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Paco Peña on His New Work Patrias, the Creative Process and Brexit

11/07/2016 14:18 | Updated 11 July 2016

Paco Peña (born 1 June 1942) is regarded as one of the world's foremost traditional flamenco players. I interviewed him about his forthcoming production PATRIAS at Sadler's Wells which was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival and will start at Sadler's Wells on July 2th. Patrias is a Spanish word meaning 'homelands'.

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CE: Can you tell me about the research you did for Patrias, or is it more that the knowledge of Lorca and his background and works have always been part of your life?

PP: Lorca is a great influence on anyone connected with flamenco and Andalusia. The sensitivity of that artist is great and my contact with him has been inspirational. I have total admiration of the depth of his depiction of my culture. So he has influenced me throughout my life I am and always have been, and fascinated by the way his abstract constructions go so deeply to the core of sensitive issues that make the people we are.

PP: I was asked to prepare something along the lines of the century anniversary of the First World War. I always felt Lorca, and am of course very sensitive to the war, so the two elements were [already] known to me, but not in the depth that is required. So I did a lot of research on the times.

CE: How long did this take ?

PP: (Laughs). When Jonathan Mills asked me, perhaps 6 or 8 months prior, obviously I started thinking. As a sensitive musician he was involved in the spirit of Lorca and didn't want to say anything specific at all. He didn't tell me what to do, simply that the war was a presence in his festival. He asked what I could do. I talked about Lorca and we discussed it a little.

CE: Was the creative process different to normal?

PP: Yes it was. As you can imagine there is quite a lot of intellectual content. I have been with my company for years. I know what aspects of the dance I can explore or what fascinates me or what inspires me. In this case there was much more poetry and rigour. Really the universality of war [in general] that was epitomised by [Lorca's treatment of] this tragic war. There are records, books of course and fundamentally there are many poems and many Spanish writers have commented on the Spanish Civil War and Lorca's treatment of it. I went to them,, and got inspiration from the Spanish poets. I looked much more than I had done before. I needed it to inform more than the music, choreography and dance in itself. The three are exciting, but this was a step further.

CE: Can you explain how it evolved? Did it grow in your head after that?

PP: Yes, it did [grow], I cannot deny that. I very soon looked at the possibility of projecting the tragic image of Lorca dying and of the beauty of his poetry. I [wanted to] to really look at his music. Many [of his documented] songs would have been traditional songs before. They were actually rescued from being lost by Lorca's new words. There is also an archive that includes recordings of Lorca doing those songs with a famous singer. They are beautiful, sensitive and a lovely presentation of Lorca's intentions. I put them in the show, obviously. Then I continued to develop the pieces. It grows that way. Some pieces promise content and you just have to immerse yourself. What you find in them sometimes leads to abstract or other wonderful development of your [own] ideas. It's hard work but it is fascinating work.

Also poets like Pablo Neruda from Chile had so much to say. Neruda suffered so strongly the horrible injustice of the murder of Lorca. His poetry on that is kind of bleeding. He uses wonderful words, evocative of Spanish life. I knew Neruda of course, but in detail his books, and poems make me cry. To discover such sensitivity of feeling from someone who is not Spanish but feels Spain so deeply. Neruda says it a million times biter than me. All that discovery helped with [my work which had] Lorca as the central proposition.

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CE: How do you manage the duality expressed by Lorca?

PP: Oh gosh. I have wonderful friends who are clever and sensitive and well disposed. The duality particularly of the philosophies that helped the war to happen. Ian Gibson is a wonderful man and I've known him for many years. I asked him if he might comment. He knows so much about Lorca, Spain and the war. It's wonderful to get someone like that to point me to interesting reading.

Tono (Juan Antonio) Masoliver used to be a teacher in London. He now lives in Barcelona. He is a great writer and poet and Tono alerted me to something I knew anyway, although it wasn't in the forefront of my mind when I was making the piece. Spain was divided, there were war than one Spain. Patria (meaning homeland) was so associated with the Franco era and the cry of the nationalists, he pointed out that I ran the danger of having it interpreted as a banner. That opened possibilities to me. Tono talked about the 2 Spains, and how there are writers prior to the Franco era who describe it as more than one place in terms of philosophies. Clearly I couldn't use the world Patria so used it in the plural. That made it clear that I was talking not about Franco but about my people, the Spanish people. From that awareness grows a subtle alertness of looking for the same characteristics in anything else that I was reading, whether music history or other fact.

CE: Even your website says 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. Given this what do you have to say about the referendum?

PP: Well what a pity, what has happened is a big tragedy. Obviously I don't agree with the Leave campaign. This is universal. I reject this idea of immigrants being a toxic thing. I cannot believe that people who have nothing offer their work is a bad thing anywhere. I don't hold a British passport, I'm Spanish but still it's a really bad tragedy. I think many years of tolerance and the way young people are - they are European - all that has been thrown away. I really am in pain for what has come.
This is not to do with the question of war. In terms of war I don't mind saying that wonderful number of English came to Spain because they wanted to defend democracy and the democratic government that was threatened and attacked. I praise and thank the people who have lost their lives because they were fighting for democracy.

CE: Do you have a jondo for England? Or an Alegrias?

I hope this does justice to your question but in my experience I think that people there [in the UK] respond to integrity and depth of thought and feeling, not necessarily to happy depictions or situations. It is not about jondo or alegrias. People are made happy by observing quality and commitment.

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