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Juana Vargas "La Macarrona:" A Flamenco Treasure

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As a member of the Wertheim study, I was honored to be invited to write a blog post about the Library's significant holdings related to flamenco. The footage of Juana Vargas "La Macarrona" (1870-1947), filmed in 1917 by Léonide Massine and held in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the Library for the Performing Arts, is one of the Library's most important, and little-known, flamenco treasures.[1]

Juana Vargas
Figure 1. Juana Vargas "La Macarrona"

La Macarrona was considered the Queen of the Gypsies. She was the Queen of the cafés, in her thick Andalusian accent, la reina der mundo (the queen of the world). Like the cafés chantant of Belle Époque France and the music halls of Britain and the United States, the Spanish cafés cantantes were performance venues catering to a newly affluent, often working-class, urban audience. There, in the second half of the 19th century, flamenco was born, and Macarrona was one of flamenco's founding mothers.

Cafe Cantante
Figure 2. Café Cantante, Emilio Beauchy c. 1888-1900

This photo by Emilio Beauchy, records the performing group of a late-19th century café cantante. According to José Blas Vega in his 1987 Los cafés cantantes de Sevilla, it was taken in one of the most renowned cafés, the Café del Burrero.

Macarrona was a Gitana—a Spanish Gypsy—who came of age in cafés like the Burrero, creating a movement style and elaborating a repertory of dances that have impacted all flamenco dancers who followed. She travelled little outside of Spain; she never came to the Americas. But the only film of her dancing of which I am aware is held at the New York Public Library. A donation of the Léonide Massine Estate, this spectacular footage is one of the most important extant filmed records of the early period of flamenco dance that is often termed flamenco's "Golden Age." I began studying Macarrona in 2012 while co-curating, with Ninotchka Bennahum, the exhibit 100 Years of Flamenco at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and I wrote about Macarrona in my chapter on Carmen Amaya in that catalog.

Massine film still
Figure 3. In this still image taken from the Massine film, Macarrona dances while the dancer I think is her sister María Vargas, also known as "La Macarrona," accompanies her with flamenco clapping (palmas)

In the spring of 1916, with World War I raging, Ballets Russes director Serge Diaghilev accepted an invitation from Spain's King Alfonso XIII to bring his company to perform at Madrid's Teatro Real. In Spain, principal dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine, whose choreography was of seminal importance to Diaghilev's radical modernization of ballet, was introduced to flamenco.

Leonide Massine
Figure 4. Léonide Massine, by Leon Bakst, 1914

Massine recalled,

Once we were firmly established in Madrid I began to spend my free evenings in the local cafes, watching the flamenco dancers. I was fascinated by their instinctive sense of rhythm, their natural elegance, and the intensity of their movements. They seemed to combine perfect physical control with flawless timing and innate dignity, something I had never seen before in any native folk-dancing.[2]

Manuel de Falla
Figure 5. Manuel de Falla

That year, Massine and Diaghilev met composer Manuel de Falla and flamenco dancer Félix Fernández García, "El Loco" (1896-1941) who became their guides on several tours through Spain. Falla was from Granada and already interested in flamenco; like his friend, the much younger poet Federico García Lorca, with whom he would organize the first Festival of Cante Jondo (Deep Song) in Granada in 1922, Falla was part of a Modernist circle seeking to reenvision and reclaim flamenco from the hostility it had faced among Spain's educated classes at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1915, Falla had composed his first flamenco ballet: El amor brujo (Love the Magician)—a Gitanería (performance of Gitano-ness) sung and danced by the famous flamenco artist Pastora Imperio and conceived as a vehicle for presenting flamenco on a wider stage than those of the cafés cantantes which, by the turn of the twentieth century, struggled to compete with the influx of new entertainment such as vaudeville, film, and American jazz.

