After taking lessons from Manolo Vargas, the principal dancer in Pilar López’s company, Pilar calls me to Madrid and immediately hired me, making me the principal dancer of her company the following year, where I performed a good part of her extensive repertoire. It was she who gave me the stage name Gades. It was an unexpected opportunity and my life changed completely. I was also teaching and choreographing, and that’s how I learned. For nine years I toured the world’s major theaters, first as a member of Pilar’s dance corps and then as the principal dancer.
With Pilar I learned how a professional dancer acts both on and off the stage. I learned the professional ethics of dance first, rather than aesthetics. The first lesson she taught me was humility. One day, at the end of a show, during the applause, I made a gesture as if wanting to share the success with the conductor. And when I left the stage, I hoped Pilar would congratulate me, and what she said to me was, “Don’t you ever blame anyone again”.
We went to Caracas on our first foreign tour. Since they spoke Spanish, I didn’t think it was that foreign at all. It was at the Teatro del Este, considered the most modern in America at the time. And I also remember a trip to Japan by boat, from Marseilles to Yokohama, 34 days to get there, 15 working and 33 to return.
I really hadn’t decided my future yet. I got into bullfighting in 1954. I participated in a bullfight in a traje de luces (suit of lights), but I didn’t kill a bull. I was the understudy. Pilar López advised me to leave it. If I was gored it could all be over and I ran the risk of not being able to dance or be a bullfighter. The choreography and bullfighting are two arts with similar aesthetics, color, rhythm, but with the difference that you risk your life with bullfighting.
In 1957 I danced my first Carmen by Bizet at the Arena di Verona with Pilar López. I danced many pieces from Pilar López’s repertoire, including Pepita Jiménez (homage to La Argentinita), the Preludio Español by Gombáu, a pas de quatre with Pilar López, Paco de Alba and Alberto Lorca, Tres escenas andaluzas, No. 2: Ritmos de Cádiz and No. 3: Guajira Colonial. I also danced a solo, the Danza del Chivato by Pittaluga, my first solo as part of Pilar’s company. The pas de deux with Nana Lorca to “, from the Suite Española by Gombáu, and the No. 8. Aragon, with Pilar López and the entire cast. We danced several Chueca numbers from Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, the No. 1. Barquilleros y aguadoras and the No. 4. La Bronca, both with Nana Lorca and Alicia Díaz and Paco de Alba, and the No. 5. Passacaglia finale, with the entire cast. I also danced the No. 4 from the Baile y cante por caracoles. La Castañera, a pas de quatre with María Dolores, Mari Carmen Martínez and Pilar Parra; the No. 6. Café de la Unión, a pas de tres with Dorita Ruíz and Paco Carmona; and No. 7. Baile y cante por caracoles, with Pilar López and the entire cast. I danced my first Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla in the role of the Ghost, as well as the Fantasía goyesca by Enrique Granados; the No. 1. Majos y duquesas, a pas de quatre with Pilar López, Nana Lorca, and Vicente Romero; the pas de deux Fandango del Candil with Nana Lorca, the No. 5. La Maja y el ruiseñor with Pilar López and Alberto Lorca, the pas de deux No. 8. Jota Aragonese with Pilar López and No. 10. Jota Final with Pilar López and the entire cast. We also danced the Intermedio from La Revoltosa with the entire cast, and the Café de Chinitas, which was danced by Alfonso Vargas and myself. I also danced the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo. The second movement, La Noche, and the third movement, El Día, both with the entire cast. I also danced a pas de deux with Dorita Ruiz called L’Espagnolade with music by Ernesto Halffter, and in Flamencos del Perchel de Soirt, where I danced with Pilar López and Paco Carmona with guitar by Ricardo Modrego. We also did some Preludios e imágenes by Claude Debussy, the No. 1. Serenade Interrompue, where I danced a solo, the No. 3 Tocato, a pas de quatre with two ballet dancers, Nana Lorca and Alicia Diaz, and two flamenco dancers, Salvador de Castro and myself. And the No. 5, Jardins sous La Pluie, with the entire cast. With Pilar I danced my first Bolero by Maurice Ravel with the arrangement by Branca, along with Pilar López, Nana Lórca, Dorita Ruiz, Paco de Alba and Salvador de Castro. We also did the Baile de las siete batas with the entire cast, which included Chuflillas de Cai, Chuflillas del Puerto and Chuflillas de Jerez.
‘Salomón Milán’, together with Gina Lollobrigida Salomón and Queen of Saba (Solomon and Sheba) Drama 120 min. 1959 USA, directed by Vidor. Starring: Yul Brynner, Gina Lollobrigida, George Sanders.
With Pilar I performed my first choreography called “Ensueño”, with music with the same title by Joaquín Turina (Danza Fantástica No. 2, op. 22), a pas de deux that I later danced with Alicia Díaz. I included this piece in the repertoire of my first group after leaving Pilar’s company. The last performance I did with Pilar López’s Ballet was at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1961.
While I was in Madrid I used to visit the school of Antonio Marín and Rafael de la Cruz, a basement in Vara del Rey, in the Rastro. There I saw Emilio de Diego, Güito. Marín was a terrific dancer who was in an accident and lost both legs. But his daughter repeated the father’s instructions. That’s where I staged the Mirabrás.
After nine years with Pilar López, I never hesitated to recognize that she had shaped me as a dancer and as a person, teaching me that what mattered in dance wasn’t being better than others, but better than oneself.
At that time I was eager to learn from other teachers, like the bolero school from Alberto Lorca, the foot-tapping from El Estampío, La Farruca from El Gato and the Jota Aragonese from Pedro Azorín.
In 1961 I believed that a chapter of my artistic life, a learning curve, was finished, so I decided to leave Pilar López’s Ballet Española and strike out on my own, forming my own group and continuing to learn in other places. I moved to Italy and France, where I had the opportunity to continue my training.
The soldier’s story.