Sunday, 5 June 2016

Rodolfo Rodríguez González El Pana – Critical Appreciation

Sadly, we are all aware of the tragic tale of Rodolfo Rodríguez El Pana. He suffered critical injuries in Ciudad Lerdo (Durango, Mexico) on 1 May 2016 when he was tossed by the bull Pan Francés from the Guanamé ranch. Sadly, the prognosis was always bleak, doctors[i] diagnosed El Pana with quadriplegia and the torero (who was subsequently transferred to a Guadalajara hospital) passed away on 2 June 2016 after suffering numerous cardiac problems.

El Pana has always said he was born in Apizaco on the 2 February 1952, although there are suggestions that he was at least three years older[ii]. He started in La Fiesta’s basement. Pushed towards toreo as a way to escape an underprivileged social context, El Pana forged himself as a torero as part of an amateur trope in the chaotic capeas of the Mexican provinces. His apprenticeship was supplemented through clandestine excursions into the ganaderías in the countryside surrounding Apizaco[iii].  After ten years of struggling through a career that lacked direction, and meandering towards failure, he grasped his chance at an opportunity in La Plaza México by jumping into the ring as an espontáneo during a novillada in1977.

The publicity stunt worked. The, by now fairly senior, novillero gripped the attention of the capital’s afición and he filled the plaza with expectant aficionados during a series of novilladas in 1978. His performances as a novillero culminated in a mano a mano with César Pastor in the capital with a novillada from the Begoña ranch. He obtained an indulto of his third bull after what must have been a dramatic faena[iv]. El Pana had arrived. These promising successes led to an alternativa March 18, 1979 in La México (with Mariano Ramos as padrino), and there was a genuine hope that here was a torero that could break the hegemony imposed by Manolo Martínez and Eloy Cavazos.

Such hopes underestimated the control exerted by those two toreros on Mexican toreo of the period. Therefore, El Pana was side lined. He spent the eighties and nineties toreando sporadically, with seasons of less than twenty corridas during the eighties becoming campaigns of less than five corridas in the nineties and finally radio silence in the early noughties.

Everything changed on January 7 2007 – El Pana was given the opportunity to retire with dignity in La Plaza México. Instead, he resurrected in all his glory. The corrida was broadcast and the whole taurine world was finally able to enjoy (and discover) El Pana. His faena to Rey Mago[v] will be remembered one of toreo’s magical performances.  A new generation discovered El Pana and Mexican toreo found itself in such a dire predicament that it could no longer ignore such a genial torero.

El Pana’s career was defined by the last ten years. In his fifties and sixties, El Pana became the preeminent Mexican torero that his toreo deserved. He also, finally, had the chance to appear in Spain. Although the top European rings, perhaps unfairly, closed their gates to him (nihil novi sub sole for El Pana) he had a number of magical performances in the Spanish and French provinces. All of which took Rodolfo Rodriguez to Ciudad Lerdo on May 1 2016 – this time it would be the final paseíllo of his life. As Rodolfo lay unconscious on the sand, he could no longer muster the spirit of the phoenix that had helped him rise from the ashes of his life’s travails – Pan Francés had broken his back, and with it the soul of a romantic sector of the afición enchanted by this magically bohemian torero.

Romanticism and bohemia had been at the heart of the concept of El Pana as a torero. An irreverent soul, he always possessed a unique talent to connect with his audience. He connected with the crowd in La México in 1978, he did so once again spectacularly in 2007 and continued to do so until the first day of May 2016. Sometimes, aficionados, when we seek to analyse as well as experience the corrida, get bogged down in technical considerations. Some toreros are impossible to analyse this way – the emotion they create is greater than the sum of the parts of their toreo. At its heart, toreo is a performance art: it relies on the performer’s ability to enchant the audience. Populist toreros such as Manuel Díaz El Cordobés, Juan José Padilla and El Fandi base their tauromaquia precisely on this ability to connect with the crowd. El Pana had more torería than these toreros (perhaps, the best comparison might be Luís Francisco Esplá, another torero with great ability to fill the plaza with his presence and his show), but, at its most basic, Rodolfo’s toreo sought to enthral.

Therefore, his paseíllo, performed while smoking a cigar, was part of the show. As was his way of walking to and from the bull, dragging his feet across the sand, determined to show the audience of the importance of the moment to come. He was also prone to trance like episodes, similar, perhaps, to what we might have seen from Victoriano de la Serna in the 1920s. Above all, El Pana would give his audience a show.

Beyond this, El Pana was also a capable torero. He followed the tradition of varied Mexican toreros – Rodolfo’s toreo was varied with the capote and bright with banderillas. With the latter, he had a signature pair: el par a la calafia[vi]. A type of quiebro al violín performed close to the boards (similar to Manuel Escribano’s current popular quiebro) with the difference that the banderillas pass over the shoulder rather than across the chest as would be the case al violin. He was clearly in the line of varied gallismo, that it is, following Gallito’s tradition of dominating a wide variety of suertes, but lacking the dominance over the bull of a complete or dominant gallista.

