In the sixties I began an artistic journey that was going to result in the forging of my own choreographic style.”
After leaving Pilar López’s company in 1961, Gades goes to Rome to collaborate on a choreography of the Bolero composed by Ravel, working with Anton Dolin, the British dancer of Irish origin who choreographed the premiere of the Bolero at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London in in 1932. Gades had benefited from a classical training from Pilar López and contributes his experience as a Spanish dancer to Dolin. Dolin comes up with the steps and Antonio gives them character.
This experience led to his participation in the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto after an invitation by Gian Carlo Menotti, who stages Bizet’s opera Carmen. The year is 1962 and Gades takes over the choreography of the dancers. Conductor Thomas Schippers often cites this as his first work as a choreographer.
He performs two other choreographies that same year with Carla Fracci and Miskovitch, the Pavane pour une infante défunte and El retablo de don Cristóbal, inspired by García Lorca’s play. And he choreographed Carmen again for the Arena di Verona, with Ettore Bastianini (Camillo), Giulietta Simonatto (Carmen) and Franco Corelli (Don José). The batuta again, a new version by Schippers.
The work continues to pour in and he will dance the role of the Ghost in El Amor Brujo which will premiere at La Scala in Milan, dancing opposite Elettra Morini, with whom Gades will have a true lifelong friendship. Gades: “I debuted at La Scala in Milan on December 20, 1962 as the principal dancer and dance instructor. I went on several TV shows in Italy and shot a movie with Vittorio Gassman. My run at La Scala lasted nine months. In the opinion of the Italian press, they were nine successful months, interrupted by the unclear movements of some members deep in the dance corps”.
Antonio moved to Paris after his year in Italy. He doesn’t perform or choreograph, focusing simply on taking classes from Madame Nora and Madame Tikhonova. “I began to carefully study contemporary painting. I spent time with friends who were great experts and found Madame Atlan, Sonia Delaunay, Polakoff, Hartung”. Jacques Damasa came up with a ballet for Spoleto around that time. He would have loved to use the painting by these different artists in his piece, but he has an emotional crisis and the project fails.
Back in Spain, Antonio performs as an actor in the auto sacramental El Hospital de los Locos by José Valdivieso. And then a golden opportunity arises. Rovira Beleta asks him to play the leading role in La historia de los tarantos, with libretto by Alfredo Mañas. However, it seems that, due to contractual issues in his professional relationship with Pilar López, the movie contract was for the secondary role of Mercutio. According to Antonio, “in Los Tarantos I was lucky to work with Carmen Amaya. The Farruca on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas to the beat of the hoses watering the night was unforgettable”.
In the early seventies he met and started learning together with Vicente Escudero, another non-Andalusian payo (non-gypsy), a first-rate dancer and bigger than life, a Valladolid-born giant that opened paths of expression by updating the intimate sense of flamenco dance, of folklore and of Spanish dance in general. “Following his example, I gave shape to my professional philosophy, which could be summed up with the core idea: discipline and freedom. And I learned that we are all necessary in life, but no one is indispensable. Vicente Escudero was a very dignified man and stayed that way until his death, a sort of gentleman. I loved his arrogance for life, his exemplary attitude”.
He then began to make his own dream come true, to create his own group, his own ballet, his company. He spoke of it often with Emilio de Diego. “In Spain, flamenco was sold in a way that I didn’t like because it meant prostituting the culture of the people. It was necessary to eliminate all the crass glitz and glitter, the sequins, the bravura, to try to bring the essence of the dance to light”. In the search for this new approach to choreography, the knowledge and attention that Gades gives to different contemporary artistic movements like abstract art (Mondrian) and surrealism, in both painting and literature, certainly has an impact. Antonio begins to understand that the ideal means of expression for his style was flamenco, but in its purest sense, not the flamenco danced for tourists.
He returned to Madrid in 1962 to start his own company. The members are three dancers, Félix Ordóñez, José de la Peña, and Curra Jiménez, a guitarist, Emilio de Diego, and a singer, Calderas de Salamanca. After the success of the movie with Carmen Amaya, Antonio is offered his first important contract, at the Los Tarantos tablao in Barcelona. He was wildly successful, the lines stretching all the way to Las Ramblas. After this triumph, which would prove definitive for the his career, comes the recognition of Spanish artists and intellectuals, including Joan Miró, Antonio Tapies, and Joan Brossa, and he finally gets a contract in Madrid.
But the best is yet to come: he is offered an opportunity to participate in the New York World’s Expo, earning $1,000 a day. Antonio packs his bags for three months and stays six. That year, and after a short one-month courtship, he marries Marujita Diaz at the San Antonio de la Florida chapel, with best man Luis Escobar and maid of honor Lucía Bose. The marriage only lasted 20 months, although the couple didn’t divorce until 1982. He continues to work in New York for the first few months of his marriage, where he is awarded the gold Medal of Merit in Tourism on November 19 by the then Minister Fraga Iribarne. And he begins his first tours with his ballet. The run at the theater at the Spanish Pavilion in New York opens the doors of London’s Covent Garden and Antonio goes on his first American tour, performing on several stages in Argentina and Chile with group members Curra Jiménez, María Antonia, Josefa Arcos, Félix Ordóñez, José de la Peña, José Salazar, Tomás de Huelva, Emilio de Diego, Juan Maya Marote and Paco de Antequera. Following the acclaim he garners wherever he performs, he returns to Madrid, performing first at the Florida Park nightclub. It is 1965, the year he learns to sail in Patagonia, a hobby which he finds “…more of a passion than a pleasure”.
After touring the Americas, he wants to throw his efforts into an ambitious, transgressive and avant-garde project. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a dancer. His revolutionary and disciplined spirit leads him to take on Don Juan. The project —with libretto by Mañas, music by García Abril, choreography by Antonio and José Granero and stage design by Viola— looks promising.