Toná emerged in the course of the various trips to Malaga that I made to visit my rather ill father. In his home, where I was raised, there was a reencounter with references, icons, symbols that I had almost completely forgotten. I recalled anecdotes and fears, reconnecting with the folklore of my childhood. I wanted to dance a feeling true to that folklore: death as a celebration of life, the “fiesta”, and a catharsis that is both individual and collective.
I was working on a new project at the time with musician Luz Prado and visual artist Virginia Rota. I suggested to these two women, also from Malaga, that we explore this common poetic patrimony. Luz had worked extensively on the “verdiales”, a folk musical and dance tradition typical of Malaga that predates flamenco and can be traced back to pre-Roman times. The “verdiales” probably originated in Phoenician times and have, to a large extent, resisted successive cultural appropriations and all attempts at domestication. Virginia, for her part, had just opened an exhibition about mourning in Andalusia.
Collective memory and popular imaginaries are vital because they give us shelter from the storm, providing refuge from individualism, inviting us to forge a common shared narrative. As with anything related to the “people”, this cultural memory is undoubtedly problematic at multiple levels. But returning to revitalise said memory by dirtying and renaming it is an act of liberty that the collective can alone administer through performativity in defiance of cultural totalitarianism or any neoliberal attempt to fix or capture meaning. It is also a an act of resistance against the attempt by our system to bury and deny illness, old-age and death, which serves only to make us weak both culturally and spiritually, thereby rendering us as passive docile subjects.
Amongst my father´s book collection, I rediscovered a biography of Trinidad Huertas, “La Cuenca”, an early nineteenth-century dancer from Malaga who gained worldwide fame for a routine in which she performed as a female bullfighter, caught in the midst of the action, that earned her the epithet, “The Brave Woman”.
I have recuperated other references from my childhood such as the figure of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hoisted aloft in the procession by the sea on July 16 every year. As with so many other festivities belonging to the realm of the popular, it exudes a Pagan archaism that pre-dates Catholicism. The Church, however, has always exploited them to construct its own myths. I can still recall when a friend of my father’s took us at night to wait for the virgin to appear amidst the olive trees. I am interested in the experience of the miracle as construed by Pasolini or Ana Mendieta: the metaphysics of the flesh, a wanting manifestation of the spectacular, the unexpected witness.
Miracles are comprised of many things but, first and foremost, the need for them to take place. Their devotional character does not require too elaborate a formal structure. As my friend Rafael S.M. Paniagua says: “the efficiency of popular cultural forms is of another kind. The precision is of another kind. We can elaborate a belief on the basis of an abject image, a stain on the wall, a badly painted Christ. Popular devotion arranges itself around bad images.”
I confess that the process of creation has been a liberation. One can but hope that it will be for the audience as well.