Antonio Gades was one of the most revolutionary Spanish dancers of the twentieth century and he was also one of the most revered figures in the history of flamenco dance.
Antonio Esteve Ródenas was born on the 14th November 1936 in Elda, Alicante, but went to live in Madrid at an early age. He was born of non-gypsy parents and spent his early years working in numerous jobs including an apprentice bullfighter and a messenger boy for the ABC newspaper before being spotted by Pilar Lopez.
He was extremely good looking as a young man and won the hearts of millions of fans on stage and screen worldwide. He married the Spanish actress Marujita Diaz in 1964 but their marriage lasted just two years and some years later he married the actress Pepa Flores, better known as Marisol. They had three children but this marriage was also to fail and they separated in 1986.
In 1988 Antonio Gades married Daniela Frey, but again this was not to last and in 2003 he married his last wife, Eugenia Eiriz, who was with him until his death in 2004. It was Pilar Lopez who gave him the name of Gades, and Antonio worked his way up in her flamenco company to eventually become her lead dancer, a position he held for nine years.
He learned the basics of many forms of Spanish dance while in the company of Pilar Lopez including classical, popular, and flamenco. He also took advantage of the lengthy world tours that he undertook with her company, studying other forms of dance in Russia, Paris, and Italy.
Antonio Gades performed on the most famous stages of the world and travelled extensively with different productions which included many of Federico Garcia Lorca’s works. It was the works of this Andalucían poet that was to inspire Antonio Glade’s dance and ignite a glowing passion in his heart for flamenco.
His dance was a mixture of modernism and the ancient tradition of flamenco, which won him more awards than any other Spanish dancer to date.
In 1961 he formed his own company along with Curra Jiménez with whom he performed until Cristina Hoyo, a flamenco dancer that was to be at Antonio’s side for many years, replaced her.
His dance company took flamenco to the international stage with adaptations of Miremée`s Carmen and García Lorca`s Bodas de Sangre, as well as a working of Manuel de Falla`s El Amor Brujo.
During the 1970s he teamed up with Spanish film director Carlos Saura who brought these works to the screen, but this was not Antonio’s debut as an actor. In 1963 he had starred in the film Los Tarantos along with dancing legend Carmen Amaya, and it was this film that catapulted Antonio Gades to international stardom.
In 1978 he co-founded and became the artistic director of the Ballet Nacoínal de España, but his political beliefs were to cause many problems and he was relieved of this position in 1980. Antonio Gades was a communist and he was a defender of the revolution in Cuba, a country in which he had strong political and personal commitments. The Cuban president Fidel Castro was Antonio Gade’s best man, when he married the actress Marisol.
He was presented with the Carmen Amaya Award for his adaptation of El Amor Brujo, just one of the many awards that was bestowed on this genius through out his long and devoted career. These included the Premio Nacíonal de Teatro in” 1979, the Premio de Bella Artes in 1983, and the National Dance Prize in 1988, which was awarded for his work in “building a bridge between the flamenco tradition and the modern aires of Spanish dance”.
In 1994 he toured the world again with his stage show, Fuenteovejuna, which was based on a play by Lope de Vega, and his last performance in Britain was in 1996 at the Sadlers Wells theatre where he presented Carmen.
The last three years of Antonio Gades life were to become a battle against cancer, but in 2004 he lost his fight with the disease and died a few days after being admitted to a Madrid Hospital.
Just weeks before his death he was decorated with the Order of José Marti by Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, the country where he spent a good deal of his latter years. The Cuban Council of State awarded Antonio Gades with this honour for 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”.
Antonio Gades died on the 20th July 2004 and his ashes were interred in the National Pantheon of Heros of the Revolution, a memorial cemetery in Havana.