It would not be a disservice to say that El Pana was never a dominant toreo – the seven toros with whom he heard the three avisos in La México can attest to that. Rather, his muleta work was sweet, gentle and underlined by class and variety. His toreo fundamental was well timed and exceedingly slow, a necessary quality in order to extract the best from the Mexican bull. Rodolfo also had an excellent ability to lower his hand and perform very long and low muletazos, particularly with the right hand. Aside from his toreo fundamental, El Pana’s accessorial toreo was delightful. His trincherazos would be the envy of most artists and he was able to torear por alto like Procuna. In many ways, he was the great consolidator of great Mexican toreo – he brought together all the variety that existed in Mexican toreo before Camino crossed the pond and every Mexican sought to imitate him[vii].

It feels churlish to assess El Pana’s toreo because I will always feel he gave us an incomplete portfolio of work. Compared to other figuras, El Pana has toreado very little. Because of this, what will live on is the folkloric image of El Pana as a bohemian torero and perhaps his toreo will fade in comparison to his legend – this is unfair, because his toreo, at its best, was genuinely beautiful. If only he had been given the contracts that he deserved; his toreo would have come to the fore and we would have enjoyed more faenas like the one to Rey Mago. Perhaps, we might have also enjoyed a generation of young Mexican toreros that followed in his concept, keen to keep the toreo from Mexico’s golden age alive.

The question now is, where do we place El Pana in the wider context of Mexican toreo? His career certainly lacked the longevity and sustained glory of his nemeses Martínez and Cavazos. He also lacks the prominence of the figuras that followed that duo: Curro Rivera, David Silveti, Miguel Armillita Chico or Jorge Gutiérrez. In any appraisals of Mexican toreo, all of these torero appear above El Pana[viii].

I think that each of these characterisations undersells El Pana. Of course, merely by the nature of his career, comparisons are difficult, and it is hard to argue that his historical significance surpasses his peers. However, and this is the crux of the matter, he might have been a better torero than each of them. That might sound far-fetched, but he has been able to compete with Spanish toreros in a way few other Mexican toreros have done over the last sixty years. Domingo Delgado de la Cámara certainly argues this point, adding that El Pana was the final torero in the lineage of the Golden Age of Mexican toreo[ix].

This piece lacks the flamboyant and graceful wordsmithery that was one of El Pana’s traits – however, it is my small toast to a colourful torero whose journey through la fiesta enhanced the varied tapestry of toreo.

A final thought takes me to Hemingway. He would have never seen El Pana, but he wrote about an equally genial torero: Rafael El Gallo. Don Ernesto wrote that it would have been a tragedy for El Gallo to have been killed by a bull[x]; similarly, El Pana was not meant to end this way. El Pana was destined to keep regaling us with his irreverent toreo and, once his career was over, to hold court over taurine tertulias with his wealth of anecdotes and politically incorrect (but extremely perceptive) views on toreo. Sadly, however, El Pana’s final lesson in the ring was a sad reminder that a bull, in its neck muscles and in its horns, carries glory and tragedy in equal measure.   

[i] mundotoro’s rolling news blog has given daily updates on El Pana’s condition and has imbedded footage from the press conference held by El Pana’s doctors.
[ii] evidence of birth date discrepancies are always tenuous, however, the fact that the suggestion comes from prominent Mexican taurine journalist Juan Antonio de Labra means I felt they were worthy not noting. As an aside El Cossio states his birthday as 22 February 1952 while Abella, like Juan Antonio de Labra puts it a 2 February 1952.
[iii][iii] Taken from Banderillas Negras’ excellent interview with El Pana, completed a couple of months before his injury
[iv] Cossio Los Toros vol 18 Espasa 2007
[vi] José Luis Ramón Todas las Suertes Por Sus Maestros Espasa 1998.
[vii] Domingo Delgado de la Cámara Entre Marte y Venus Modus Operandi  2014.
[viii] For the purposes of this exercise I referred to Paco Aguado’s Figuras del Siglo XX and Carlos Abella’s De Manolete a José Tomás. Aguado omits El Pana entirely, while Abella places him after the aforementioned Mexican figuras.  Also see

[ix] Delgado de la Cámara, Marte y Venus.
[x] In Death in the Afternoon.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sevilla 27/03/2016 – Corrida Domingo de Resurrección

The view from the sofa, my thoughts on corridas I have watched on TV.

