'Beautiful and true': A flamenco tribute to poet Miguel Hernández Gilabert

Dancer Monze Diaz, photo Morgan Smith

“Duende” is a term that flamenco artists use to describe the spirit and earthiness of what they do. It also speaks of death. So did 2020. For Mina Fajardo and Chuscales, a couple who work out of Teatro Paraguas, the loss of performing opportunities in the last year meant that it was a time to explore new ideas.

The result is “Naranja y Limón,” a flamenco tribute to the poetry of Miguel Hernández Gilabert, one of the finest Spanish poets of his generation and the first to use “duende” in that context.

Hernández was a friend and colleague of the more well-known writers Federico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda. Born in Orihuela, Spain, in 1910, he was a poet and playwright who fought in the Spanish Civil War and died in prison in 1942. Choreographer Mina Fajardo wasn’t familiar with Hernández’s work until she began research for “Una Nota de Lorca,” a piece inspired by works of Federico Garcia Lorca, which premiered live at Teatro Paraguas in November 2020.

Hernández was raised in poverty in Spain’s rural Alicante region and worked under sometimes brutal conditions with his family of goatherds. He was basically self-taught in poetry and literature. His work was inspired by nature and the difficulty of life, as much as his time in Madrid, and by the Spanish Civil War, which defined him. Convicted to death for writing anti-Franco poetry, he wrote voluminously in prison, often on sheets of toilet paper. His last words were scribbled on the wall of his cell:

“Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields”

Fajardo choreographs for herself, as well as Sveta Backhaus, Monze Diaz, Micah Birdshire, and Daniel Mouw. The poet’s work will be read by actor Argos MacCallum, with musical direction by the guitarist Chuscales, and theatrical projections. The piece, which was recorded in May, is available in streaming format until next December.

“This was my pandemic project,” Fajardo says. “I felt like the last year was a third world war for me. Hernández died inside prison. I could relate to the emotions of his words. His poems made me cry.”

“Naranja y Limón” (orange and lemon) refers to two of the five poems Fajardo selected for the piece. Another included poem, one of his best known, “Onion Lullaby,” is a response to a letter his wife wrote, telling him that she and their baby son were surviving on onions and bread during the war. Although there is anger at his family’s starvation, he offers his wife — and a beleaguered country — hope. “To me, the poetry is dark and powerful,” Fajardo says. “Beautiful and true.”

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