props… usually until late at night.
I have Company planning sheets from this period, but I suspect that they contained over-ambitious hopes, and must have been reduced significantly in practice! I remember being part of all kinds of activities and performances, but not that many!
What I can remember clearly was a six week marriage between The Lindsay Kemp Company, the people of Valencia (especially its students), and the ghost of Federico Garcia Lorca. Throughout, Lindsay seemed to radiate energy, leading, loving and laughing.
At dawn on the first of November, we boarded a coach to Valencia Airport, then a flight to Barcelona, than another flight to Milan, and another coach to Ravenna (that was supposed to have been our free day!). Here we would carry out our final rehearsals, preparations and previews, now transported from Spain to Italy.
The Birth of Duende
Julio Alvarez had cleverly worked out an excellent countdown plan for his first launch of a full Lindsay Kemp Company show since ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ a year earlier, (although the birthplace for that was in Rome’s Teatro Eliseo, thanks to the backing of the great actor and director Romolo Valli, who died tragically on the first of February 1982). The two-week collaboration with the magnificent and highly efficient Teatro Alighieri in Ravenna was a perfect addition to the six week period in Valencia. It wasn’t easy, but we did squeeze in some time to visit some of the most beautiful churches in Italy.
The first week was dedicated to mounting sets, lighting and rehearsing, and the second to adjustments and previews, which drew large and enthusiastic fans from various Tuscan cities nearby. Early on the seventeenth of November the company excitedly climbed into the coach for Rome, began to mount the show in the afternoon and evening, and was ready to preview the following evening, and to finally celebrate the World Premiere of “Duende – poema fantastico per Federico Garcia Lorca”, on the nineteenth of November 1980 at the Teatro Parioli in Rome.
The public and the critics were enthralled by the mysterious marriage of Lindsay Kemp with the martyred poet of Flamenco, and by the spectacular emotional impact of many of the scenes in the performance. After the worlds of ‘Flowers’, ‘Salomé’ and ‘The Dream’, another totally different world had arrived with ‘Duende’. That was in Italy… but how would it be received in Spain? New Kemp shows always needed time to fine-tune, but would Duende fine-tune enough to be accepted in Spain? In Italy it played in seven cities (Rome, Milan, Prato, Pisa, San Marino, Bologna and Venice), but was simply unable to compete with the irresistible attraction of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, or with the still recurring demand for ‘Flowers’ and ‘Salomé’. A new production only one year after the launch of ‘The Dream’ was perhaps too soon, considering the competition from the rest of the Company’s repertoire… which continued to tour for another six months rotating with other productions.
And when Duende finally opened in Spain, on May 19, 1981, at its long past breeding ground in the Teatro Principal in Valencia, it had various problems with casting, health issues, a patch-like evolution, and the foreseeable criticism from Flamenco purists. But many too were stunned by the radical transformations of Duende’s return to its homeland, and the embrace between Kemp and Lorca… as many reviewers and the public understood.
After that, as far as I remember there were sadly no further performances of ‘Duende’ in either Italy or Spain… (although I hope that there may have been a few more, perhaps in Spain). And yet nobody could deny that this production contained a number of extraordinary scenes at least equal to any other Lindsay Kemp Company creation… but certain weaknesses (especially in the second half) were never fully solved, and repeated attempts to change them night after night only made things worse.
However, among the many who passionately admired the courage and power of this ambitious production, one judgement stands out strikingly: Lorca’s contemporary and friend, the great poet Raphael Alberti, living at the time in exile in Rome, came to see ‘Duende’ at the Teatro Parioli, and then wrote and illustrated a deeply moved poetic tribute to our production, dated Roma December 1980 (therefore written in the 3rd or 4th week of the four-week run). These were the words, written with vivid changing colours and decorations, (see Photo Gallery XYZ):
En el recuerdo, después de
haber visto este Duende
Lorquiano de Lindsay Kemp,
queda como una fanstastica
visión luminosa y terrible,
de la que no se puede huir,
y se desea contemplarlo otra vez.
