Great spirit of Don Quixote rides again
The low sky bears a tufty beard of grey, and several people remark on a vast rip in the cloud that runs as straight as a lance. I am sitting on a wall outside the theatre, looking up in search of characters as my imagination canters to the horizon. How strange that, on that September Sunday of all days, the breathless blue of the month is shaken by the drama of a great cumulus and wind charging down from the plains of La Mancha. It is as if the curious spirit of Don Quixote has come to see. That most complex, chivalrous and absorbing of all literary characters, gifted to the world by Miguel Cervantes on pages so wondrously jewelled with genius, has filled our minds for weeks: Now our hearts too. As I write a crowd of contrast moves around me. We are outside the 600+ seat theatre in our small town of Falset. A matinee begins in an hour. I, still rudderless and adrift among the emotions that welled during the sell-out first performance the night before, know what is in store. Half the people are a hum of ease and expectation, a happy muddle of small huddles, tickets in hand. The other half cut through them in a patient, long line of pondering that leads to the box office. Will there be enough tickets? Painted faces pop out of the stage door to check. La Corranda, our local, acclaimed dance theatre company founded and directed by Josep Ahumada, is working its magic again. What he and his core of dedicated dancers bring to their tiny, mountainous home region of The Priorat - and carry across Catalonia and beyond – is exceptional, enthralling art, infused with a commitment and originality worthy of any stage. And the word is spreading. At the penultimate three-hour rehearsal, close to the zenith of three years of preparation, television cameras astutely acknowledged what art is happening here, and the entreating for the company to visit other theatres has already begun. Given the unrivalled worldly fame of the story they have chosen to portray this time who knows how far they will go. Why so glowing, Martin? Our children, Ella and Joe, two faces on the stage among the many, have learned a great great deal from Josep (Cervantes) and the likes of Pau Ferré (Quixote or Quixot in Catalan), Jordi Banqué (Sancho), Elisa Barceló, Jordi Vaqué and Marta Cardona – how I wish I could list every one of these 40 adults and young people - not least the unforgettable joy and fulfilment that come with shared dedication; the immeasurable rewards of aspiration, perspiration and courage; and the infinite value of the arts. But that is not why. La Corranda’s portrayal of Don Quixote, dedicated by Josep to his late teacher, co-director and friend Eduard Ventura Díez, the leading exponent of traditional Catalan dance who died in March, could have been simplistic. It is not. Somehow they have imprinted upon it, beyond the cruelties and mocking, the warmth and depth of glorious friendship, a tenderness, and a sense not of a fool but a man who craves a greater glory. Where, ultimately, do sympathies lie? How endless the range of meaning? And, as between the lines of the pages, the character of Cervantes himself stands before you. Bravo. La Corranda. Bravo. Have you read it? No doubt a great many of you have. It is accepted that there has been no writer to equal Cervantes and Shakespeare since their deaths in April, 1616. And conductor Simon Rattle summed up Cervantes’ literary masterpiece quite beautifully when, choosing it as his Desert Island book on Radio 4, he said “If there is any novel that contains the seed of every other novel it is Don Quixote”. We have already found our copy to re-read, and we talk of if – how – La Corranda with its two Norfolk dancers could present their Don Quixote in England, at a festival in our home county, maybe.