Garcigrande bulls for Morante de la Puebla, José María Manzanares & Alejandro Talavante

The opening bull’s ungainly and uncertain charge were no obstacle to Morante leaving us three wonderful veronicas and a media. Good toreo, although we were left with the question whether the bull’s gentle charge would last into the muleta. These doubts continued during the tercio de varas, the bull received a long, low pic in the first instance and barely a prick for the second pic. Although Morante gave us some stylish passes with the muleta, by this ercio the bull had become too subdued to allow for a complete faena, our initial fears realised. Morante concluded the faena as soon as he understood that the bull was fading. He received a couple of token jeers, but I was grateful he did not unnecessarily extend the faena.

Morante’s second bull had an uncomfortable charge. It took two pics vigorously shaking its head at the horse. It followed the cape with better style, allowing Morante to sculpt a couple of lovely veronicas and a media. Carretero also gave a couple of lovely long capotazos during the lidia. However, its difficulties appeared once again as it charged at the banderilleros, cutting across the toreros especially on the right side. This tendency cost Antonio Jiménez Lili a going during the last pair. The bull’s charge was demanding, it would not easily give in the muleta, but when it attacked it did so profoundly. It took Morante until about mid-faena to fully find the measure of the bull for a fulls series. Nevertheless, the early parts of the faena was characterised by individual passes of excellent quality. As from mid-faena on, Morante felt confident enough with the bull to keep the cloth in his face and commit to link his toreo en redondo. The series were short, but extremely deep and intense. The highlight were an excellent series by derechazos, a couple of wonderful naturales (capped with a dreamy molinete abelmontado) and some concluding ayudados por alto to savour. Morante had certainly earned an ear for his work, but, one he took the real sword, he decided to push for more. Unfortunately the bull became rajado and difficult for the estocada – after a defective estocada and numerous descabellos, he received three avisos and the bull was returned to the pen (figuratively, in fact he was apuntillado in the ring). Notwithstanding, Morante received a great ovation, although the ring was split as to whether he should have come out on to the sand to receive the applause.    

Manzanares first bull took an unstylish first pic and gave a derribo with its second entry into the horse. Matters livened with the quites. Talavante performed a series of relaxed and still gaoneras, while Manzanares replied with some tight chicuelinas. A pleasing tercio and further anecdotal evidence that toreros are feeling the need to be ever more involved with the cape. Rafa Rosa continued the positive vibes with a couple of tight and risky pairs of banderillas, he deservedly received a rousing round of applause which he received montera in hand. The bull was mobile, with an edge of masedumbre that kept it threatening to break towards its querencia in the boards. José Mari began with a series of test passes, taking bull to the centre of the ring with aplomb. His first tanda of derechazos well linked and low but unnecessarily short. The second series also continued this theme three derechazos is far too few for a complete series, although Manzanares supplanted his short series with a wonderfully elegant cambio de mano and chest pass. After testing the bull’s left side, which was not as good as the right, the faena petered out into nothing. Despite his flashes of bright toreo, José Mari had not extracted the most from the bull.

This worrying trend (for Manzanares) continued with the fifth bull. José Mari began with some cold veronicas. Talavante opted for a quite, which was short and subdued, but capped with a wonderful larga. The faena de muleta was a non-entity. The bull seemed to charge well, but Manzanares was unable, or not confident enough, to try to link toreo en redondo. Once again, the feeling was that, while the bull might not have been a torrent of bravura, Manzanares had performed below the level offered by the bull.  

The original third bull was sent back to the pens after injuring itself against the boards. The replacement had a raspy charge to Talavante’s capote; Alejandro tried to time it with the cape and gave a pleasing media.  A couple of regulation pics were followed by an excellent tercio de banderillas by Juan José Trujillo, elegant and emphatic. Talavante started with a cartucho de pescao and a gentle series of four naturales. Another slow series capped with a closed stance molinete and a long, sweet chest pass. The bull was compliant, but retained a certain raspy quality lacked the desire to follow the lures to the end of the pass. In lightof the bull’s problems, Talvante’s faena was even more meritorious. Alejandro linked his toreo en redondo with either hand smoothly. He gave some aesthetically imposing remates por bajo and even sprinkled some of his Mexican concepts such as the odd arrucina. Talavante capped his work with a wonderfully slow estocada, where each movement was distinct and performed with timing to savour. He was awarded a just ear for his faena – it was the faena of a figura who knew it was his responsibility to perform to a high level today.

Talavante received the final bull of the afternoon (and his final bull in Sevilla this season) with a series of pleasing veronicas and a pretty media. The bull pushed well, with some nerve, at the horse at the first pic, although the second was short, light and unslightly. Talavante had no doubt in his mind that he would give the bull a good faena. He had the conviction of a torero on top form. As such, he went straight to the centre of the ring and waited there for the bull to charge; it came with mobility and power allowing Alejandro to carve a pleasing opening series with the right hand. The bull attended the lures well, but lacked the stamina and commitment to lower its head through each charge and its impetus declined as the series progressed. Therefore, despite the promising start, it seemed that the faena would dissipate without much fuss. Talavante, however, had other ideas. He extracted a very meritorious faena from the bull. He stood in the right terrain to make the bull charge, he kept the muleta placed perfectly between each pass to ensure ligazón and he timed the bull exquisitely. The allowed him to extract excellent series with each hand and earn the respect of the crowd. He would have cut his second ear of the afternoon but for poor sword work.

