Antonio Gades retires from the stage, his final performance of Fuenteovejuna at the Lope de Vega in Madrid. He danced the leading role, a young boy who had to go to the river to get a girl who was doing the washing. “I would kneel, play with her, get up. One day I heart an awful noise in my knees. And when I stood up I said: I’m old enough to buy you a washing machine and put you up in an apartment, but not to come to the river. And I don’t dance anymore”. On the company’s last tours, Antonio’s role in Carmen, Don José, and Fuenteovejuna, Frondoso, would be successfully danced by José Manuel Huertas.
The Spanish National Ballet, under the direction of Aída Gómez, proposes staging Fuenteovejuna in 2001. Antonio is involved in the project with now director Elvira Andrés, his dance instructor for Fuenteovejuna and a member of his company since the 1980s. During the production he meets his third wife, Eugenia Eiriz, with whom he will live out his remaining years and who was stayed his side as he bravely fought against the cancer that would eventually take his life.
During the months that the Spanish people were protesting the Iraq War, Antonio said: “I will always be against oppression, against the lack of freedoms, against all that is injustice. We have no choice but to dream, dream, and keep dreaming, with the hope that this better world must become a reality, and will if we fight for it. Man can never give up on utopias. Fighting for a utopia is, in part, to build one. There is nothing sadder than a child begging for handouts or a people without dignity. The struggle for peace is the most important cause that one can devote themselves to, because it’s for the common good. Why this war? Why do we let them humiliate us? Why do we put up with the slaughter, the smoke, the blood, the wind, the sand? And we shout, if our dear presidents allow us, how does the blood look from afar, how does the blood smells from afar, how does the burned flesh smell from afar, how do you not visit the villages and stop seeing us from afar?” It is well known that Gades had been thinking about Don Quixote for years. However, after making Fuenteovejuna, he was afraid that Don Quixote would be too much like his last production. “When people ask me when I’ll do another show, me who has a reputation for being slow –and I am– I reply that there’s no hurry, because I have the entire past ahead of me. I’ve been a man of the theater who uses dance as a form of expression. I never told you I was coming, nor that I was going”. In response to several proposals about this ballet, he said “it would seem immoral to put El Quijote in theaters just to make money”. For Gades, giving birth to a ballet was always incredibly painful, fruit of years of retraining, study and preparation, a passion that drove him to manage even the smallest details.
He crossed the Atlantic for the second time in 2003, in his LUAR 040 sailboat. After his return he began to mull over a project he had proposed to Gonzalo Suárez: take Fuenteovejuna to the big screen. He begins to outline his ideas with the collaboration of Faustino Núñez. But the disease follows its course. “In case my experience can help someone, after having all these operations and experiencing what I have, I realize how absurd it is to remain committed to chasing applause when it is not your time. I’m never going to step into better theaters, and I see people who still are still trying to be the same dancers they were when they were 20 years old, and I realize that they are wasting their lives. They’re wasting their lives, because that ambition is a disease. Well, why are you doing this to yourself? Why do you have to write a novel every month? I don’t play with anything anymore. Not even with women. Nor with friendship. Nor political ideas. Actually, there are few things that can upset me. It is the awareness that you have sailed and marked your life and that this is your life. Yes, I’ve made it to Ithaca”.
Antonio Esteve Ródenas, known by his stage name Antonio Gades, passed away on July 20, 2004, surrounded by his family. He went as he always wanted to, without a fuss, but taking the reins of his farewell just like he did with his life. His spirit and his work will live forever.
Members of the Ballet Santiago pay homage to the dancer Antonio Gades at the place of honor where his ashes were deposited in the Segundo Frente Oriental Frank País mausoleum. Photo: Miguel Rubiera Justiz/AIN
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Gades reiterated his identification with Fidel Castro and named his daughters Tamara and Celia, “for his love of Celia Sanchez and Tamara Bunke”. He also paid homage to Cuba with the unforgettable Celia, heroine of the Sierra Maestra, to whom he dedicated his ballet Fuenteovejuna, which he always staged on the island free of charge. It is not by chance that his last wish, from his deathbed and on a piece of paper with the hospital letterhead, was to send his ashes to his friend Raúl Castro:
“Madrid, July 14, 2004
Dear Compadre Raul:
I want to tell you that my wife Eugenia and my daughters María, Tamara and Celia, according to my last wish, will give you my ashes. Do with them what you think best.
I never thought I would have the honor of becoming your Compadre, but you have been a part of me from the moment I met you, for your conviction, your example as a true communist and your loyalty to our commander.
I want you to know that the only thing I’m sorry for is not having done more for the revolution.
Long live our Commander, long live Raul, long live our Communist Party of Cuba.
Hugs for Colomé, for the whole family, particularly a very big one for Vilma and for you. Always at your service”.
Part of your soul dies when you lose a friend. But his remains rest eternally in the land he loved. See more.