Pastora Imperio
Figure 6. Pastora Imperio painted by Julio Romero de Torres, 1913

Describing the winter of 1916-1917, which he spent in Rome creating his Futurist ballet Parade (1917), Massine said "our studio in the Piazza Venezia in Rome was the meeting place for an ever-widening circle of artists," including painter Pablo Picasso, poet Jean Cocteau, and composer Eric Satie.[3] "Cubism was at its height," and Satie's music was a "subtle synthesis of jazz and ragtime." [4]

Massine parade
Figure 7. Massine in the role of the Chinese conjuror in his 1917 ballet Parade

Back in Spain in the spring and summer of 1917, and following the April 7 premiere in Madrid's Teatro Eslava of Falla's pantomimeEl corregidor y la molinera, Diaghilev and Massine decided to adapt Falla's piece for the Ballets Russes. The resulting ballet, The Three-Cornered Hat (in Spanish, El sombrero de tres picos; in French, Tricorne), premiered July 22, 1919, at London's Alhambra Theatre. The sets and costumes were by Picasso; the libretto was by Gregorio Martínez Sierra, who had also written El amor brujo.

picasso parade
Figure 8. Pablo Picasso (wearing a beret) and scene painters sitting on the front cloth for Léonide Massine's ballet Parade , staged by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 1917, Lachmann photographer, December 31, 1916.

Falla wrote flamenco airs into his Three-Cornered Hat: the Farruca del Molinero, the bulerías in the first verse of Casadita, Casadita and the fandango in La danza de la Molinera. Massine prepared for his choreography of these flamenco forms by first studying with Félix and then with Félix's teacher, José Molina.[5] In July 1917, Massine filmed Juana Vargas, "La Macarrona," with a 16-millimeter camera he had bought in Rome the previous winter.

Maria Vargas
Figure 9. The dancer I surmise is María Vargas "La Macarrona" dancing, while the dancer I think is Juana "La Macarrona," seated, accompanies her dance with palmas.

Although she is mentioned neither in the NYPL catalog, nor in Massine's memoir My Life in Ballet, nor in any other documentation I have found, Massine also filmed another dancer who I surmise is Juana's sister Maria Vargas, also called "La Macarrona" (b. 1865). Juana's fame has eclipsed that of her sister, but in the late-19th and early-20th century the sisters often performed together as "Las Macarronas." Massine also filmed Juana's partner, their cousin Antonio López Clavijo, "Ramírez," (1879-1927).[6] The nickname "Macarrona" derived from their ancestors, Tío Juan and Tío Vicente "Macarrón," mentioned by Antonio Machado y Álavarez "Demófilo" in his 1881 list of "Cantadores de flamenco."[7] The sobriquet "Macarrón," is tricky to translate. Macarrón is simply macaroni, a kind of pasta, although in the late-eighteenth century (think of the song Yankee Doodle) it signified effeminate foppishness. According to the Diccionario popular de la lengua castellana of 1882, macarrónea is a burlesque composition in which words of various languages are mixed up and interwoven, and macarrónico describes this composition's ridiculous language and lowbrow style.[8]

The Macarrona footage is listed in the NYPL catalog as "Spanish dancers" with the call numbers *MGZIDF 4750 for the digital video streaming file that you can access onsite at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and *MGZHB 2 - 1000 no. 268 for the 16mm film viewing copy, which is also available for screening at the Library for the Performing Arts. The silent film encompasses four segments: one of Ramírez dancing alone on a sunny rooftop, and three of Juana and María dancing in a patio to accompaniment from two male guitarists and with a passel of children seated on the ground. In the first of the three, the dancer I think is Juana dances what we now call bulerías rhythm. In the second segment, she dances alegrías with a train, a bata de cola. The third clip features the dancer I think is Juana's sister María, dancing in the rhythm of tangos.[9]

Viewing the film, it is striking how similar the dance is to that of today. Juana employs the lifted and majestic posture, punctuated by deep breaks in the hips and leans, that epitomizes today's flamenco.[10] She dances with her hands and arms in tension, with stretch and sensuality. An easy stateliness distinguishes Juana's dance from that of her sister, who is more agile and whose head and torso are more mobile, less held. Both dancers seem to improvise, taking basic elements and recombining them in various ways, signaling calls and breaks with arm gestures (an inward circle of the arms) and foot patterns (the recoje, three steps backward), as we do today.

But María performed the gesture that most intrigued me: in a clip that lasts only one minute and eight seconds, she trembled her open palms and fingers—"jazz hands"—twice in her tangos.[11]

Maria Vargas 2
Figure 10. The dancer I surmise is María Vargas "La Macarrona" dancing, while the dancer I think is Juana "La Macarrona," seated, accompanies her dance with palmas.