Aquá estás Federico,
En el humo, en el fuego,
el amor, la desdicha,
en la muerte de España,
en tu muerte,
en tu vida.
Roma dic. 1980
A few days after seeing the show Alberti’s assistant rang to ask me to come to his apartment in Trastevere. There he explainedat length to me about how moved he had been by our show, and gave me the illustrated poem above, rolled in protective cardboard, and asked me to present it to Lindsay. I was struck by his gentle voice and simplicity. I carried this mysterious gift to Lindsay, and we opened it together. Lindsay was speechless. As was everyone in the Company. It had an almost sacred presence, somehow straddling the years on a bridge of emotion, both the poetry and the coloured form used to express it. Lindsay was inspired and determined to respond, and a few days later finished a drawing for Alberti, and asked me to take it to his apartment and thank the poet. There we talked for an hour about Federico and the Fascist regime… and about our production. For me those moments have remained a treasured splinter gleaming in my memories of ‘Duende’.
Structure: a joyous skeleton with occasional flaws
What we need now is to forget poetics and help readers to understand this production, via a bare chronological list of the main scenes in ‘Duende’. Bear in mind that some scenes underwent quite radical changes from one show to another… in search of improvements.
1 – Prelude: In the dark, soundtrack of whispers and menacing sounds of plotting. Shadowy figures in black capes emerge on the balcony and underneath, groups shuffling from place to place. Slow fade to black as the procession begins to be heard.
2 –The Easter Procession: extraordinary music and effects describe the full religious pomp of Semana Santa, approaching unhurriedly, carrying the slowly swaying statue of the Virgin of the Seven Spears, swathed by smoke and incense and perched on her decorated platform. Waves of mass brass processional music swell and fade. The bloodied flagellators cry out in their high cone Capirote hats, or drag heavy crosses on their naked backs, through crowds of sinister penitential confraternities. The procession pauses beneath balconies where suffering Flamenco exclamations are sung, and then move on. A masterpiece. A fifteen minute crescendo and then diminuendo, until the staggering crowds fade away.
3 – The disrobing: soft church music. Two altar boys in bare torsos lovingly tend the statue and slowly remove the Virgin’s crown and robes. In a coup de theatre, the statue of the Virgin Mary turns into Lorca in a white suit and bow tie. The boys leave, and the poet stands motionless.
4 – The Prisoner’s solitude: a large prison-like lamp is lowered from above. Lorca’s eyes betray his fear. He is surrounded by suspicious moans and footsteps nearby. A radio is retuned, and a crackled recording of Queipo de Liano’s violent fascist tirades are heard, proclaiming the new order and the capture of traitors in Granada.
5 – The Poet’s Destiny: a voice is heard, reciting Lorca’s poem “Gacela de la muerte oscura”
Quiero dormir un rato.
Un rato, un minuto, un siglo;
pero que todos sepan que no he muerto;
que hay un establo de oro en mis labios;
que soy el pequeño amigo del viento Oeste;
que soy la sombra immensa de mis lagrimas.
I want to sleep for a while.
A while, a minute, a century;
but everyone must know that I’m not dead;
that there is a stable full of gold in my lips;
that I am the little friend of the West wind;
that I am the immense shadow of my tears.
The voice belongs to an ambiguous figure approaching the poet: white face, shirt and gloves, red rose on his lapel, slicked black hair and all black velvet suit. In his right hand he holds a white dove, in his left a shining dagger. He appears at various key moments, personifying contrasting aspects of Lorca’s identity and fate.
6 – The Lizard: ‘La lagartija’ was the menacing nickname of the commander of Granada’s fascist police, here dressed in black leather, revealing perverted cruelty. He slowly comes and goes with his thugs, laughing sadistically and terrifying the poet.
7 – Lorca remembers his childhood: Lorca kneels on the cell’s floor. His Destiny sooths him, as though searching for refuge in his childhood and introducing his sister. She is carrying an illuminated musical box, and sings a soothing nursery rhyme for him.
