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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 1st, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

As we wrote about Copenhagen, ALBA crystallized there as the clearest US opposing group of countries in the international arena. ALBA is led by four Latin American and two Caribbean Islands Heads of State. As expressed by Presidents Morales of Bolivia and Chavez of Venezuela, the Obama intervention on that final Friday the 18th was clearly not a UN consensus building move. Obama did not play democracy to non-Democratic States, but then there was something in his behavior that could also be likened to the battleship diplomacy of old empire building colonialism – you find your allies and you set the rules of the game for others to follow. We said it many times that we agreed with Obama’s moves, but we also had an ear to the Morales and Chavez statements, and we believe that the ALBA attack will continue until the day the US is ready to sit down with the individual countries of that group and effectively co-opt them into a new Western Hemisphere alliance that pays respect also to countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. In effect we believe that these countries do have also helpful ideas and not just the rhetoric for which they are famous. Further, Nicaragua and Honduras used to belong to this group and Brazil is also close to its leaders.

OK, so how is this related to our 2009/2010 New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City?

This story starts with my having picked up a Financial Times on the flight back from Copenhagen and in the Guide – Arts around the World section I saw mentioned – “New York – Noche Flamenca” and it said that from Christmas Eve until January 16, Noche Flamenca will be performed at the Lucille Lortel Theater in Greenwich Village and that judging by the reviews the company, with its stars dancers Ms. Soledad Barrio and Juan Ogalla, the star singer Manuel Gago and guitarist Eugenio Iglesias are the most authentic flamenco touring company.

Further, already with the above in mind, I saw the December 26th Alaistair Macaulay Dance Review in the New York Times “Drama Whose Subject Is Both Nothing and Everything.” He writes – “Ms. Barrio’s intensity is striking, even when she’s standing still or walking slowly around the stage… she seemed to be brooding on the darkest spiritual concerns … the attention of her face and upper body riveted on the floor. She might have been mourning the death of a child or contemplating the augury that announced the overthrow of her nation… Her face tends to be wonderfully bleak.”

I decided that I want to experience this Latin intensity, but then the clincher came when I read that the program includes a piece called “ALBA” choreographed by Ms. Marrio’s husband and partner in Noche Flamenca, Mr Martin Santangelo. Alba is about “some extremely unspecific aspect of the Spanish Civil War.” I sensed that I may find here some explanation to the Hugo Chavez anger and his ALBA.

Every other year me and my wife, we use to travel somewhere for the Christmas – New Year time span, as in her work she alternates with another person in her office, who will take of during those days. This year was actually her time to go away, but she chose to spend her vacation in New York and the difficulties with transport and flights were an important part of this decision. So I had to decide where we will be part of a community when slipping into twenty-ten. Going to see Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca was thus our decision – I had the further goal also to get some understanding about ALBA.

Having decided on the show, I went down to the Theater at 121 Christopher Street in the Village, and looked at the neighborhood restaurants and settled fortunately for HAVANA – ALMA DE CUBA at 94 Christopher Street, that promised excellent mojitos, great food, a bottle of CAVA Champagne, New Year eve paraphernalia, Cuban music and cigars. And that is important – Cuba is the first ALBA!

Looking now more closely at Noche Flamenca, which obviously has its home in Spain, I found that they see flamenco as a form of art that is based on song (cante), music (toque), and dance born of “ancestral cultural repression and racial expulsion.” and that 2009-2010 they launch an arts education program in New York City public schools that embodies the three flamenco disciplines: dance, guitar, and song. Their target are the culturally diverse communities of New York City, and they have already lined up a very impressive list of backers to this experiment.

