The work reveals that the main dancers of one of the documentaries is ‘El Negro Meri’ and not the maestro José Otero, as it was believed so far
The study also analyses the influence of the Afromeric culture in the beginnings of flamenco and in the different treatment between men and women in the chronicles of that time
Alicante. Thursday, 26 October 2017
Kiko Mora, a lecturer in the Department of Communication and Social Psychology at the University of Alicante, has published a recent research in which he has managed to identify most of the cast of two films that the Lumière brothers filmed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, which allowed him to conclude that the main dancer in one of the tapes is Jacinto Padilla, known as 'El Negro Meri' or 'El Mulato Meri', and not José Otero, as it was believed until now.
A preliminary result of this find was already published on his blog Cadáver Paraísoin 2016, which is the most relevant aspect of the study but not the only one. Through a study entitled «Who is who in the Lumière films of Spanish song and dance in the Paris Exposition, 1900» and published on the Le GRIMH Portal (Groupe de réflexion sur l’image dans le monde hispanique), Mora identifies most of the remaining main characters in both films. He also delves into the Afromeric influence of the roots of flamenco and analyses the presence of women in the chronicles of that time, less frequent and trivialised compared to men.
However, Mora's main discovery resides in the main character of of the film displayed on the flamenco painting at the Paris World’s Fair, considered the first film record in which a flamenco painting appears. The lack of historical documentation and the low quality of the tape images made them assume that the dancer was José Otero. For the UA researcher this information was not conclusive and decided to do more research until he found out that "the chronicles did not name him ‘maestrto Otero’, but they did speak of a mulatto and other names like Anita Reguera, Eduardo Salmerón, José Fernández or the Peña sisters and the Aguilera sisters.
By reviewing the images in both films and other Lumière’s recordings, such as those made in the city of Seville in 1898, the UA researcher resolves that the dancer is Jacinto Padilla, a Hispano-Cuban mulatto, "probably son or grandson of a freed slave though already raised in Andalusia, where some data connect him to Algeciras, although he might have been Cuban by birth,” the lecturer admitted, adding that "he differs from Otero by very clear features such as that his skin is black and his style is not of the bolero dancing school, but more flamenco and carnival style".
Kiko Mora has managed to identify most of the main characters in the films exhibited at the Paris World Fair in 1900 and. He has also described biographical data of Anita Reguera, Virgilio Arriaza, José Fernández, Eduardo Salmerón, Felisa and Juana Peña (the Peña sisters) and, Amparo and Margarita Aguilera (the Aguilera sisters), other than Jacinto Padilla himself.
According to Mora, "influential books about the history of flamenco at the end of the century, such as those by Guillermo Nuñez de Prado and Fernando de Triana, do not mention a large number of flamenco artists who lived abroad and helped to build an image of this music and dance for a foreign audience” and who, at the same time,"had a close contact with other dance styles and modern traditions in Europe, and this is why the history of flamenco and the bolero dance school of the time should be reviewed in this sense".
UA lecturer Mora also reports what the chronicles of the time revealed about men and women being treated differently. "Despite the overwhelming presence of female dancers as a landmark in any flamenco place in Paris at the time, the study reveals that identifying male artists in Lumière's films has been easier,” Mora explained.
Male artists outnumber females in both films and, also, information on women is usually very brief. With these data, Mora states that "the history of both the flamenco and bolero schools requires more research to be done in order to acknowledge those forgotten women who captivated the audiences of the foreign scene with their talent".
Finally, one of the conclusions of the researcher from Alicante goes beyond what is purely related to flamenco. He questions the representation of Spain and its Hispanic nature by a “black male Cuban” in a World Exhibition just two years after losing the last colonies overseas, in 1898, and he also questions about the reason of “an almost totally removed history of the flamenco school and the participation of black artists and African-American culture in the development of this art”. To answer this question, Mora is writing an article with K. Meira Goldberg, who will soon also publish a book about the presence of Afro-American culture in the history of flamenco.
Another striking topic that this UA lecturer in Semiotics deals with is the classification mistake that Lumière brothers themselves made at the time of titling the two videos on which this research study is focused. A flamenco painting is displayed in one of them but instead the passage was titled Danse espagnole de la Feria Sevillanos, whereas the second video, where the musicians belong to s student music group, was catalogueed as Danse espagnole de la Feria Quadro Flamenco.
To reach such conclusions, Kiko Mora has been working for about one year and a half with digital documents from the Spanish and French national libraries, as well as the New York Public Library. These hitherto unknown finds in the history of flamenco have been possible thank to journalistic chronicles of the time, of comparisons between audiovisual documents and, above all, to an extensive bibliography on old and flamenco films.
Photos 1 and 2: Frames of the film with 'El Mulato Meri’
Photos 3: Kiko Mora, a UA researcher
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