performing arts

performing arts
   The performing arts are arguably one of the areas in which the contradictions of the censorship practised by the Franco regime are most obvious. On the one hand, carnival was banned as pagan and subversive, and the cultivation of regional cultural forms like the Catalan dance, the sardana, was discouraged, at least in the early years of the dictatorship. The exponents of the Nova Cançó had to struggle hard against official harassment, and popular songs with radical lyrics deriving from the Civil War were suppressed. In general, any cultural manifestation likely to have a mass appeal was scrutinized more severely than those which represented only minority interests. On the other hand, the claim of the Francoist establishment to represent all that was most authentic in Spanish tradition made it logically impossible to disapprove of traditional popular folk music and dance, especially where these could be perceived as untainted by political claims for regional autonomy. In any case, something as vital and deep-rooted as popular culture was not readily amenable to state control, and villages in some regions have even preserved the medieval Danse Macabre into the 1990s. Moreover, many of these traditions were capable of being exploited as tourist attractions, one of the many factors which boosted the already considerable popularity of flamenco.
   The theatre, too, displayed similar paradoxes. In the years immediately after the Civil War, the theatre was dominated by slight, domestic comedies, psychological melodramas and other manifestations of what has aptly been called the "culture of evasion". Authors and producers were obliged to submit for approval not only scripts but also costume designs, and censorship officials attended dress rehearsals and performances to ensure that the text had not been changed. Nevertheless, as early as 1949, Antonio Buero Vallejo produced, in his Historia de una escalera (The Story of a Stairway), a bleak and critical portrayal of life in working-class Madrid. This was the first of a long series of works by Buero, written throughout the dictatorship and on into the 1980s, which uphold values such as freedom, responsibility and compas-sion, diametrically opposed to the ethos of Francoism. His nearcontemporary Alfonso Sastre, even more radical and outspoken than Buero, founded the Arte Nuevo (New Art) theatre group in 1945, and was involved in the movement known as the Theatre of Social Agitation in the early 1950s. Nor was all innovative work in the theatre necessarily the work of opposition groups, for in 1954 the government sponsored the creation of the Teatro Nacional de Cámara y Ensayo (National Chamber Theatre).
   One of the most important influences, however, in the development of the performing arts during the Franco period was the pioneering work of the director José Tamayo. Tamayo revived the tradition of the Autos Sacramentales, morality plays on eucharistic themes dating from the Middle Ages and the early modern period, the greatest exponent of which was the seventeenth-century dramatist Calderón. This archaic and highly stylized genre, which had largely fallen out of favour with theatre-going audiences, was given a new lease of life by being brought back into the public arena to which it had originally belonged, being performed in cathedral squares and monastery cloisters. Tamayo also brought to a wider public many of the classics of the Spanish theatrical tradition, long the preserve of élite audiences in the major cities, by performing them in large open-air venues such as the Roman theatre at Mérida. Tamayo's main achievement, however, was to introduce Spanish audiences to world theatre, especially the work of American dramatists such as Arthur Miller and major European figures like Ionesco. As director of the Teatro Español from 1955 to 1962, he enriched the repertoire of the theatre and contributed to a substantial widening of intellectual horizons.
   A different kind of innovation, destined to remain productive well beyond the end of the Franco regime, was the blending of traditions of mime, dance, parody and political satire in the work of the Catalan group Els Joglars. Founded in 1962, it was consciously anti-Francoist from the beginning, and suffered frequent difficulties over censorship, falling foul of the authorities even in 1977, after the end of the regime, for criticizing the armed forces. Els Joglars initiated a movement which came to full maturity in the closing years of the dictatorship and the period immediately following, when Els Comediants, founded in 1971, and La Fura dels Baus (1979) combined in their performances elements of carnival and other popular festivals, pyrotechnics, music, acrobatic turns and features derived from avantgarde groups in Europe and the US.
   The experience of these groups, particularly Els Joglars, demonstrates the extent to which the seeds of future developments already existed during the period of the Franco regime. There is no doubt, however, that the demise of the dictator in 1975 unlocked the pent-up energies of decades, and led to a surge of innovation and experimentation which lasted at least fifteen years. In addition to the activities of Els Comediants and La Fura dels Baus, a hitherto relatively conventional public was introduced to new blends of traditional and contemporary dance, which were seen as one of the appropriate means of expression for a young democracy seeking to make up for past stagnation and re-forge links with other cultures. Official recognition and support for this development was slow to materialize, but by the late 1980s the reorganization of the national dance companies had provided favourable conditions for both contemporary and traditional dance. Government action had already facilitated in 1985 the foundation of the Instituto Nacional de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música (National Institute for Performing Arts and Music), with four distinct divisions: the Centro Dramático Nacional (The National Drama Centre); the Centre Nacional de Nuevas Tendencias Escénicas (The National Centre for New Theatrical Trends); the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (The National Classical Theatre Company), and the Teatro Nacional Lírico de la Zarzuela (The National Zarzuela Lyric Theatre). Though much of the cultural development of the 1980s and 1990s has involved building on national tradition, while at the same time opening Spain to new currents from abroad, some movements, such as the Movida of the mid-1980s, have been associated with a rejection of the past and the pursuit of open-ended experimentation in both art forms and lifestyle. La Movida was, among other things, a rejection of the commercialization of pop culture by multinationals, one of its manifestations being the proliferation of independent record companies (see also rock and pop).
   An important role in the development of the performing arts has been fulfilled by the governments of the various autonomous communities, which have assumed increasing importance in arts policy and arts funding as the resources provided for the arts by the central government have decreased. Theatres in regional centres have been refurbished and new concert venues have been provided. This has had the dual effect of promoting distinctive regional cultures such as Basque, Catalan and Galician cultures, and has also ensured that the performing arts are no longer the preserve of a middle-class élite in Madrid and Barcelona, but are accessible to a mass public in every area of the peninsula. Perhaps the most symptomatic event in the sphere of the performing arts in the post-Franco period was the allegorical pageant which opened and closed the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992. The games provided the opportunity for an assertion of national pride on an all-Spain basis, but in effect became the locus for a demonstration of Catalan nationalism. The opening ceremony included a performance by La Fura dels Baus, which grafted modern spectacular onto the ancient classical model of the Roman sea-pageant. The closing event was a celebration by Els Comediants of the birth of the universe, in which an ancient myth was re-created with the aid of the most up-to-date pyrotechnic gadgetry.
   Further reading
   - George, D. and London, J. (eds) (1996) An Introduction to Contemporary Catalan Theatre, Sheffield: Anglo-Catalan Society (the only fulllength study of the subject in English).
   - Vilches de Frutos, M.F. (1992) "Tendencias predominantes de la escena española en la decada de los ochenta: Algunas reflexiones", Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporánea/Annals of Contemporary Spanish Literature, 1–3: 207–220.
   —— (1994) "Spain: Artistic Profile; Theatre for Young Audiences; Puppet Theatre; Design; Theatre Space and Architecture; Criticism, Scholarship and Publishing", in D.Rubin (ed.) The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre. Europe, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 790–804.
   - Wingrave, H. (1972) Spanish Dancing, A Handbook on Steps, Style, Castanets and Dancing, Speldhurst: Planned Action (a practical manual).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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