Andalucia in southern Spain absorbed throughout the centuries Romans, Jews and Moors. As far as flamenco is concerned, the most significant arrival was in the 15th century when tribes of nomadic Gypsies settled her. Their arrival coincided with Ferdinand and Isabella’s conquest of Granada, the last bastion of the Moors, and the subsequent expulsion of Jews and Arabs, from Spain – the Jews were massacred, the Gypsies humiliated and persecuted, the Arabs exterminated, the Moriscos (converted Arabs) expelled, and the Andalucians generally exploited – if we do not relate the music to brutality, repression, hunger, fear, menace, inferiority, resistance, and secrecy, then we shall not find the reality of cante flamenco – it is a storm of exasperation and grief. This is the background of the evolution of flamenco as per historian Felix Grande’s review of the 15th-17th centuries.

In the 19th century there were two types of singing in Andalucia – the cante gitano and the cante andaluz, then an Andaluz of Italian orifin, Silverio Franconetti, at first a singer of cante gitano, proceeded in combining the two shaping what became the cante flamenco.

The “deep song” or the cante jondo, resembles the mournful wail of the chant of the exiled Sephardic Jews and its poetry is that of existential angst and philosophical questioning common in Arabic poetry. The dance that evolved and fully blossomed by 1840s combines the repetitive key symbol prevalent in Islam, the trance-inducing rhythms of Africa and the stubborn search of Jewish music as mentioned above.

With the above in mind, let us see now what the Noche Flamenca say about their creation called ALBA:

Choreographer Martin Santangelo says that the piece was inspired by the archives of The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Now let us remember that the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 was the training ground for what became WWII.

45,000 people from over 50 different countries, ignoring their own governments’ failure to respond to the threats of fascism, volunteered to support democratic Spain. The US volunteers came to be known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, but Franco, backed by Hitler and Mussolini defeated the democrats – eventually fascism was defeated by 1945 but Franco was left to rule over Spain.

The program notes that many of the Abraham Lincoln Brigaders that survived remained lifelong activists and have continued to support progressive causes, including the Civil Rights Movement in the US and protests against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Spain of today feels a profound gratitude for these heroic individuals.

The song used by the choreographer in setting ALBA is a poem by Miguel Hernandez To the International Soldier Fallen in Spain:

If there are men who contain a soul without frontiers
a brow scattered with universal hair
covered with horizons, ships, and mountain chains,
with sand and snow, then you are one of those.

Fatherlands called to you with all their banners,
so that your breath filled with beautiful movements.
You wanted to quench the thirst of panthers
and fluttered full against their abuses.

With a taste of suns and seas,
Spain beckons you because in her you realize
your majesty like a tree that embraces a continent.

Around your bones, the olive groves will grow,
unfolding their iron roots in the ground,
embracing men universally, faithfully.

What the choreographer Martin Santangelo tried to convey with the members of his troupe – all male – singers, guitarists and dancers, and a bunch of walking sticks as props, was sort of a Greek corus telling about the travel of those that came from afar and the fact that their spirits were not broken. They did not give up even when beaten and continued a life of walking and fighting.

That is what I saw in that piece and I wonder how dance reviewer Alastair Macaulay saw nothing of this with his own eyes. All what he says is that it “is about some extremely unspecific aspect of the Spanish Civil War. Flamenco isn’t enriched by tackling any one particular drama; it’s diminished.” Then he adds later – “No. ‘Alba’ is not a disaster; it’s just nebulous, unclear, earnest. Obviously, though, it’s small fry compared with the greater meat of the evening.”

Sorry Mr. Macaulay, you did not understand the sonnet or you did not read it. You also did not notice those walking sticks or just did not ask yourself why walking sticks? You may think that art is only technique, but some of your readers are also capable of relating to content and to this readership the Spanish Civil War has meaning beyond plain dance. Granted that you are a dance critic and not a political pages reporter, nevertheless, you just saw an honest attempt, as you say yourself, of tackling content, so you should have given the credit these artists deserve for trying to use their art form in order to inspire the public of their theater in ways that are no different from what they will be attempting to do in our public schools with children that can be helped by art to become better citizens. In the ALBA case, I feel that understanding the Lincoln brigade volunteers could actually help in formulating opinions about issues of these days when we continue to see injustice in the world and dictators encroaching upon democracy and human rights. Yes, I am aware that there was also a Stalin involvement in Spain, and I read “The God That Failed” but all of that is secondary to my disagreement with this part of your review – the issue is really the meaning and purpose of art – I believe that there can be a purpose and you clearly disagree.