Some might conclude that today’s corrida was disappointing. I would respectfully disagree. Disappointment is, of course, entirely relative, if one was expecting a resounding triumph from one or more of the performers, he or she might have been disappointed. However, within the context of what one can reasonably expect from a taurine spectacle in 2016, I enjoyed the corrida. Aside from the three worthy faenas de muleta, we enjoyed an involved tercio de quites from Talavante and Manzanares, excellent toreo a la veronica from Morante, risky and emotive banderillas from Trujillo and Rafa Rosa, a good lidia from José Antonio Carretero and even a stark reminder of the risks taken by toreros in the shape of poor Lili’s goring. Of course, contemporary taurine reductionism, reducing everything to the faena de muleta, means that these details are dismissed when considering one appraisal of the corrida, adding to the feeling of disappointment. There is also the modern tendency on blaming everything on the bulls (a tendency which seemed particularly prevalent today in excusing Manzanares’ performance). I am not going to sing the praises of a frankly average string of Domingo Hernandez bulls. However, Talavante’s performance today was clear proof that when a torero is on form, he can give each bull its lidia and create an emotive spectacle with it. Therefore, today I am ending my review with a positive message, sometimes I get bogged down in picking holes in a performance – today I wanted to focus on the positive little details that characterised he afternoon. Now, if only we had enjoyed an excellent bull and a great faena…   

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Feria de Fallas 17/03/2016 – Corrida – Victoriano del Río

The view from the sofa, my thoughts on corridas I have watched on TV.

Victoriano del Río bulls for Alejandro Talavante & Roca Rey mano a mano

Following a number of disappointing crowds, today’s attractive cartel brought a near full house to the plaza. Although the aficionado hopes that the crowds fill plazas every corrida, can one really blame the público for opting out of this week’s corridas? The crowd senses when the corrida promises to be significant, and they avoid the plaza if the cartel is not inviting. Yes, I know, promising corridas do not always deliver, but an a priori underwhelming cartel almost never does. The general public plays the percentages. Alejandro Talavante is in a rich vein of form. Long gone are the inconsistencies of his early years as a matador. He has matured into a torero with the ability to perform very high quality faenas on a regular basis. Roca Rey is one of the standard bearers of the new generation of young toreros mounting their assault on the summit of the senior escalafón. Of all the young toreros, he (along with perhaps Ginés Marín) have the highest ceiling. His tauromaquia is a stunning fusion between stillness and quality toreo, an eye catching concept that satisfies the seasoned aficionado and the casual spectator. If I am being nit-picky about the cartel, I would have preferred a terna. Miguel Ángel Perera would have been an excellent addition to the bill, he certainly does not deserve to have been left at home this feria.   

I loathe the term “ganadería de garantías” (a ranch whose performance is guaranteed) – with bulls, nothing can ever be guaranteed. However, I am willing to stake that Victoriano del Río is likely to deliver an above average level of performance. I can be exasperated by the Domecq encaste as much as the next guy, however, the Victoriano bulls are at the top of their game. Any issues that their might be with the Domecq bloodline are not down to this ganadería. A quick word of warning before we begin, I would have also said the same about Saturday’s Fuente Ymbros and they underwhelmed…

Talvante dove straight in to delantales in the recibo to his first bull, these were slightly untidy but performed closely. The bull’s performance over the first couple of tercios was disconcerting. It seemed unfocussed and received a couple of non-descript pics. Roca Rey performed a smooth quite by tafalleras, which were undermined by the bull’s subdued charge. The banderillas seemed to revive the bull’s charge somewhat – although this was at the expense of Santi Acevedo, who unfortunately received a 25cm going in the buttock as he exited a pair of banderillas. Nevertheless, the bull was sprightly enough to convince Talavante that he could begin the faena with a cartucho de pescao and a couple of series of naturales. The early charges of each series were emotive, the bull’s momentum taking it through each pass; however, it lacked he vigour to maintain the charge throughout the series. When it felt dominated its charge would turn raspy, the sense of danger was palpably present at each juncture. Talavante was firm, and tried to impose his will on the bull through good timing. The result was pleasing, we could see the technique of toreo in action. Talavante was even able to give us some moments of brilliance, either through a well linked series, a bright molinete invertido or his decisive closing manoletinas. This bull was evidence of Talvante’s evolution as a torero, he used to only shine when the bull charged on rails; today Alejandro succeeded imposing his will on a tricky customer. For my money he would have deserved an ear had he not necessitated a pinchazos an ineffectual estocada to finish his work.    

