After a long and successful posting, during which he has made many friends while manoevering through troubled waters, the popular Simon Manley CMG is stepping down as British Ambassador to Spain. Here the BritishSpanish Society’s honorary vice-president for the last six years reflects on a challenging but rewarding mission. I depart from Madrid this August, after almost six years. I leave it in the very good hands of my great friend, distinguished colleague, and a former BSS trustee Hugh Elliott, but I will certainly go with a tear or two in my eye. It’s been by far the best job I have had in three decades in public service and I will miss it enormously.
The last six years have of course been a period of extraordinary change: five general elections, two Kings, a few Royal Weddings and even more Royal babies, the emergence of new political parties in both our countries, and to cap it all off, an all English Champions League final in Madrid. It’s been the most extraordinary honour and privilege to serve my Queen and Country and such a pleasure to do so in such a beautiful country whose people are so warm and welcoming. It has left me with some unforgettable moments, not least during the State Visit to the UK by the King and Queen of Spain two years ago: riding down the Mall in a horse drawn carriage, the route flanked by vast Union and Spanish flags; the flag-waving school children who so enthusiastically greeted Their Majesties in Oxford; and the energetic “Vivas” from the members of both Houses of Parliament following the King’s Address. But I will also treasure meeting the extraordinarily dignified parents of Ignacio Echeverria, the Spanish skateboard hero of the Borough Market terrorist attack, attending the funeral of the legendary Adolfo Suarez alongside Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez, watching the fabulous Tamara Rojo and the English National Ballet perform in the Generalife Gardens on a moonlit summer night in Granada and entering the Camp Nou for the first time to the sound of London Calling by The Clash (my choice, I admit, at the invitation of FC Barcelona !).
Perhaps I don’t need to tell the readers of La Revista quite how rich the bilateral ties are between our two great nations. They are of course embedded in our shared histories, histories that I have had the opportunity to witness in person, be they the Barrio Ingles of RioTinto, the Palacio of the Magdalena in Santander, the Casa del Ingles in Logroño, the sherry bodegas of Jerez de la
Frontera, the Jardin de San Carlos in La Coruña, or the various English cemeteries dotted around Spain. But they are also very much part of our contemporary reality.
And those ties have never felt stronger, even as we prepare to leave the EU, whether it be the €60bn commercial relationship, whose leading firms have played such a generous role in the BSS, sponsoring the scholarships, the hundreds of thousands of Brits and Spaniards who have chosen to live in each others’ countries and who add so much to the wealth of our economies as well as the vitality and diversity of our societies and cultures, or the millions more of tourists who return, year after year, be it to the glorious beaches and mountains of Spain, or to the cities and glens of the UK.
One of the pleasures of the job has been to meet so many people who give so much to the bilateral relationship, be they the devoted charity volunteers on the Costas or on the islands, the excellent staff and enthusiastic pupils of the more than 100 British schools in Spain, the excellent cooks who have brought some of the best of Spanish food to the UK, or the directors, actors, dancers,
musicians and singers who are such effective ambassadors for our two great cultures.
In my time here, we have tried to do our best to enhance those bilateral ties, to make them more than the sum of these considerable parts. That’s not always been easy, given the wider context, but we have sought to reach out in new ways – be they digital or analogue – to those willing to work with us in that effort, and, in particular, to make the most of those hundreds of thousands of
young Spaniards who have studied or worked in the UK.
There is, I think, even more we can do on that in the years ahead, but our partner organisations have been key to the effort so far, whether that be the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain and Spanish Chamber in the UK, the British Council and Instituto Cervantes, the British Hispanic Foundation, the British Spanish Tertulias, or, of course, the BritishSpanish Society. I have been delighted to witness at first hand the vitality and professionalism of the BSS and the variety and quality of its activities (in which I am so looking forward to participate myself once
I am back in the UK). It seems to me the BritishSpanish Society has a key role in harnessing the enthusiasm of Spaniards and Britons alike in our countries’ rich cultural and educational ties, a core element in what I hope will be an ever closer bilateral relationship in the years ahead. Long may it flourish. ¡Viva la BSS!
11 March 2019
This will be the first blockbuster exhibition in the UK of the late Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (1863 – 1923) for more than a hundred years. Blanca is co-curator in collaboration with Chris Riopelle, Curator of post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery.
