1942 newspaper advertisement
Carmen Amaya Amaya
2 November 1913 or 1918
|Died||19 November 1963 (aged 45 or 50)|
|Occupation||Flamenco dancer, singer, actress|
She has been called "the greatest Spanish Romani dancer of her generation" and "the most extraordinary personality of all time in flamenco dance." She was the first female flamenco dancer to master footwork previously reserved for the best male dancers, due to its speed and intensity. She sometimes danced in high-waisted trousers as a symbol of her strong character.
She was born to a Romani family, to José Amaya Amaya "El Chino," a guitar player, and Micaela Amaya Moreno. Carmen was the second of eleven children, although only six (three sisters and two brothers) survived to adulthood.
Amaya started in the flamenco world accompanied by her father, a poor guitarist who made a living by playing in pubs day and night. When Carmen was only 4 years old, she started going out with her father at night. He accompanied her on the guitar while she performed. Afterwards, they begged and picked the small change that the public would throw on the floor. Soon earned her first nickname, "La Capitana."
At the same time, she started to appear in some lesser known theatres but thanks to Josep Santpere, a bright variety shows businessman, who was the first one who showed interest in Carmen and introduced her to a more prestigious category, she made her debut at the Spanish Theatre in Barcelona at the age of six. Soon after, she was performing at the Palace Theatre in Paris.
Inconveniently, because of her age, she wasn't eligible to work legally, and therefore it is likely that the artist's date of birth is not entirely accurate, according to recent findings. One investigation suggests 1918 as her birth year, because documents exist which show a twelve-year-old girl with that name living in Barcelona in 1930. Her ethnicity could also be a factor in her birth date's ambiguity, according to Montse Madridejos, professor of Music History at the University of Barcelona and a flamenco history researcher, who has a special interest in Carmen Amaya: "At this time, a gypsy was neither baptized, nor registered".
The first time her name appeared in print was during the International Fair of Barcelona in 1929 thanks to Sebastià Gasch, an art critic who saw her and wrote an article in the weekly newspaper Mirador. Sebastian Gash wrote:
Suddenly a jump! And the gypsy girl danced. Indescribable. Soul. Pure Soul. Feeling made flesh. The floorboards vibrated with unprecedented brutality and incredible precision. La Capitana was a gross product of Nature. Like all gypsies, She must have been born dancing. It was before school, before the academy. All that she knows, She must have known from birth. Promptly, the viewer feels subjugated, upset, dominated by the face of La Capitana, by her fierce hip movements, by the bravery of her pirouettes and the force of her broken turns, whose animal ardor ran parallel with the astonishing accuracy with which she executed them. The raging battery of her heels and the unsteady play of her arms now aroused, excited, then collapsing, surrendered, abandoned, dead, gently moved by the shoulders, are still recorded in our memories like indelible plaques. what caused us to look at her dance was her nerve, which twisted her in dramatic contortions, her blood, her violence, her wild impetuosity as a caste dancer.
At this point Vicente Escudero, an important businessman, saw her dancing and promised that Carmen would create a flamenco revolution because of her perfect synthesis of two important styles: the style of the old dancer, and the quivering style of the dancer in their varieties.
In 1930, she was part of the Manuel Vallejo company, performing all over Spain. On her return to Barcelona she danced at the Teatro Español, recommended by José Cepero.
In 1929, she appeared in the tablao Villa Rosa poster in Madrid and in 1930, she performed in the International Exhibition.
That year she worked in the Zarzuela Theatre, also known as the Coliseum, in Madrid with Conchita Piquer, Miguel de Molina, and other famous artists, and at the Fontalba Theatre. That was the authentic success of Carmen nationwide. She played a small roll in La hija de Juan Simón and Maria de la O, and she also worked for a musical magazine in Barcelona. From her first performance" in 1935 to her last performance in "Los Tarantos" her dancing showcases the value of the purest form of the flamenco. Her films are momentous in the sense that there have been very few cases in which films have been created around one figure and there is where all the dancers who define their dance as being "of temperament" can find a model. Very seldom in the history of New York have dance and flamenco reached such success as they reached under Carmen Amaya's influence.
