Born in Elda, Alicante in 1936, Antonio Gades became one of the most revolutionary Spanish dancers of the twentieth century and one of the most revered figures in the history of the flamenco dance.
He helped shape the structure of the modern flamenco dance as we know it today and he was awarded more honours than any other Spanish dancer to date:
Antonio was born on 14th November 1936; just a few months after the Civil war had begun.
His parents, who both fought in the war, were communists and both were active in the struggle to protect Madrid from the advancing Nationalist troops at the start of the conflict.
Antonio’s mother died in active duty but his father, a bricklayer by trade, survived the war and eventually moved his family to Madrid.
Antonio undertook numerous jobs including messenger boy for the ABC newspaper and a stint in a photographic laboratory, but none of these jobs were entered into with any passion.
He did not have ambitions of becoming a professional dancer and although he would dance in the streets and taverns; he was fifteen before he took his first dance instruction.
His dance was a mixture of modernism and the ancient tradition of flamenco and he performed on the most famous stages of the world, yet Antonio declared that he had received little help or recognition in Spain.
This was the case for numerous Spanish artists, writers and musicians who fled Spain because of the political climate that existed during, and after, the Civil war. For most of these artistes, a return to Spain during this time would have resulted in imprisonment or even death. (A death sentence, signed by five members of the Franco government, was issued on Antonio Gades in 1975)
Antonio’s entry into the Madrid Dance School was to be the start of his long and spectacular career, because it was here that he was noticed by the woman who would change his life forever.
Pilar Lopez christened Antonio with the name of Gades, because he reminded her of the bailarinas gaditanas, and it was with her company that Antonio would first see the world.
In 1964 he represented Spain at the New York Exhibition, where he was declared an idol of flamenco; it was also the year that he married the actress, Marujita Diaz, but their union was to last just twenty months.
By 1971 he had separated from his second wife Pilar San Clemente (mother of his two sons) and two years later he wed wife number three; child actress Marisol.
In 1974 Antonio Gades announced his retirement and after dissolving his ballet company, he fulfilled his ambition to travel around the world on his beloved yacht.
He returned to dancing in 1978, when he was appointed director of the Spanish National Ballet; however, due to his political views he was relieved of this position in 1980.
Antonio became militant in the Communist party of the people of Spain and he remained active in this committee for the duration of his life.
His circle of friends included people as diverse as Fidel Castro and Rudolf Nuréyev and he was also a defender of the revolution in Cuba, a country in which he had strong political and personal commitments – Fidel Castro acted as the best man for Antonio when he married Marisol.
Five-times married; Antonio was extremely good looking as a young man and won the hearts of millions of fans on stage and screen worldwide. His passion for the dance is said to have been equalled by his love of the cinema and it was his dream to be able to indulge in both; although his mastery with the dance was far superior to his ability as an actor.
His screen debut cast him alongside Carmen Amaya in the 1964 film – Los Tarantos; and it was this film that catapulted Antonio Gades to international stardom. During the 1980s Antonio starred in the trilogy of flamenco themed films by the Spanish director, Carlos Saura.
His partner in all three of these films was Christina Hoyo, one of today’s leading Spanish dancers, and they became the new Antonio y Rosario of the flamenco dance scene of the eighties.
Antonio was presented with the Carmen Amaya Award for his adaptation of El Amor Brujo and he also received the National Dance Prize in 1988: This was awarded for his efforts in “building a bridge between the flamenco tradition and the modern airs of Spanish dance”.
In the same year he married Daniela Frey, but this would only last five years: Eugenia Eiriz became the fifth Mrs Gades and she was the woman who would be at his side until he died of cancer in 2004.
Antonio Gades died in Madrid on July 20th 2004; his ashes were interred in the National Pantheon of Heroes of the Revolution, in Havana.
Just weeks before his death, Antonio received the Order of José Marti, which was presented by his old friend Fidel Castro.
The Cuban Council of State awarded Antonio Gades with this honour because of his “Refreshing art, his recognised exceptional talent as a dancer and choreographer, his love for those who struggle, and his proven friendship and loyalty to the revolution”.
- Flamenco; an Englishman’s passion (Sol y Sombra Books ISBN: 978-0-9563132-5-6)
- A Time-defying Heritage ( ediciones flamenco sapiens, museo del baile flamenco ISBN- 13:978-84-9727-429-6)