This hand gesture is not part of the fundamental ornamental twirlings of fingers and wrists that today echo the sonic layer of the song's continuous melisma, nor of the emphatic hand gestures that punctuate the cante (song).[12] This hand gesture is performed in quotation marks: it is pantomimic (although not narrative). It evokes the sonic specter of a trumpet's high brassy trill: it evokes jazz. Interestingly, alongside characteristic flamenco hand-gestures evoking the movements of the bullfight, a torero-like thrust forward in the hips, palmas, pitos (finger snaps), jumps, bravura walks on the knee, and footwork, Massine also choreographed this gesture into his Farruca del Molinero from The Three-Cornered Hat.[13]

As part of my research, I have added a soundtrack of palmas and a visual box showing the counts to the first and third Macarrona clips, at both 50% and 100% speed (which is slowed down slightly to compensate for the fewer frames per second in 1917 film technology). These modified clips have been donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division and will soon be available to view at the Library for the Performing Arts.

The library holds several references relevant to this footage:

Nommick, Yvan, and Antonio Álvarez Cañibano, Los ballets russes de Diaghilev y España. Granada: Fundación Archivo Manuel de Falla, 2000.

Bennahum, Ninotchka, and K. Meira Goldberg, 100 Years of Flamenco in New York City. New York: New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 2013.

Blas Vega, José y Manuel Rios Ruiz, Diccionario enciclopédico ilustrado del flamenco y maestros del flamenco. Madrid: Cinterco, 1988.

Blas Vega, José. Los cafés cantantes de Sevilla. Madrid: Cinterco, 1987.

Garafola, Lynn, and Nancy V. N. Baer. The Ballets Russes and Its World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

García-Márquez, Vicente, Massine: a biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Machado y Alvarez, Antonio, and Enrique Jesús Rodríguez Baltanás, Colección de cantes flamencos: recogidos y anotados por Demófilo (Sevilla: Signatura Ediciones, (1881) 1999.

Massine, Leonide, My life in ballet. London: Macmillan, 1968.

Mosch, Ulrich, "Manuel de Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat," in Boehm, Gottfried, Ulrich Mosch, and Katharina Schmidt, Canto D'amore: Classicism in Modern Art and Music, 1914-1935. Basel: Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel/Kunstmuseum, 1996, 217-21.

Rodríguez Gómez, Fernando ("Fernando el de Triana"). Arte y artistas flamencos. Madrid: Clan, 1952.

Captions

Figure 1. Juana Vargas "La Macarrona." Photograph, photographer unknown, no date. In Fernando Rodríguez Gómez, "Fernando el de Triana," Arte y artistas flamencos (Madrid: Editoriales Andaluzas Unidas, S.A., [1935] 1986).

Figure 2. Café Cantante, Seville, c. 1889. El café del burrero. Photographer: Emilio Beauchy. Roger-Viollet Archives, Paris, France.

Figure 3. Still image from Spanish Dancers (I surmise Juana Vargas dancing alegrías), filmed July 1917 by Léonide Massine in preparation for his choreography for Le Tricorne, (The Three Cornered Hat). Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Courtesy of Tatiana Weinbaum, Lorca Massine, and Theodor Massine.

Figure 4. "Portrait of Russian dancer Léonide Massine (Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin, 1895-1979)." Leon Bakst, 1914. Wikicommons.

Figure 5. "Manuel de Falla con bastón," Archivo Manuel de Falla. Wikicommons.

Figure 6. Pastora Imperio. Julio Romero de Torres. 1913. Wikicommons.

Figure 7. "Léonide Massine dans le rôle du Prestidigitateur chinois de Parade, Ballet de Léonide Massine Création au Théâtre du Châtelet en 1917." Lachmann Photographie, BnF. Exposition Ballets russes Bibliothèque-musée de l'Opéra de Paris ( www.operadeparis.fr/cns11/live/onp/Saison_2009_2010/Conve... ). Wikicommons.

Figure 8. "Pablo Picasso (wearing a beret) and scene painters sitting on the front cloth for Léonide Massine's ballet Parade , staged by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 1917," Lachmann photographer, December 31, 1916. Wikicommons.

Figure 9. Still image from Spanish Dancers (I surmise María Vargas dancing tangos), filmed July 1917 by Léonide Massine in preparation for his choreography for Le Tricorne, (The Three Cornered Hat). Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Courtesy of Tatiana Weinbaum, Lorca Massine, and Theodor Massine.