Juan Carceller hired her for a tour. She traveled to several capitals, including San Sebastián. In 1935, Luisita Esteo presented her in Madrid, in a show at the Coliseum. On The 18th of July in 1936, when the coup in Spain took place, Carmen and her team were in the Zorrilla Theatre in Valladolid, working for Carcellé's company. At that time, they were financially secure and she had bought her first car. They were due to go to Lisbon to sign the lease, but the car was requisitioned and they could not travel to Portugal until November.
In 1952 she married guitarist Juan Antonio Agüero, a member of her troupe. A man belonging to a distinguished family from Santander, who was not a gypsy. They lived an authentic love story and celebrated an intimate wedding. In 1959, Carmen experienced one of the most exciting moments of her life, when the inauguration ceremony of the fountain whose name was put on was held. The fountain was placed on the Paseo Marítimo de Barcelona, which crosses the neighborhood of Somorrostro, the same places where she had walked by many years before, barefoot and dragging her misery as a child.
In 1988 the Tablao de Carmen was founded in the Poble Espanyol as an homage to Carmen Amaya in the very place where she danced for the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, during the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition inauguration. Tablao de Carmen displays some of the photo legacy of Carmen Amaya. The guitar of her husband Juan Antonio Agüero (by Santos Hernández 1930) is a part of the patrimony of the founder family of Tablao de Carmen and it is played in Tablao on special occasions.
In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War had just begun, Carmen Amaya and her troupe were on tour in Valladolid with Luisita Esteso's show. They crossed the border from Spain to Portugal and, after a short time arrived in Lisbon, they sailed for Buenos Aires on the ship Monte Pascoal, which took fifteen days to cross the Atlantic and put in at Brazil and Uruguay. She debuted in Buenos Aires, accompanied by Ramón Montoya and Sabicas at the Maravillas Theatre.
During this stage of her life, she added to her artistic group several members of her family. She made films in Buenos Aires with Miguel de Molina and won the admiration of musicians Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski, who publicly praised her.
The success of Carmen Amaya and her family exceeded all expectations. They planned to stay for only four weeks and, finally, they stayed there for nine months, since every time Carmen performed the theatre was filled and tickets were even sold two months in advance. A good example of the enormous popularity that the artist achieved in this South American country is the construction of the theatre that bears her name: el Teatro Amaya.
In addition, it seems that during most of those years in America the bailaora maintained a personal relationship with Sabicas, who declared shortly before his death that he and Carmen had been dating for nine years, and that they had split up in Mexico.
In The US , Carmen Amaya met many of the most influential people of that time. She went several times to Hollywood to film some movies and the most important personalities of cinema, music or culture wanted to see her dance. The musician Toscanini saw one of her performances once and declared that he had never seen an artist with more rhythm and more fire than her. She improvised continuously, as quickly as perfectly.
She traveled to New York in 1941 and performed at Carnegie Hall with Sabicas and Antonio de Triana. When in the United States, she also met Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States. It was reported that after seeing her, the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, gave her a bowling jacket with brilliants and invited her to dance at the White House. She returned to Europe and performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, to do so later in London, when she got to meet the Queen of England.
When Carmen Amaya returned to Spain in 1947, she already was an indisputable universal figure. The years that she had been in America made her not only to professionally establish her art, but also to make her legend grow unstoppable. By then, her dance was the bravest flamenco that had ever come to the theatre. But she did not stand out only because of her art, but also because of her fascinating personality, which won everyone she knew, both because of her dancing and because of her unpredictable behaviour. Besides, she was extraordinarily generous.
She was a great success at the London Princess Theatre in 1948, and also on her next American tour. She toured Argentina again in 1950.