Talavante’s second bull took a long, hard, first pic, almost dismounting the picador. Talavante gave a still quite by chicuelinas, which was undermined by the bull’s rough, short charge. The second pic was light and followed by Roca Rey’s quite of extremely tight saltilleras. The bull lacked rhythm and class, but it had power and nerve – a happy trade, even though the ideal is the delicate balance between each set of qualities. Talavante began with estatuarios and continued his faena by naturales. The series were naturally intermittent because of the bull’s rough charge, but they were well timed by Talavante and kept the crowd’s interest precisely because of the bull’s difficulties. It was not a faena to feel and enjoy, but rather to nod along in approval at the solutions given by Talavante’s muleta to the bull’s problem. The only criticism I would have is that he extended the faena beyond the bull’s capability to charge. Talavante completed his work with a succession of pinchazos.

Talavante’s final bull gave an interesting performance during the tercio de varas – it pushed hard on both occasions, dismounting the rider on the first vara. Roca Rey opted for a quite by veronicas, a pleasing, smooth quite, in stark contrast to the spectacular quites that characterised earlier interventions. Alejandro started his faena de muleta on his knees, the first attempt at kneeling estauarios was aborted when the bull’s horn brushed his leg on the second pass. Talvante took evasive action and was soon on his feet. However, he resolved the situation by taking to his knees again almost immediately and giving the bull four emotive passes en redondo. This bull was on the classier side and it allowed Alejandro to construct a conventional faena en redondo – the torero stood firm and timed the bull well. It was a solid, pleasing faena to a noble and compliant bull. Unfortunately, despite its qualities, the bull soon exhausted its vigour, leaving Talavante to complete his work on the basis on an arrimón and a coda by manoletinas. A slowly executed full estocada put a well-deserved ear in his hands.

Roca Rey took some time to focus his opening bull on his capote for the veronicas de recibo – once he did, the individual lances were good, but they lacked continuity due to the bull’s condition. The animal displayed manso tendencies, fleeing the horse when it felt the steel – the couple of light pics barely made a mark on the bull, leaving the bull raw for the next two tercios. The bull was tough to banderillear, it measured the toreros de plata as they approached and did not charge – rather than pairs al cuarteo, the animal called for creative efficiency, but cuadrillas are no longer used to dealing with nervy mansos.  The bull was manso, but it also charged with vigour and power. With the bull charging like a train it might have been advisable to perform a lidia sobre las piernas. However Roca Rey began with estatuarios in the centre of the ring capped with dominant passes por bajo. Andrés opted to dominate the bull with toreo en redondo. Initially he bull’s nerve won over its mansedumbre and it charged with fierce emotion at Roca Rey’s muleta, allowing Andrés to perform a number of excellent series en redondo. His toreo was firm and extremely still, he also sprinkled some arrucinas for good measure. As soon as the animal felt dominated, however, he became rajado and headed for the boards. In a final show of superiority, Roca Rey’s conclusion consisted of a brief arrimón and a couple of manoletinas. His low estocada al encuentro cost him an ear (although it was widely petitioned by the crowd).

The fourth bull of the afternoon also gave signs of mansedumbre upon its entry to the ring, these continued during the short tercio de varas (the bull went directly from one picador to the other, receiving the two regulation pics in little time). Despite the mansedumbre, the bull had an edge of nerve, which allowed Talavante to perform a pleasing quite by delantales and Roca Rey a bright quite by tafalleras and salterillas. Andrés must have recognised that the bull vivacity (despite its manso tendencies) would give him the chance to shine and dedicated the bull to the crowd. The early part of the faena was a wonderful blend of spectacular, profound and intelligent toreo. He began with classic cambiados in the centre of the ring, the spectacle. Conscious that the bull was manso and wanted to head for the boards, Andrés kept the muleta perfectly positioned in front of the bull’s nose to ensure that he could link toreo en redondo by derechazos, the intelligence. Then, with the bull finding comfort close to the boards, came the profound, a couple of wonderfully silky series of naturales that any great muletero would have gladly claimed as their own.  By this stage the bull was declining, so it was time for the arrimón: the figure of eight toreo, the cambiados and a display of utter stillness. The culmination of this concept was a series of linked pases de las flores and arrucinas and his concluding bernadinas. All the excellent muleta work might have been enough for most toreros, but Roca Rey called for an estocada al encuentro which unleasahed an impassioned petition for two ears and a tail. The president only granted the two ears, but the tail would not have been unwarranted.
Roca Rey’s saludo capotero to the sixth bull was insultingly brilliant – Andrés started with some slow veronicas, a farol took the cape behind his back for tight and lovely timed gaoneras. Roca Rey continued to be involved with the cape during the pics, taking the bull to the horse by rogerinas for a light pic (not that the bull needed delicate handling, but you can see that Roca Rey likes to keep his bulls in tact). There was no quite and the second pic was barely non-existent, again on the matador’s orders. Talavante closed his afternoon with a quite by low and slow veronicas, which in turn stirred Roca Rey’s competitive juices into performing an excellent quite by chicuelinas and tafalleras. Iván García shone during banderillas, two emphatic pairs al cuarteo that earned him saludos. The bull’s charge was promising, it was bright and classy, underpinned by an emotive gallop. Andrés’ opening gambit was a series on derechazos on his knees, capped with a sublime pase de la firma and a roaring chest pass. The only worry at this stage was the bull’s lack of focus.  Despite its qualities, it felt as if it were on the verge of becoming rajado. Sadly our suspicions were confirmed and it headed to the boards as soon as Roca Rey began to torear en redondo. We were left with the unedifying spectacle of Andrés having to chase the bull, rather than the other way round. Nonetheless, the torero managed to focus the bull sufficiently to give some moments of brilliance, principally an excellently linked series of derechazos and a coda of figure of eight toreo. A sure sword al encuentro allowed him to cut a further ear.