She welcomes me at the Sorolla Museum in Madrid, housed in the home he built for his beloved wife, muse and model, Clotilde García del Castillo, who bequeathed the family house and her personal collection to the State after his death. The house is now a delightful National Museum dedicated to his memory. Blanca is the grand-daughter of Joaquín and Clotilde’s eldest daughter, María, and guardian of his memory. Standing in front of María’s paintings is filled with emotion. The Sorolla Museum feels less like a traditional museum than a lived-in home and painter’s studio. There are no barriers fencing off the paintings. Family photographs, books, ceramics and curiosities are displayed throughout the house, many of which are gifts from friends and fellow artists. The main living room has a beautiful wooden staircase, which leads up to the former bedrooms, now a space for temporary exhibitions. A large glass rotunda, opens on to the garden, designed by the artist himself. The garden was central to Sorolla’s life, a place of inspiration and rest, providing a setting where nature, water and light combined with the painter’s genius. Our conversation explores Sorolla’s work, his relevance throughout the world and the detailed preparations involved in arranging the longawaited exhibition in London.
Q: Blanca, as well as his greatgranddaughter, you are the leading specialist in the work of the painter Joaquín Sorolla. So give us a brief profile of Sorolla.
A: Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) is one of the greatest painters of all time. From the beginning of his career he dreamed of becoming a great international artist. After training at the School of Fine Arts of San Carlos de Valencia and studying Velázquez especially at the Prado Museum, at the age of 23 he continued his training in Italy and visited Paris for the first time, where he was dazzled by the artistic environment, declaring himself an absolute follower of the pictorial naturalism that was happening there. After years of work and preparation, he began to present his works at the Paris Salon, and at the major international competitions in Munich, Berlin and Vienna, as well as at the Venice Biennale, and at the National Exhibitions held in Madrid. Many prizes followed, culminating with a Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900 and the medal of honor at the National Exhibition of Madrid in 1901. His advances from that moment on were surprising. His successes at the Salon de Paris in 1905 would encourage him to face new pictorial challenges that summer in Jávea on the light and color of the sea, especially in the reflections of water, with prodigious results. In 1906 he opened with great success his first major solo exhibition at the Georges Petit Gallery in Paris. The following year a new solo exhibition toured the galleries of Edward Schulte in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Cologne. And, already a great painter, he appeared again at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1908. These exhibitions would be followed by New York, Buffalo and Boston in 1909, sponsored by The Hispanic Society of America, which would achieve unprecedented success; the number of visitors, the sales and the commissions of portraits greatly surpassed the painter’s expectations. In 1911 he repeated his experience in San Luis and Chicago, with the same sponsorship and similar successes. A large commission, Vision of Spain, for the library of the Hispanic Society in New York, would occupy much of his last years. Throughout 1912 Sorolla traveled throughout the peninsula documenting the types, landscapes and customs of each region. Between 1913 and 1919 he painted again in each region the thirteen large panels of 3.50 meters high by a perimeter of almost 70 meters that make up this decoration. In those years, in addition to continuing to develop his role as a portraitist, he painted innumerable Andalusian gardens and, above all, those of his home. Also from those years come some of his beach works of higher quality, made during the summers of 1915 and 1916. A stroke would remove Sorolla from painting in 1920.
Q: The last monographic exhibition of Sorolla in the UK was in 1908 at the Grafton Galleries in Mayfair, London. Tell us, how was that exhibition put together?
A: Already in 1905, perhaps due to the great success that Sorolla obtained in the Salon of Paris that year, the British critic and historian Dr. George Charles Williamson, commented that John S. Sargent took a particular interest in the exhibition. A few months later, in February 1906, it was the Knoedler & Co Gallery in London that was also requesting an exhibition. After the success in Paris in 1906 there was further interest, this time in an exhibition in London, but it would not be until after presenting the new exhibitions in Germany, that Sorolla exhibited at the Grafton Galleries, in 1908. The Galleries in London were splendid, much better than those of Paris, according to Sorolla. It was inaugurated with great success and with many visitors.
Q: That exhibition, was it an overnight wonder or did it have consequences in the medium and long term?
A: In that exhibition there was an exceptional event, in which Sorolla found “the God-Man”, the Hispanic American millionaire, Archer Milton Huntington, who was enthusiastic about his work, bought two paintings and proposed to take his paintings to the United States to the recently inaugurated Hispanic Society of America. Thus, at the beginning of January 1909, Sorolla turned up with the 350 paintings that would be hung on the walls of the institution. The unprecedented success in New York of that exhibition gave fame not only to Sorolla, but also to the institution. Sales exceeded 200 works and he painted numerous portraits (including US President Taft, 40 | LA REVISTA | THE BRITISH SPANISH SOCIETY LA REVISTA | THE BRITISH SPANISH SOCIETY | 41 art designer Tiffany and Mrs J.P. Morgan) . And as a consequence of all this, Huntington commissioned Sorolla to paint the murals that would decorate the Hispanic Library with his Vision of Spain. That was the absolute consolidation of his international career.