Figure 10. Still image from Spanish Dancers (I surmise María Vargas dancing tangos), filmed July 1917 by Léonide Massine in preparation for his choreography for Le Tricorne, (The Three Cornered Hat). Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Courtesy of Tatiana Weinbaum, Lorca Massine, and Theodor Massine.

Notes

[1] I am most grateful to Léonide Massine's heirs, Tatiana Weinbaum, Lorca Massine, and Theodor Massine, for their generosity in allowing my work on Macarrona to be published and to be illustrated by still images from the footage. Thank you to Barbara Cohen Stratyner, Curator of Exhibitions, Shelby Cullom Davis Museum, The New York Library for the Performing Arts; Tanisha Jones, Director of the Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image, The New York Library for the Performing Arts; and Jay Barksdale, director of the Wertheim Study. I am also grateful to François Bernadi for helping me capture these images.

[2] Léonide Massine, My Life in Ballet (London: Macmillan, 1968), 89. For more on Massine's "neoprimitivist method" of choreographing Tricorne, combining "authenticity and stylized gesture," and "reworking…a familiar nineteenth-century story as modernist narrative," see Lynn Garafola, "The Choreography of Le Tricorne," in Vicente García-Márquez, Yvan Nommick, and Antonio Alvarez Cañibano, eds., Los Ballets Russes de Diaghilev y España (Granada: Archivo Manuel de Falla, 2012), 89-95. Quotations are from page 91.

[3] Massine, My Life, 101; Garcia-Marquez, Massine, 80-81.

[4] Massine, My Life, 101.

[5] García-Márquez, Massine, 111; Daniel Pineda Novo, Juana, "la Macarrona" y el baile en los cafés cantantes (Cornellà de Llobregat [Barcelona]: Aquí + Más Multimedia, 1996), 43; Massine, My Life, 117-118; Alfonso Puig, Flora Albaicín, Sebastià Gasch, Kenneth Lyons, Robert Marrast, Ursula Patzies, and Ramón Vives, El arte del baile flamenco (Barcelona: Ed. Poligrafa, 1977), 68; Fernando el de Triana, Arte y artistas flamencos (Madrid: Editoriales Andaluzas Unidas, S.A., [1935] 1986), 174, 222, 224. The catalog from the exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, May 12-October 6, 2013, includes a page from Massine's notes from these lessons in Spanish dance (Jane Pritchard and Geoffrey Marsh, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 [London: V & A Publishing, 2013], 84).

[6] Fernando de Triana said of Maria, "This good dance artist was on the way to becoming a star. But as she was almost there, she became interested in singing and neglected somewhat that path which, in my judgment, she should have taken" (Fernando el de Triana, Arte y artistas, 148, 150). His book is the only place I have seen a photo identified as María (p. 75). The most complete biography is Daniel Pineda Novo's book on Juana "la Macarrona." See also Pineda Novo's Antonio Ramírez, el baile gitano de Jerez (Jerez de la Frontera: Centro Andaluz de Flamenco, 2005). Ramirez is listed in the NYPL catalog as "Ramirito." I am grateful to Juan Vergillos for sending me both of Pineda's books.

[7] Antonio Machado y Álvarez "Demófilo," in his list of "Cantadores de flamenco: Jerez de la Frontera," lists "Tío Vicente Macarrón" and "Tío Juan Macarrón, cantador general." (Machado y Alvarez, Antonio, and Enrique Jesús Rodríguez Baltanás, Colección de cantes flamencos: recogidos y anotados por Demófilo (Sevilla: Signatura Ediciones, (1881) 1999), 285; Manuel Ríos Ruiz, De cantes y cantaores de Jerez (Madrid: Editorial Cinterco, 1989), 42-43; Juan de la Plata, Los gitanos de Jérez: historias, dinastías, oficios y tradiciones ([Jerez de la Frontera]: Universidad de Cádiz, Cátedra de Flamencología, 2001), 121.

[8] Felipe Picatoste y Rodríguez, Diccionario popular de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Dirección y administración, 1882), 673.

