It is always sad to hear of the death of great dance artists, but to lose Gades at a relatively early age, when he still had so much to give his friends, family, associates and audiences seems particularly hard.
I first experienced his work through the film "Blood Wedding", created with the film director Carlos Saura. "Blood Wedding" shows the arrival of the dancers, a class and then a rehearsal in a spare, beautiful room with huge windows. It is one of the finest dance films ever made for its purity, the quality of the dancing and the emotional punch generated by the combination of this majestic dance form with Lorca's poetry. The later collaboration by the same team, "Carmen", also had much power, even if the multi-layered plot complexities were in sharp contrast to the austere "Blood Wedding". With works such as these, Gades left no doubt that this folk dance form could be used to create high art of outstanding quality.
Gades was a traditionalist with respect to dance and I heard him speak against the trend to show-biz Flamenco, stripped to the waist and with egos to the fore. However, he was not an archivist and he developed the use of Flamenco for full-evening narrative productions and created several works which will live on for many decades. I had the privilige of seeing him perform Jose in his "Carmen", when his company brought the work to London for the first time, around 8 years ago. He was a little slower around the turns than we had seen in the films from a decade or so before, but his characterisation of this doomed figure was superb and when there was a second visit a few years later, a new Jose brought more polished footwork, but far less intensity.
The Ballet Nacional de España came to Sadler's Wells last year with "Fuenteovejuna" by Gades and here we saw a different style with many Spanish dance forms in an ensemble work about solidarity and a people's struggle against authoritarianism. This was a theme close to his heart, as his opposition to the fascist Franco dictatorship meant that he spent much of his career outside of Spain. I had the pleasure of interviewing the Director of the company Elvira Andrés]
, who clearly revered Gades and had worked with him on several productions. I will let her have the final word about Gades: "All my life I have tried to learn as much as I can from Gades. Unfortunately I am not him!"