Q: Chris Riopelle and you are the curators of the London exhibition, what will the public find in this exhibition?
A: They will find the “great Sorolla”. It is a magnificent exhibition, for the first time all the great works recognized as such internationally will be brought together in one great hall covering the years 1893- 1900. There you will see Sorolla the portraitist, with the sensitivity and special delicacy he showed in the works dedicated to his family. The exhibition also shows you the great painter of scenes of sea and beach illuminated by the ardent Mediterranean sun, the different landscapes and Spanish types, the painter of gardens full of privacy, and the exceptional portraitist in the open air. It is really a dream of an exhibition.
Q: What paintings never seen before by the public in the United Kingdom have you incorporated into this exhibition?
A: The vast majority. And here I want to thank institutions such as the Prado Museum as it is the first time that they have lent their three star works by Sorolla, and the same goes for the Sorolla Museum, in this case with 25 works, an exceptional contribution. Q. Recently you have organized highly successful Sorolla exhibitions in the United States, France, Germany, Portugal … What do you expect from the 2019 exhibition at the National Gallery in London? A. I’m sure it will be another great success like the others! The National Gallery has worked hard to ensure it will. The Spanish Ministry of Culture, on which the Sorolla Museum depends, has also understood this from the beginning and its support and collaboration have been fundamental. As has also been the case of the Sorolla Museum Foundation and of all the institutions, museums, private collections and sponsors, Iberia and CEEH, which have also supported this project. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their generosity. I also thank Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, and Consuelo Luca de Tena, director of the Sorolla Museum, for their work and that of their teams in successfully carrying out this exhibition. And I also know, without the slightest doubt, that my great-grandparents, Joaquín and Clotilde, and their children have guided us in this new project.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: The next dream is to take Sorolla to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and / or to the National Gallery in Washington. That and the catalogue raisonné are my future plans in which I know that I will always have the support of the Sorolla Museum.I doubt that with my age I can finish the catalogue. However, I feel a duty to continue offering my knowledge and strengthening a team to carry this out. I think Sorolla deserves it.
Q: In your opinion, how can the exhibition of the National Gallery serve to strengthen the ties between Spain and the United Kingdom?
A: Nothing unites more than culture. I am sure the exhibition in London will contribute to making these ties even stronger.
Life on Mars used to be just a David Bowie song but a Spanish architect and researcher living in London has been looking to make the sci-fi dream a reality during the last 3 years.
When I moved to London in 2014, I still had in mind the evolution of the city of Seoul in South Korea over the following 10 years. How might it be possible for this huge technological hub in Asia to reduce its population during the next decade? All the research for my last project in Dongdaemun inspired me to explore concepts related to overpopulation and sustainability.
The last reports of weather and climate world conditions were showing that around a 35% of the territories in our planet are facing extreme conditions and with an overpopulation depleting non-renewable resources it is necessary to find solutions on how to adapt to these conditions in the next decade.
It was hard to believe that this interest solving the extreme issues our planet is suffering would trigger my idea for choosing Mars as “the hardest scene” to experiment, I created a concept that would use the planet’s newly discovered frozen water and soil as building materials.
To pursue my project I decided to open my own small architecture firm, IDEA architecture office, and developed a strategy to tackle overpopulation by targeting one of the most extreme and yet attainable lands, Mars. The project, titled “Mars UTOPIA”, combines the realms of biomimicry, urban design, terraforming, and 3D printing to take advantage of the recently discovered existence of water on Mars to develop a new generation of building materials and possibilities for colonization that don’t rely on artificially stabilized environments.
Unlike other projects, which attempt to create impossible structures designed to withstand inhospitable conditions and house human life, Mars UTOPIA first uses a living architecture to symbiotically work with the existing environment and naturally make it habitable. Then allowing human life to be introduced. 3D printers would be sent to Mars to print large metallic towers using local materials: basalt, regolith, and other various ferrous materials found on the surface. These towers located in currently empty craters feed off the electromagnetic energy of the planet and melt the subterranean ice and phyllosilicates. After a period of 4-6 months, the towers disintegrate leaving behind a crater full of water and a ground composed of fertile soil and clay.