Victoriano de Río provided a nervy string of bulls. There was no complete bull, and most lacked the stamina to continue charging throughout the faena, but they each managed to capture the attention of the crowd. Given some of the dross that has emerged from chiqueros this feria, this was a welcome string. However, beyond the bulls’ performance, today will be remembered as the day that Roca Rey announced himself as a figura. His career as a novilllero and early corridas as a full matador gave us promise that we were before an important toreo. Today’s faenas were brimming with toreo the like of which we have rarely seen before. Andrés of course has some way before we can consider him at the level of El Juli, Castella, Manzanares, Perera or Talavante – but if he continues on current form, he will be there very shortly. Talavante gave the afternoon of a figura on good form, he performed well with an average lot. Better sword work might have ensured he joined Roca Rey en hombros, although it is probably fitting that Roca Rey enjoyed the triumph on his own. Today belonged to him – if he reaches his ceiling, toreo’s throne will be his too.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Feria de Fallas 16/03/2016 – Corrida – Capea

The view from the sofa, my thoughts on corridas I have watched on TV.

Capea bulls for El Soro, Jesus Duque & Román

Today was the turn of the token locals corrida. Opening the cartel was the veteran El Soro who is riding the coat tails of his emotive success in this feria last year. Despite his 2015 performance, I was wondering whether his undoubted spirit would be enough to triumph over his surgery ravaged knees again. I have only seen Jesus Duque on the day of his alternativa. He wasted an excellent Victoriano del Rio bull, but nonetheless awarded two ears. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to seeing him again. Román had his moments as a novillero, and is returning to the rings after a year hiatus. It will be interesting to gauge his form.

El Capea is used to sending his murube bulls to corridas de rejones, but is now trying to make it in the foot corridas market. His previous outing in Valencia produced an excellent string of classy and vibrant animals that helped El Cid and Perera triumph. Let us hope he repeats his success today, anything that gives the market a new encaste is welcome.

The first bull of the afternoon had a disconcerting entry into the ring, it lowered its head when it met the lures, but it did not repeat charges, opting instead to head to another part of the ring. It received a long, strong pic from the reserve picador which was followed  by another couple of hard pic. The lidia was handled by El Soro’s banderilleros. It was strange that El Soro, who promised to unleash his pyrotechnics on Valencia, was not involved in quites and barely faced the bull in the opening two tercios. The bull showed manso tendencies, charged reticently and, when it did, measured the torero at each turn. El Soro asked his cuadrilla to place banderillas, much to the disappointment of the crowd. They covered the tercio with professional correctness, but no brilliance given the bull’s reticent condition. The bull lasted barely three passes de muleta. El Soro could see that it charged with power and he was unable to dominate its advances. A swift bajonazo completed the sorry scene.

El Soro was in a better mood to receive the fourth bull. Its charge was noble, sweet and long, giving Vicente the chance to perform jovial vernoicas and a bright quite. It also charged like a dream to Jesus Duque’s capote for a cold quite by veronicas – the animal lacked some verve, but it was extremely classy. Surprisingly, El Soro did not place banderillas. It was unfortunate to see El Soro so inhibited. His toreo is based on creating a festive atmosphere in the plaza, and today his attitude was anything but festive. Despite the bull’s class, by the muleta tercio, it’s tardiness and lack of bravery prevailed. Although there was a chance at creating a faena, El Soro was not confident in his ability to do so at any point. He gave a poor account, not committing to torear and swiftly taking the sword, thereby completing his unfortunate afternoon.

