A ‘Oh, Carmela!’ Flemish – Artezblai

“Ay, Carmela!”, based on the text by the Valencian playwright José Sanchís Sinisterra (who received the MAX Award for Performing Arts in 1999), is the latest proposal by the Extremaduran dancer, choreographer and actress Manuela Sánchez Sánchez (Compañía Artextrema Producciones ), with which its singular repertoire of theatre/flamenco shows continues to grow non-stop -which represent the admirable discovery of its own creations and recreations of distinguished classic texts- staged with casts of artists from the region capable of merging into a valuable scenic ensemble the artistic ingredients of singing, dancing and acting.

«Ay, Carmela!», is a well-known work that in itself is of a beauty and greatness that have made it a classic of contemporary Spanish dramaturgy and that, surely, is the most performed text with thousands of functions of a living Spanish author since it was written in 1986 (according to data from the General Society of Authors). It was successfully premiered in Zaragoza by the Teatro de la Plaza company -in November 1987- under the direction of José Luis Gómez, who also played the role of Paulino alongside Verónica Forqué who began the leading role of Carmela. A show that I was lucky enough to see in March of the following year, opening the Bogotá International Theater Festival.

The work of Sanchís, which also had a film adaptation
-directed by Carlos Saura- and received 13 Goyas, tells the story of a couple of comic artists (from a modest company of “varietés a lo fino”, as they say) who during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) liven up life of the Republican soldiers at the front. But that due to carelessness on a trip they end up in the Francoist zone, where prisoners fall in the middle of the conflict, being forced to represent for their troops a parody against the Republic (as the only way to save their lives). A show that collides squarely with the ideology of comedians. The plot, a combination of humor and tragedy, is built like a great flash/back -which allows the show to continue no matter what- based on the memories of the two characters on a journey from death to life that Carmela makes from the afterlife to appear to Paulino, the narrator of the story, and together evoke that reality of victims in the conflict between the two Spains.

Ay Carmela

Manuela Sánchez’s adaptation is very respectful of the content of Sanchís’s text, although she has reduced the dialogues to the most essential in order to add to the show something that she dominates, flamenco singing and dancing, which highlights a new aesthetic reality. But in his theater/flamenco proposal there is also Carmela -from the popular song that gives the work its title- materialized with her truth, her vitality, her passion and her vindictive courage, now heroically exhibiting that tragic rictus and notorious comic irony in the «climax» of the lyrics of the flamenco styles adapted -to the danceable rhythms of Extremaduran jaleos, garrotines, bamberas, republican tangos and others- of the time, introduced metaphorically in the show to beautifully and satirically illustrate that painful drama that was the Spanish Civil War.

The staging by Pedro L. López Bellot complies with the austerity that Sanchís proposes of the «poor theatre» -by Grotowski- lacking sets and with the minimum use of prop elements (only a gramophone, a suitcase and a small bottle of wine), to emphasize the creativity of the two leading actors, accompanied by a flamenco singer and a flamenco guitarist (reflected in fiction by the gramophone). López Bellot achieves a functional work of harmonious chaining between theater and dance scenes -which reinforce the visual effectiveness of the text- in a convincing atmosphere of tragicomedy with airs of war costumbrism and sonatas of the Spanish comic tradition. In the direction of actors he reaches high levels filling the roles with organicity, in the difficult balance between humor and drama, where there is tear, good caresses to sentimentality, ethical radicalism, tenderness and emotion in the result.

In the interpretation, Manuela Sánchez (Carmela) and Fernando Ramos (Paulino) respond phenomenally -with solvency and dedication- to the enlightened scenic game that López Bellot offers. The first, theatrically, is better than ever in replicas of a Carmela who is funny, brilliant and cheeky, a being without sophistication, without prejudice. In the part of the bailaora numbers, she exhibited her virtues of flamenco art with mastery of all styles, with unusual visual resources in her choreography, where there is ambition and creative breath capable of captivating the public with the presence of a true “star”. ». I must say that in a critical part of the show, Sánchez produced an organic, visceral catharsis, with a beautiful guajira, wearing castanets and a fan, wasting her prodigious energy in a spectacular heel tapping, through which that duende or spirit of Extremadura/Andalusian border flamenco (from Monesterio).

The second, Ramos, demonstrated his excellence as an actor. Perfect in his role as a shitty Paulino, he adapts to any circumstance guided by his survival instinct. In the performance, the actor was able to transmit to the character a mischievous and at the same time pathetic humanism, becoming a crafty master of ceremonies both to recite Federico de Urrutia and to sing and dance the pasodoble “Suspiros de España”, without batting an eyelid.
In the musical section, Chiqui de Quintana shines with cante accompanied by Manolín García on guitar, emotionally transmitting the expressive beauty of the songs with rhythmic and vibrant flamenco rhythms.
The performance, in the theater of the Palacio de Congresos in Villanueva de la Serena, received long and passionate applause from the public.

Joseph Manuel Villafaina

A ‘Oh, Carmela!’ Flemish – Artezblai