She returned to dance in Spain the following year, performing at the Tivoli theatro in Barcelona after several performances in Rome. She continued her work in Madrid, Paris, London, and different cities in Germany, Italy, and other European countries. The queen of England congratulated her when she performed there; Carmen Amaya and Elizabeth II appeared together in a newspaper photograph entitled: "Two queens face to face."
In subsequent years she continued her work in northern Europe, France, Spain, the United States, Mexico, and South America. She triumphed at the Westminster Theatre in London and at La Zarzuela theatre in Madrid in 1959. At that time, Barcelona constructed a tribute to Carmen Amaya by building the Carmen Fountain in her old district, Somorrostro, to popular acclaim. She recorded her last film, Los Tarantos, by Rovira-Beleta in 1963, and she continued working. At the end, her illness prevented her from continuing in Gandía. The last time she danced was in Malaga.
Her illness was exacerbated by the filming of latest film, Los Tarantos, directed by Rovira-Beleta (1963). In spite of these inconveniences, Carmen strongly overcame, and, at the end of filming, she started a summer tour. The last time she performed in Madrid, Carmen Amaya was already deathly ill. Finally, her illness stopped her from performing, a kind of renal impairment that impeded her properly eliminating the toxins that her body accumulated. The doctors could not find any solution to her problem. She danced for the last time in Malaga. On August 8, 1963, whilst she was working in Gandía, Carmen finished her performance. She was dancing when suddenly she said to Batista: "Andrés, we finished."
During the last ten years of her life, she lived surrounded by people and almost sanctified, not only for her audience, but for those who worked with her. Her nature was instinctive, animalistic, and had little to do with academic learning.
Carmen Amaya died in Begur, Girona, northeast Catalonia, in 1963 and is buried in the Cemetery of Ciriego at Santander. She died due to kidney disease. Her death was a great loss to all the Flamenco world.
Three years after her death (1966) she was honored by a monument constructed in the Amusement Park of Montjuic. Buenos Aires has a street dedicated to her. In Madrid in the "Tablao" Los Califas, she was honored by a tribute performance in which many artists participated, including Lucero Tena, Mariquilla, and Felix de Utrera.
Her death was a great loss for the entire Flamenco world, as she was awarded with the Medalla del Mérito Turístico de Barcelona, Lazo de Isabel la Católica and the title of Hija Adoptiva de Bagur. Her funeral summoned a large number of Roma People from different parts of Spain and even France.
Buried in Bagur, where she spent her last days, her remains rest in the pantheon of her husband's family, in Santander. Three years after her death in 1966, her monument was inaugurated in the Parque de Montjuic in Barcelona, and in Buenos Aires, while in Madrid, in Tablao Los Califas, a tribute, led by Lucero Tena, among other artists, took place. She was also honored in Llafranch (Girona) in 1970.
The personality of Carmen Amaya, has been glossed by critics, flamencologists and writers, as well as by poets, including Fernando Quiñones, author of the poem Soneto y letras en vivo para Car men Amaya. A selected transcription of these comments by Vicente Marrero, reads:
Carmen Amaya can see the amazing conviction that sometimes tends to dance. "Gitanilla" ungainly, skinny, petite, almost disembodied. Brunette, with a tragic and remote idol face, Asian cheekbones, with long eyes full of omens, twisted arms. With her "repajolera" gypsy [Romani] grace, she is not just another millionaire in North America, but one of our great dancers, who has succeeded, with the secret of dance and her dance she was born to dance, and she danced phenomenally. Carmen Amaya, is her name, is not a different woman in each of her dances, as so often happens with other great dance figures.
Carmen's flamenco legacy is still valid to this day. Dancing with force, meter, intensity and power. A way of expression which brought an end to the sweetness of flamenco which had endured until that point. The known producer Sol Hurok described Carmen as "The Human Vesuvius." Carmen Amaya has been the incarnation of the flamenco dance par excellent. Her dancing is reflected in a large number of films.
Carmen Rupe took her name from Amaya.