Jesus Duque’s first bull spent the recibo capotero looking to jump over the boards. Worringly, it also indicated a lack of strength. It received a couple of light pics, dismounting the picador during the first one, but had enough mobility to give Román the chance to perform an untidy quite by chicuelinas and tafalleras that, nonetheless, enchanted the crowd. The bull seemed to be mansito, but perhaps with the edge of nerve to give the torero a chance to perform. Duque gave a long faena, with many passes, but conveyed little emotion. The bull was classy, and despite some odd intermittences between charges, was asking for quality, reposed toreo. Duque is inexperienced and could only execute his rapid flaps. At least, unlike El Soro, he had the capacity to cope with the bull.  Despite the pinchazo (which also cost him a tossing) and estocada, there was an inexplicable petition for an ear.

The fifth bull of the afternoon had a subdued entry into the ring, plenty of nobility but a complete lack of vigour. Although Duque, its matador, was unable to shine with the capote, Román once again took his right to a quite. He gave some still espaldinas concluded with a larga cambaida de rodillas and a brionesa – bright and decisive toreo. Duque began with a tight pase cambiado in the centre of the ring, which was the prelude to a faena which was full of passes but low on toreo. The bull was mobile and committed to the first part of each pass, but failed to follow through and cut short. Despite his dignified outing, there is little to remember in Duque's toreo.

Román tried to be involved in the first couple of toros at every opportunity. Itwas  therefore no surprise that he was very active with the cape during his opening bull. He took to his knees to receive his bull, gave it rogerinas to take it to the horse and gave an excellent quite by saltilleras, capped with a couple of brionesas that had the crowd on its feet. Román was determined to give a positive account of himself this afternoon and took to his knees once again to open his faena in the centre of the ring – a bright start that had the crowd completely focussed on the faena. The bull was noble and mobile although it lost interest in the lures as each series progressed, evidencing a lack of bravery. Román’s work ebbed and flowed along with the bull’s condition. After a solid start, marked by good, linked, toreo en redondo, the bull’s energy waned and so did Román’s toreo. He tried to salvage some emotion with a closing arrimón, although the bull’s lack of vigour cheapened the gesture. Nonetheless, credit to Román. While the bull charged, his muleta was there to perform pleasing toreo.  

Román continued to show his disposition as he headed to the puerta de chiqueros to greet the sixth bull a pora gayola. He continued the recibo capotero with three larga cambiadas de rodillas, delantales a chicuelina and capped with a serpentina. After a non-eventful couple of first tercios, the bull emerged with mobility but lack of focus. Román began well with some estatuarios and a well linked series of derechazos. However, the bull’s initial mobility proved to be a mirage. By the third series the lack of focus and stamina in the bull became obvious. Ultimately it lacked commitment to charge. Román was firm, stayed still and managed to impose some interesting passages of toreo. It was the most one could muster to such a lacklustre animal. Román’s final arrimón was the last show of determination and brilliance of impressive afternoon. The oreja he was awarded, after an estocada and descabello, proved a deserved prize for his afternoon.

So ended another disappointing afternoon marked by the bulls' sub-par performance. Román did well in the circumstances, he was bright and involved all afternoon and may well find a place in second tier corridas. Jesus Duque was entirely forgettable, the best we can write is that at least he had the physical and technical wherewithal to face his bulls with dignity. But toreo calls for more. There is little doubt that El Soro left the ring deeply disappointed. Toreo is a performance art, and El Soro promised to enchant Valencia once more with his sense of spectacle and pyrotechnics. However, also toreo calls for its performers to dominate a bull before they can give free reign to their inner artist. El Soro plainly lacked this crucial element today. This afternoon was a swansong too far.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Feria de Fallas 15/03/2016 – Corrida – Zalduendo

The view from the sofa, my thoughts on corridas I have watched on TV.

Zalduendo bulls for Iván Fandiño, Joselito Adame & Juan Del Álamo

Today's cartel is markedly second tier. Despite the relative ambitions of each torero, none has achieved figura stairs. Fandiño thought he was on the cusp of doing so and therefore programmed an encerrona for himself last year in Madrid in order to consolidate his position. Unfortunately, the corrida was utterly disappointing with the torero giving a poor account of himself. Iván struggled through the rest of the season and now faces the challenge of not slipping further down the pecking order. Joselito Adame is a figura in his homeland. His challenge now is whether he can match the figuras as their equal in Europe as he does in Mexcio. Juan Del Álamo was a leading novillero whose career with the four year old has simmered along nicely without boiling. He has enjoyed some important afternoons and has maintained excellent consistency   in his Madrid performances (often cutting an ear, but falling just short of an emphatic triumph). He has ability, now he needs a string of strong performances to push him to the forefront of the generational shift.

I hold little hole for the Bulls this afternoon. Zalduendo has shown itself to be in a rut over a number of years and El Ventorillo (who is providing the fourth and sixth bull today) has been poor ever since Paco Medina left and Fidel San Román took the reins.