Once this has been accomplished, the second phase consists of re-using the 3D printers to build new towers with a mixture of epoxy resin, fungi, and bacteria- specifically the fungus mycelium, which is capable of resisting extreme atmospheric and weather conditions. The fungus feeds off the newly created lake water, as it consumes the CO2 rich atmosphere and releases O2 in its place. Bioluminescent bacteria serves to illuminate the structures. As they are living organisms, the towers will naturally grow on their own given the abundance of nutrients, and after a projected period of two years, the culminated efforts of the various towers and lakes will have made the atmosphere hospitable for human life, paving the way for colonization.
This was a completely theoretical concept, half-artistic and half-scientific. However, the original approach has been considered around the world as a real possibility. What is more relevant is that it brings design, creativity and science as a unique concept. Design has become an essential part of every aspect of our lives. As a result of this, I have been participating in the programme of Ambassadors for Science of the Spanish Embassy to the United Kingdom promoting science from the humanistic point of view.
Eighty years ago, the first World Cup – or ‘Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol’ as the posters proclaimed – took place in Uruguay. The competition consisted of 13 teams from three confederations, with 18 matches played across three venues. Hosts and favourites Uruguay were the winners, beating Argentina 4-2 in the final in front of a 70,000-strong crowd in Montevideo.
It is fair to say the competition has changed a great deal since then. This year’s tournament – the 21st edition – will take place in Russia. There will be 32 teams taking part from five
confederations, more than double the number of nations at the inaugural finals. Some 64 matches will be played across 12 different venues, illustrating just how much international football’s most important event has expanded.
The 2018 World Cup will see several firsts. For a start, this is the first time Russia has hosted the tournament. It will also be the first World Cup where video assistant referees (VAR) are used, and the first finals in 80 years without a British referee. Iceland and Panama will be making their debuts in the competition, while Italy have failed to qualify for the first time since 1958.
That means Italy will be the only one of eight sides to have won the World Cup not competing in Russia. Reigning champions Germany are deserved favourites after their extra-time win against Argentina in the 2014 final and their Confederations Cup triumph last year, but it will not be easy for them. It is worth remembering that the last two reigning champions – Italy in South Africa and Spain in Brazil – both crashed out at the group stage.
With the World Cup countdown well underway, La Revista has looked at some of the tournament’s mainstays and favourites to see how they will fare in Russia this summer.
By Laura Obiols
“Be brave, go for the wildest dream”
It is 5pm on a Monday. Tamara Rojo, Lead Principal dancer and Artistic Director of the English National Ballet (ENB) is sitting at her desk at the ENB in South Kensington after a long day of rehearsals in the studio. When we meet there is a pile of pointe shoes in the corner of her office; she explains that the company is about to go on tour again the following week.
Despite being one of the most recognised faces in the dance world, Rojo has a laidback and peaceful nature. Eloquent, serious, phenomenally clever and quick to laugh – with a great contagious giggle – her words are as well articulated as her movements on stage.
The Spanish dancer took over at the ENB in 2012, at a time of savage cuts to arts council funding, when the company was in dire straits. She shook the company up and gave it new life, bringing a new international classical repertoire to the UK, supporting the work of established and emerging artists, collaborating with contemporary choreographers – most notably Akram Khan – and even taking the company to Glastonbury.
“It has been a lot of work, many long days and sleepless nights,” she explains. “I had a clear vision. I knew the organisation well, I had been a dancer here, I understood the structure both financial and artistically and I saw the potential,” she adds. Where others saw problems – the ENB is a touring ensemble with no home theatre – Rojo saw an opportunity. “A touring company gives you flexibility, it allows you to target different audiences and it helps develop artists within the organisation. When you have a venue, you often have to rotate the repertoire so fast that you can only use dancers that are really ready; there is not time to develop talent,” she says.
In these four and a half years as Artistic Director, Rojo has managed to give the ENB a clear identity. “Bigger companies such as the American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet, even Bolshoi, share the same choreographers; you hear certain names being consistently repeated. There was an opportunity here to make a dynamic company that could be very different from others,” she says. The ENB Autumn season will include La Sylphide, Kennet MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, Romeo & Juliet and Akram Khan’s Giselle, which starts in September and is already sold out in London.
The company moves offices in Autumn 2018. London City Island will house both the ENB and the ENB School. “We will have a dance lab, not a proper theatre but a full stage with 170 seats, with lighting capabilities, a full tower and a rig,” says Rojo. This will allow the company to develop their new productions to the highest level and to meet audience expectations. “In the ballet world, companies often spend almost £2m on a production and then give themselves three days on stage because it is too expensive,” she says. “In Manchester when we did Giselle we had two weeks of previews. This is how it should be done”.