Further, in the second half of the program there was a second topical choreography by Martin Santongelo titled “Refugiados” that included the whole company. It was inspired by literature and poetry of refugee children from Somalia and Zimbabwe identified by UN agencies and receiving emergency assistance. You did not mention this piece and I wonder if your choice for criticism was rather dependent on content as this latter piece may be dealing with a subject that is less open for criticism – you do not kick children but politics are made for kicking. Sorry, and please forgive if I am here on the wrong track.

But then back to our declared real interest in Noche Flamenca as said was the title ALBA of that particular dance about the Spanish Civil War – why was it called ALBA?

Aha – I found!

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives
A non-profit organization devoted to the preservation and dissemination of the history of the North American role in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
 www.alba-valb.org

So ALBA means ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE ARCHIVES and ALBA is the name of the group of countries in Latin America that have a bone with the US of America.

Could one say that Hugo Chavez sees himself as a continuation of the progressive Americans that went to Spain to fight fascism? This is an intriguing idea! Is it not?

But then there is also a second meaning for ALBA

Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas – Wikipedia, the free … – 12/19/09
The meeting in congress for the removal of Honduras from the ALBA is still … ” ALBA pasa a ser Alianza Bolivariana de los Pueblos de América” (in es). …
 en.wikipedia.org

So here we talk of Alianza Bolivariana or in short ALBA – this based on the Spanish form of the Bolivarian Alliance.

and even –

ALBA: Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean …
Teresa ArreazaA summary of the basic ideas behind Venezuela’s alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
 www.venezuelanalysis.com › Documents

So, let us attach here what we gleaned from the web about the group of ALBA:


The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Spanish: Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or ALBA) is an international cooperation organization based on the idea of social, political, and economic integration between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is associated with socialist andsocial democratic governments and is an attempt at regional economic integration based on a vision of social welfare, bartering and mutual economic aid, rather than trade liberalization as with free trade agreements. ALBA nations are in the process of introducing a new regional currency, the SUCRE. It is intended to be the common virtual currency by 2010 and eventually a hard currency.
The name initially contained “Alternative” instead of “Alliance”, but was changed on June 24, 2009. ALBA also means “dawn” in Spanish.

Member states

Common name
?
Official name Date joined
?
Population
?
Area (km²)
?
GDP PPP (US$ bn)
?
Capital
?
Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda 24 June 2009 85,632 442 1.546 St. John’s
Bolivia Plurinational State of Bolivia 29 April 2006 9,119,152 1,098,581 43.424 Sucre
Cuba Republic of Cuba 14 December 2004 11,451,652 110,861 108.2 Havana
Dominica Commonwealth of Dominica 20 January 2008 72,660 754 .72 Roseau
Ecuador Republic of Ecuador 24 June 2009 14,573,101 256,370 106.993 Quito
Honduras Republic of Honduras 9 October 2008 7,483,763 112,492 32.725 Tegucigalpa
Nicaragua Republic of Nicaragua 23 February 2007 5,891,199 129,495 15.89 Managua
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 24 June 2009 120,000 389 1.085 Kingstown
Venezuela Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 14 December 2004 28,199,825 916,445 358.623
ALBA Totals 9 Countries 73,453,238 2,625,829 669.206
Observer states of the organisation include Haiti, Iran and Uruguay
—————————–

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November 27, 2008
08:30

NEWS

CARACAS.Dmitry Medvedev took part in a meeting of the leaders of the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America.

The organisation was set up at the end of 2004 on the initiative of Cuba and Venezuela. This association also includes Bolivia, Honduras, Dominica and Nicaragua; Haiti, Iran, Uruguay and Ecuador are among its observers.

During the meeting Mr Medvedev raised the question of developing cooperation between Russia and Latin American countries.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit, and Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba Ricardo Cabrisas took part in the meeting.

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