8 – El Café de Chinitas: Fade out as Lorca and his destiny leave and Flamenco music fades in: La Petenera is revealed, dancing slowly and singing. The second major scene begins. The entire red gauze proscenium is seen for the first time, with its hanging red lamps, the gallery above and yellow mirrors upstage. All the characters enter, and so does Lorca. All join in a joyous burst oflive instruments, castanets, percussive heels, bright fans and loud exclamations. Lorca dances and flirts with the main figures, one by one.
9 – Changeable transition to history-telling…
10 – ‘La Baracca’: a concept scene intended to describe the history of Spain, sometimes using puppets, sometimes using actors in simple childish costumes… miming the history of the Arabs and Gypsies, and how The Catholic Monarchs who united Spain defeated the Moors, slaughtered and expelled the Jewsand imposed Catholic rule and the inquisition. The style of these scenes also tried to echo Lorca’s Republican touring theatre, ‘La Baracca’. The differing attempts to make the history scenes work well make it difficult to deduct the subsequent transition.
11 –‘El Mascarón’: during ‘the historical section’ Lindsay changed into black tie and tails and white shirt, looking and behaving like some kind of crazed cabaret M.C. He burst through a wooden wardrobe upstage, whose interior was lined with numerous primitive carnival-type masks. Lorca dances a solo dance with a bright red fan, and then the company appears, wearing primitive face masks and chanting to a primitive stamping dance: El Mascaròn. From this point of the show, the poet and his scenes are more abrasive and excessive, mirroring the fragmented historical instability of the early 1930s.
12 – The Poet showman-conjuror: after the masked dance, Lorca opens a painted chest and from it produces the flag of the Spanish Republic (1931-39). He dances to its anthem, expressing its mix of socialism, traditional flamenco, anarchism and avant-garde art… joined by the full cast, with instruments, fire-dances, acrobats…
13 – Poet in New York (1929/30): Buster Keaton brushing the floor with a broom, and riding on a bicycle consisting only of its handlebars, plus other modernistic events. After the Wall Street Crash in 1930, Lorca was shocked by peoples’ desperation and poverty, especially among blacks: encouraging his social awareness, and his depression.
14 – The Death of Ignacio Sanchez (1934): another major scene in ‘Duende’, “at five in the afternoon”, as Lorca wrote in his tragic poem. Here, in an abstract version, Lindsay played the matador’s assistant, and the monstrous stylized bull – after its ‘victory’ – revealed itself to be the fascist ‘La lagartija’, symbolizing the collapse of Lorca’s world, shifting the scene back to the poet’s return to Granada, and his prison nightmare.
15 – Return to Granada: more Civil War radio propaganda and historical news.
16 – The Last Fantasy: Lorca flirts with two handsome boys, who turn out to be fascist thugs… they beat him up brutally, echoing and contrasting the initial disrobing of the Virgin.
17 – The Execution of the Poet: teased and tortured by the Lizard and his thugs, Lorca is bullied into dressing as a woman, dancing to frantic guitar music next to him while trying to evade the bullets shooting at his feet… fade out to End.
18 – The Bows: as always with Kemp’s productions, the bows are a ritual, returning and performing slowly from a magical world.
Describing the creation of a Lindsay Kemp production in always challenging, even for an ever-present whitness and collaborate like me.
I just hope I can in part transmit and nourish what and who lindsay was.
My patchwork presentation of Duende here probably mirrors the patchwork birth and construction of that extraordinary production… unique and difficult as Lindsay’s shows always were during birth.
I thank and send love to all the many indispensable talents who were part of the creative process. Some of us are still here to remember. Many have moved on… and are remembered.
But memories can hope. Can grow or fade. Be heritage or forgetfulness.
I hope that my words can be seen and passed on… as memories to be shared. And not only as words: images too are vital for transmitting Duende… as you can see here in our various Photo Galleries.
My wrestle with Duende (and the embrace between Lindsay and Lorca), has taken time: now I must bring other productions to life… perhaps as more streamlined future memories.
Of Lindsay and for Lindsay.