Comediants, Els

Comediants, Els
   Formed in 1971, Els Comediants is the group which has done most to incorporate into performance theatre aspects of popular festivals such as carnival. Carnival was banned in Franco's Spain, and its recovery and the development of local festivals are part of the dynamic revival of popular culture which took place in Catalonia and in other parts of Spain after the death of Franco. Els Comediants are indebted both to Catalan popular tradition and to European and American avantgarde performance groups. For example, the Bread and Puppet Theatre spent time with them at their home base in Canet de Mar in 1977 and then, during the following year, performed several street shows in Barcelona.
   One of Els Comediants" best-known shows is Dimonis (Devils) (1982), which has been performed in several countries. The show takes the form of a journey, derived from the Catholic via crucis, but using carnival techniques of inversion of values, satire and an emphasis on the macabre. It is also related to one of the oldest festivals in Europe—the Patum de Berga. A patum is a figure representing a fabulous animal which is paraded through the streets during popular festivals, particularly in the small town of Berga, located about 100 km to the north of Barcelona. Dimonis is played in the open air, preferably in the street. Spectators are led through a town by the devils, who jostle them amidst fire and music. The experience for the spectator who has not previously encountered this sort of theatre is memorable if hazardous, as the sparks from the fireworks often land on the crowd. Indeed, the fire regulations of some localities has made it impossible for a performance of Dimonis to take place.
   Like other Catalan performance groups, Els Comediants have been involved in activities which complement their theatrical work. In 1983, the LP of their 1979 show Sol, solet (Sun, Little Sun) was released. It included the soundtrack of the show, made up of popular songs. Material from the show was also included in a book-object with metal covers, fold-out pages and illustrations. The book won several international prizes. Els Comediants have made a film with Carles Mira entitled Karnaval (1985), which was shot in the Municipal Theatre of Girona. However, the company's most public work came in the 1992 Olympic Games. Els Comediants organized the closing ceremony in which the birth of life was visualized through fire and the formation of the solar system. It was a pyrotechni-cal tour de force which made planets, stars, the sun and the moon appear in a magnificent dance of the universe. This large-scale spectacle in which 850 people participated is probably the best example of Els Comediants" ability to organize macro-events where elaborate visual effects and technical perfection come together.
   Further reading
   - Saumell, M. (1996) " Performance Groups in Catalonia", in D.George and J.London (eds) An Introduction to Contemporary Catalan Theatre, Sheffield: Anglo-Catalan Society (the only full-length study of the phenomenon in English).
   DAVID GEORGE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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