Dallas — An interesting and original concept—the exploration of Picasso’s love life through a series of dramatic vignettes and flamenco dance—unfortunately falls short in Picasso: Matador de Málaga, a hybrid production of dance and dialogue currently playing in a joint effort of Ochre House Theater and the 2017 Dallas Flamenco Festival.
The prolific, often stormy love life of Pablo Picasso, the single most influential figure in the visual arts of the 20th century, provides ample material for interpretation and speculation; it goes without saying that the intertwinement of his art and his sexuality looms large in his astounding output of paintings, drawings, and sculpture. And, to its credit, Picasso: Matador de Málaga moves in a unique direction by linking Picasso’s art and life with the persistence of Spanish influence in a career that came to embody international modernism.
While any attempt to encapsulate the range of Picasso’s works in a few short dramatic episodes and flamenco dances is ultimately doomed to fall short, the idea of doing so casts a worthwhile light, and a new way of thinking of Picasso’s work. Co-choreographers Antonio Arrebola and Delilah Buitrón Arrebola, who also danced and performed the dramatic roles of Picasso and his wife Jacqueline Roque, drew on the intense physical virtuosity and fiery emotions of traditional flamenco, providing a strong reminder of that element in Picasso’s decidedly non-traditional but tradition-rooted art. They were joined in the cast by an ensemble of dancer-actors ably portraying (and interpreting, through flamenco dance) three of Picasso’s most prominent mistresses, his colleague Georges Braque, and the photojournalist David Douglas Duncan (still alive at 101 in France), who photographed Picasso and officially documented much of Picasso’s art at the artist’s behest.
Beside the questionable strategy of attempting to capture even one element of the work of one of the greatest artists of all time in a succinct performance of barely over an hour in length, the principal flaw in the work was in Posey’s script. An overall trajectory never emerged; Posey hints at potential conflicts but never arrives at any real dramatic anxiety. The audience understands, for instance, that the relationship of Picasso and Dora Maar, played with intimidating power by Kate Fisher, was constantly uneasy; the upshot in this version is ultimately, “so what?” Similarly, relationships with two other prominent lovers (Mari-Thérèse Walter and Françoise Gilot, here played by Danielle Bondurant and Frida Espinosa-Müller) are likewise stormy but ultimately predictable as here portrayed.
The dialogue itself is somewhat distracting, rife with lines of the sort that should only be heard in low-budget soap operas or sitcoms. Chris Sykes as Duncan draws the highest ratio of unforgiving lines, as in, “Are you kidding?” or “Forgive me for being nosey”; clunking expository material includes the awesomely not-surprising information (delivered by Delilah Buitrón Arrebola as Picasso’s wife Jacquelina Roque) that, “As you will see, Pablo has a vast number of paintings.” Yes, we sort of knew that already. And, whether or not “He was trying to fill this hollowness through his art,” we’d just as soon not hear it put in pop psychology patter of that sort.
The macaronic text, principally in English but with substantial passages in Spanish and bits of French, actually works well in that regard, thanks to the appropriately earnest delivery of the actors: the attentive listener can glean what was being said on the basis of context and expressive acting. Having Frenchman Braque and other French-speaking characters deliver their lines with a fake French accent is not a particularly good idea: one assumes they are speaking French, which we are hearing in English translation, which should be spoken in standard, unaccented English.
The execution of the material goes a long way toward saving the show. The team of Arrebola and Arrebola present appropriately brilliant dance and dramatic performances as Picasso and Roque; Antonio Arrebola’s final solo dance performance is passionate and virtuosic as fine flamenco should be. Christian Taylor presents a convincingly impressive combination of ego and deference as Braque, despite the fake French accent.
Flutist-singer Alfonso Cid and guitarist Calvin Hazen serve as a superb two-man orchestra, delivering an authentic flamenco musical backdrop; Fernando Hernandez and Justin Locklear create elegantly simple and interesting black costumes reflecting an artistically elegant tone. (Duncan’s costume is, however, puzzlingly inauthentic for the setting of 1973, when his part of the action took place.) Izk Dus’s scenery, with props—mostly reproductions of paintings of Braque and Picasso—by Michael Parrack, provides a simple and captivating atmosphere in Ochre House Theater’s appealingly intimate performance space in Exposition Park.