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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

Alborada Spanish Dance Theater, Middlesex County College,

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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