Rojo discovered dance when she was five-years-old, during after-school activities which she took part in while her mother was working. “One day, it was raining and my mum was late. The ballet teacher saw me and told me to come into the school gym. They were doing ballet and I fell in love with it. I did not know what being a ballet dancer was; I thought it was just doing ballet class and that is all I wanted to do,” she says. “If I was not a dancer, I would love to write – that would be amazing. I would love to be able to create stories but I am not sure I have the talent.”
When she is not with the ENB Rojo enjoys going to the theatre, cinema and exhibitions, but struggles to see everything she wants to see. “I always feel that I am missing out,” she says. “You constantly hear ‘You have to see this’ and you think ‘when?!’. What a struggle to have, uh?” she smiles.
Rojo decided to move to the UK after seeing the repertoire of Kenneth MacMillan. Galina Samsova, director of the Scottish Ballet, gave the dancer her first international opportunity, opening many doors. She remembers advice given to her by Michael Kaiser, Executive Director of the Royal Opera House at the time she joined. They worked together for only six months but connected straightaway. “He said to me when I started, ‘be ambitious, go for the wildest dream” and I thought to myself, ‘this is insane; you have to have a hint of realism’, but you don’t! So far I have managed to go for the wildest dream”, she says. “If you are driving an artistic organisation, be brave. Do not compromise on the ideas and do not have a hint of realism; you might have to compromise on the way of delivering them but do not compromise on the vision”.
Rojo has made a conscious effort to support the work of female choreographers – with She Said, a triple bill at Sadler’s Wells. “By the time I came to ENB, I realised I had never performed in a ballet created by a women. I thought that could not be right,” she says. “Now more and more people are looking for female choreographers. I hope no one can finish an international artistic career of 20 years of professional dance without having performed in a ballet created by a woman. I hope that never happens again”. ENB won an Olivier Award in April this year for outstanding achievement in dance and for expanding the variety of its repertoire with Giselle and She Said.
A prominent public voice in the arts, Rojo sits on many boards, such as the Arts Council England and One Dance UK, but is frustrated by the Spanish arts world. “I hope that at some point I read in a political manifesto something about culture that gives me hope,” she says. She believes that the Spanish political class, regardless of ideology, should promote arts and culture in a transparent way with an “arm’s length” consistency – culture serving society beyond a specific political agenda”. Rojo explains how revolutionary the creation of the Arts Council was in the UK after the second world war, and how policies of philanthropy and tax deductions helped balance the cuts on public funding.
“I just wish that culture in Spain had the commitment of the political class,” she says. “In the UK, and also in other countries with good models i.e. Canada, the creative industry is not only thriving but one of the motors of the country; it creates jobs and continues to grow even in crisis. It attracts tourism, it connects industries, hotels and restaurants, publishing and textiles”.
She urges Spain’s politicians to think about the benefits of art and culture to the country’s economy, its international reputation and soft diplomacy. “Even the coalition government in the UK, that had to face the biggest cuts, recognises that the arts will not be cut as it drives the economy,” she says. “I just wish our Spanish government, whatever ideology they defend, could come to an agreement on this for the benefit of Spanish society. “I can only keep saying it… again”.
Rojo mentions the lack of collaboration among Spain’s Autonomous Communities that could do better at sharing expenses when there is a company on tour, and feels there is a lack of infrastructure and vision in Spain. “We are such a musical society, we dance all the time – just think about all the festivities in the villages. People embrace art but successful art projects only happen because there is a bunch of devoted individuals that really fight for it, to the bones. When individuals disappear, the whole project disappears with them because there is no support or direction, there is no plan,” she explains.
She talks about Brexit as a sad moment for many. “We don’t really know what Brexit is and that is worrying,” says Rojo, referring to a white paper published by the Creative Industries Federation on the possible consequences¹. “Brexit will affect not only the ability to bring in talent but also in the free movement of talent that has made London the cultural capital in the world,” she says. “If I was in Spain I would take the opportunity to become the cultural capital of the world”.
At 42, Rojo is quietly winding down despite being in perfect physical condition. “There are some roles that I do not do anymore and I am happy with that. Not everyone has the luck to have this transition at the speed they choose in the manner they choose. I am very lucky,” she says. When asked about the possibility of her returning to Spain, she says she would only go back to create a National Arts Board (Consejo de las Artes) but does not envisage that happening in the short term. However, it is not her style to give up.
¹ Middlesbrough, L. (2016) The impact of leaving the EU on the UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education – and what should be done: Brexit report. Creative Industries Federation https://issuu.com/lovemiddlesbrough/docs/creative_industries_federation_-_br/3