by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal
On Sunday, March 18, 2018, at Knauer Performing Arts Center, I had the pleasure of viewing Azul, a contemporary play written by Tanaquil Márquez for La Fábrica, a bilingual theater company based in Philadelphia, dedicated to presenting bilingual works. Spanning three languages, English, French, and Spanish, the play recounts the development of Pablo Picasso’s renowned Blue Period and his decision to use his mother’s maiden name to sign his paintings.
Through intense dialogue, live music, and intermittent flamenco choreography, the play explores the following motifs: identity, coming of age, death, love, and the struggle to find one’s place in a cruel world. It is only through the crucible of adversity that Pablo discovers his artistic voice. Akin to a Shakespearean protagonist, Pablo must confront his guilt-ridden past in order to continue to his future. In Márquez’s play, Picasso’s character unfolds as the tragic hero. Accosted by a dark-cloaked soothsayer who torments him with the knowledge of his fate, Picasso resembles Macbeth. The resemblance is made even more apparent by the lugubrious appearance of the ghosts of Picasso’s little sister, Conchita, and of his best friend, Casamejas.
No longer able to view the world as the bright carnival once reflected in his paintings, Picasso’s works become as monochromatic as his point of view. Just as Lady Macbeth cannot escape the color of blood upon her hands, Picasso only sees the color blue as he wrestles with the harsh reality that life has a dark side. Like Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Márquez deftly shows the audience the best and worst of times.
Far from being monochromatic, Azul utilizes dramatic lighting to reflect the scene’s tone. For example, upon arriving in Paris at the beginning of the play, the lighting is warm and sunny, as if to illustrate the optimism that Picasso and Casamejas feel. However, the stage is flooded with a lurid red light during an argument between Picasso and his lover, Germain, with whom he shares a toxic relationship.
Liliana Ruiz’s flamenco choreography is complementary to the lighting and costume design, driving home the meaning of each important event and interaction between the characters. For example, following an argument between Picasso and Germain, the dancers enter and perform a fiery and percussive flamenco dance, pontificating with their feet. They convey the anger between the two lovers where words alone would fall too weak. In this viewer’s opinion, the choreography would have been that much stronger had it been more of a focal point in the show rather than being a filler of brief moments to propel the scenes forward. Through their powerful dances, the women help to carry the arch of the play.
Additionally, the dancers and other women actors supported the development of the male characters by usurping traditionally masculine roles. For instance, Yajaira Paredes played Picasso’s father and the dancers acted as Casamejas’ pallbearers. This role reversal helps to draw attention to the difficult relationships that Picasso has with the various women in his life. Picasso’s emotional struggle is presented by the final tableau, a representation of his 1903 painting, La vie, which depicts Germain and Casamejas as cold, vulnerable, and childless lovers. The play constantly asks the audience what is in a name, and this culminating image portrays quite clearly Márquez’s interpretation of Picasso’s artistic identity and reveals to the audience the true meaning of the title, Azul.