[9] I propose these identifications based on the following: guitarist Curro de Maria, studying the guitarists' hands, helped me identify the rhythms and tonalities. With François Bernadi, I captured still photos from the Massine footage, which led me to realize there were two dancers in the film, staged in what seems to be a family setting, with two women, two men, and seven or eight children. The only photo of which I am aware that positively identifies María is that in Fernando el de Triana's Arte y artistas (75); Triana also included two photos of Juana (72 and 73, my Figure 1). The sisters often worked together as "Las Macarronas." In the Massine footage, one dancer has a distinctive facial shape, with very wide cheekbones. Comparing the two with known photos of Juana, such as that from the Kursaal published in ABC on March 27, 1921, and noting that the first dancer dances in two clips, while the second dancer, shot later in the day, dances in only one, led me to this conjecture. As part of my research, I have added a soundtrack of palmas and a visual box showing the counts to the first and third Macarrona clips, at both 50 percent and 100 percent speed (which is slowed slightly to compensate for the fewer frames per second in 1917 film technology). These modified clips will be available to view at the New York Library for the Performing Arts. Blas Vega, Los cafés cantantes de Madrid (1846-1936) (Madrid: Ediciones Guillermo Blázquez, 2006), 126-127, 258-259.

[10] I have written about this in my chapter "Jaleo de Jerez and Tumulte Noir: Primitivist Modernism and Cakewalk in Flamenco, 1902-1917," from Flamenco on the Global Stage: Historical, Critical and Theoretical Perspectives © 2015 Edited by K. Meira Goldberg, Ninotchka Devorah Bennahum and Michelle Heffner Hayes by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandpub.com.

[11] The jazz hands appear at timestamps 00:43 - 00:49 and 00:53 - 1:02 of the third filmed Macarrona segment. Juana Vargas (La Macarrona)-Antonio López Ramírez (Ramirito), NYPL Performing Arts Research Collections - Dance, * MGZIDF 4750.

[12] In Massine's footage, although there is always guitar accompaniment and palmas, or handclapping, there is no sign of a singer. In this era, women often sang and danced at the same time, and men often sang alante-at the front of the stage-in a solo recital format.

[13] In the New York Public Library's 1937 film of Massine and Tamara Toumanova dancing The Three-Cornered Hat with Col. W. de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Chicago Opera House, Massine performs this gesture in his Farruca del Molinero, at 15:00 and again at 15:25, and again, after defeating the Corregidor, at 21:40. *MGZHB 12-1000, no. 291-293, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/dacd5830-e366-0130-d583-3c075448cc4b (accessed October 31, 2014). I am grateful to David Vaughn for introducing me to this film.

Comments

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Las Macaronas

Fascinating! Good work Meira! Enhorabuena!

Illuminating research....

This is a very clear and intriguing work of research gathering documentation from the worlds of dance, art, theater, and music to shine a new light on an important facet of flamenco history. Looking again at this amazing time span (late 19th -early 20th century) the connections to the present, exactly 100 years later, still resonate.

Juana Vargas , La Macarrona

Nice article to be read about flamenco history, but I would like to make two comments about it. On one hand,it is not mentioned her place of birth (Jerez, in the province of Cádiz, Andalucía),city whose people have made an unquestionable contribution to flamenco art all over the world. On the other hand, when you say ¨ in her thick andalusian accent ¨, I think ¨andaluz¨ dialect is not thick or weak, it´s just ¨andaluz,¨the natural way of speaking of andalusian people, and Jerez is part of that universe. Adlectives sometimes can be confuse for people when they read and as an andaluz person wanted to express my point of view. Thanks... Regards, Manuel.

Juana Vargas, La Macarrona

Many points mentioned in this article were previously posted on the net in the Wikipedia article "Juana la Macarrona" and are included here without attribution or reference.

Matthew, what points? The

Matthew, what points? The Wikipedia article cites this page three times, as of today. This blog post was written in January.

Juana Vargas, La Macarrona

The bulk of the Wikipedia article was written and posted in 2011 and 2012. This can be verified by clicking on the "View History" button at the top right of the article. Minor additions and clarifications to the text have subsequently been posted over the years by various Wikipedia contributors. The last few months more substantial contributions have been made, including most recently references to this fine NYPubLib post which were added August 13, 2015. The similar points are easily recognized, e.g., discussion of her nickname, the visit of Leonide Massine, etc. Thank you at the New York Public Library and especially to K. Meira Goldberg for the presentation of La Macarrona here. It was discovered yesterday and found to be most interesting. My mind is stilling absorbing its details and perspectives. Will the short film of her dancing be eventually available at your website? All for now.

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