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This story by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
March 25, 1998. All rights reserved.
A Fiery Past, A Fusion Dancer
Spanish dancer Eva Lucena recognized her life’s path
early, warmed by the fires of her colorful family history. Born in
Wales, her mother’s family were Morgans — not placid Welsh Morgans,
but fighting Morgans from the country’s southern border and direct
descendants of Black Patch Morgan the Pirate. Then there was Lucena’s
father, a visitor from southern Spain who would soon return there.
He traced his roots to Spanish nobility as a descendant of the "Cienfuegos"
or family of "One Hundred Fires."
Lucena learned about her Spanish father’s arts as a child, when she
traveled with him to his homeland near the caves of Sacromonte. There
she was introduced to the gypsy arts of flamenco — the nomadic
people’s unique art form, a cultural fusion that embodies elements
of the Christian, Arab, and Jewish worlds. Lucena lived in Spain in
her teen years, and by the time she was 16 a gypsy fortune teller
foretold her future as a dancer.
Lucena, who has performed during the past year to capacity audiences
at Raritan Community College, and for the Middlesex County Cultural
and Heritage Commission, brings her Alborada Spanish Dance Theater
to Middlesex County College on Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m. In a
program, titled "Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca," which she
described as its most ambitious to date, the company of 17 is featured
in a theatrical celebration of Spain’s most beloved poet.
Alborada is an international ensemble based in South Plainfield and
led by Lucena. "Alborada" means "coming of the dawn,"
and the company name reflects its artistic legacy as a second incarnation
of one founded in the mid-1960s by the eminent Spanish dancer Maria
Alba. Victorio Korjhan, the late Alba’s partner, is one of the company’s
choreographers and lead dancers.
Alborada’s concert commemorates the centennial of the
birth of Lorca in a series of dances based on scenes from his life.
These include his poetic tribute to the Spanish gypsies in "Sacromonte
Cave," his life in Madrid featuring classical dances, his visit
to Harlem in the 1930s, and a mourning scene of Lorca’s death, performed
to his poem, "El Romance de la Pena Negra" or "The Romance
of Black Despair."
Lucena, who travels back to visit Spain, England, and Wales every
year, is brimming with pride in her colorful family history. "My
mother, grandfather, and uncle (who recently died at 95) were great
storytellers," she says. She’s a redhead and the rebel of the
family. "I had to have come from my father’s aunt, a flaming redhead
and a rebel who would have loved to dance if it had been allowed in
her day," she says.
"As a child, I started dancing at age six and played the violin.
I learned every type of ethnic dance — Hungarian, Russian, Latin,
and Morris dancing — it seems that I was always on the stage."
Her two brothers, who went on to careers in science and in the military,
never approved of her. And neither did her mother. When Lucena landed
a role on television as a teen dancing the part of a ’20s flapper,
her mother turned off the set "because she said I was wiggling
my bottom too much."
After Lucena became immersed in Spanish dance, she trained in Grenada
and in London. She came to the United States by chance in the early
1970s when she fell ill during a trip to South America, but then romance
and marriage kept her here. Her greatest dance mentor has been Maria
Alba, who died in 1994. She has studied classical Spanish dance, known
as the Escuela Bolera, with Mariano Parra, an esteemed teacher living
in New York who is now an artistic consultant to company. Spain is
also home to a huge spectrum of regional folk dances, many of which
also reflect the region’s Arab and African influences.
Federico Garcia Lorca — Spain’s most heroic and tragic artist
— has always loomed large in Lucena’s life. "This has been
with me since I was a child, but you don’t understand it until you’re
older," she says.
She first encountered Lorca’s poetry and plays when she was a teenager.
She now includes a dance accompanied by one of his poems in every
concert program. "The words grab me so deeply that I get very
emotional about them — I can’t explain," she says. "Some
poetry is obscure, but with Lorca you understand his passion, his
nuances, you just have to put yourself in the poem and you feel the
poem — it becomes part of you."
Poet and playwright Lorca, born in Andalusia in 1898, is recognized
as one of the greatest poets Spain has produced in this century and
its greatest dramatist since the Golden Age. "He writes about
the dark despair of people’s lives, the volatile nature of the gypsies,
the oppression of the peasants," says Lucena. His murder by Francisco
Franco’s fascist forces in 1936 raised him to almost mythic status
in the nation that reveres its poets.
"He was murdered right in Sacromonte, where the gypsies live in
Granada," says Lucena. "He was shot at dawn without a trial.
He was homosexual and his body was horribly mutilated. He was writing
against the nationalist regime. He wrote a poem about the Civil Guard,
how they were looting, raping, and setting fire to the peasant towns.
He was so widely known, and because he wrote plays, poetry, and he
composed music, his words were being sung all around Spain."
The Spanish Civil War, already receding into the morrass of 20th century
wars, pitted the conservative landowners led by Franco, against a
Loyalist coalition of liberals, anarchists, socialists, and Communists.
Raging until 1939, its huge death toll, human suffering, and material
devastation were unparalleled in Spanish history. Under Franco’s subsequent
dictatorship, reprisals continued for years, until his death in 1975.
"My uncle had a sugar factory that he was allowed to keep after
the war, but eventually the government came in and took everything
away from him — because he was from the south and he had hidden
people during the war," says Lucena.
When Lucena sets a dance to a Lorca poem, it is recited in Spanish
by an actor, with a printed translation in the concert program. "In
the dances we do, the dancers pick up the passion and the drama of
the narrator’s voice. It’s so powerful. You can’t just read this poem,
you have to act it," she says. Some dramatic dances open with
the gypsy singer’s profound lament, or canto jondo, and are
accompanied by two guitars, and the castanets and rhythmic footwork
of the dancers.
Performing Spanish dance for American audiences is a challenge that
Lucena enjoys. "We try to draw the audience in by telling them
the history of the dance, translating the texts, and showing them
what to look for. Even our Spanish speaking audiences don’t always
know these things."
"We try to make them feel a part of it," she says. "And
when they join in, clapping, we feel it, they’re anticipating what’s
going to happen next — then they’re on the journey with us."
— Nicole Plett
Performing Arts Center, 2600 Woodbridge Road, Edison, 908-756-1834.
"Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca." $18 adults; $13 seniors;
$10 students. Saturday, March 28, 8 p.m.
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