Fandiño’s opening bull arrived at the muleta with adequate mobility and a positive tendency to lower its head. However it lacked the vigour and conviction to follow the lure throughout the charge on a consistent basis. Using this inconsistent charge, Fandiño’s performance began well and he managed the odd meritorious series. However, overall, the faena lacked cohesion. The bull was noble enough to allow good toreo, but lacked emotion. Despite the odd good pass or series, Fandiño was unable to control or time the bull sufficiently to create consistently good series. The frequent desarmes and enganchones did nothing to allay the sense that this was an untidy performance. Fandiño tried to salvage his work with the token circulares and kneeling passes, but it was too late. The bull had gone by this stage. The best part of his performance was a stylish volapié. Fandiño conveyed a poor impression with this bull. The animal was by no means perfect, lacking the emotive charge to elevate a faena, however it had sufficient nobility and an edge of nobility that can be used by a torero on good form to craft some toreo. Fandiño seemed to lack the wherewithal to do so.

Iván tried to brighten proceedings with a pase cambiado to begin the faena to the fourth bull. Once again, however, the animal lacked the vigour to give his work any emotion. This bull was very poor. It had no redeeming feature and its flame was entirely extinguished after only a series. Fandiño could do nothing but try and justify his attempts at a faena. On this occasion, his sword failed him leading to a litany of pinchazos and a descabello.

Fandiño’s final bull, which he faced in place of Adame, continued the poor style of the whole of the corrida. It lacked style, rhythm, vigour and any of the attributes that one would associate with a brave bull. Fandiño did the sensible thing and gave us a brief faena de aliño. To make matters worse, his sword work was poor.

Joselito Adame only faced one bull. He was gored at the end of his faena to the second of the afternoon and was being operated at the ring’s infirmary while his second animal was on the sand. The faena he was able to perform was lacklustre given the bull’s poor condition. There were a couple of bright series at the start of the faena soon dissipated along with the bull’s energy. Adame gave a full estocada, with tardy effects. It was while waiting for the bull to succumb that Joselito suffered the goring – in the bull’s final charge he succeeded in driving at Adame’s knee sending the torero to the operating theatre. A reminder that, no matter how moribund an animal might look, it always has the strength to break a man in two.

Juan Del Álamo’s first bull was an entirely non-descript animal. It was noble with sufficient movement to allow for some hope of a faena. Juan’s work was meticulously crafted. His muleta was measured, each pass had a purpose, to give the bull the incentive to follow the muleta. The faena started slowly, passes were more intermittent and Del Álamo did not complete a fully linked series. However, his toreo was timed beautifully, aimed at showing the bull how it should charge. This all culminated in three excellent series, with both hands, of profound, linked and emotive toreo en redondo. A sure sword allowed him to cut the first ear of the afternoon, and leave the puerta grande half open

Conscious that the triumph was there for the taking, Juan Del Álamo welcomed his second bull with a couple of larga cambiadas de rodillas. The rest of the saludo capotero was sullied by the bull losing its footing on a number of occasions. The bull was heavily protested due to its apparent weakness, but it was not returned to the pens. It reached the final tercio with sufficient energy to allow Juan to perform an interesting faena. Above all, the main virtue of the performance was Del Álamo’s sense of timing. The overwhelming sense of calm and his gentle handling of the muleta meant that the bull felt obliged to follow he lure. Juan constructed an acceptable faena of toreo fundamental. Well linked series with either hand, during which he was entirely in control and there was barely an enganchón. Juan intelligently crafted the faena and ended with some circulares and a molinete garnish that served to excite the crowd enough for them to petition for his second ear of the afternoon after a full estocada. Two orejas, a puerta grande and a very productive afternoon for Juan Del Álamo.

Sadly, the bulls confirmed our suspicions on the current form of each ranch. This type of spectacle do nothing for the fiesta and although the impresario may lament the poor attendance, you cannot blame people who stay home. As for the toreros, the undoubted star was Juan Del Álamo. He faced a couple of average bulls, gave them the treatment they required and triumphed. We might argue the weight and merit of each trophy, but the main take away from me is he brought the best out of each animal. That, sometimes, is more significant than a puerta grande. Fandiño continues his worrying turn of form, he is in dire need of a morale boosting faena. As for Joselito, I only hope he makes a swift recovery.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Feria de Olivenza 06/03/2016 – Corrida – Nuñez del Cuvillo

The view from the sofa, my thoughts on corridas I have watched on TV.

Nuñez del Cuvillo bulls for Joselito Adame, José Garrido & Andrés Roca Rey

Each taurine season has a hook. Look carefully at the prevailing February narratives and you will be able to spot the torero, cartel or concept that the taurinos will be peddling over the summer. This year, the hook is the generational shift. We have had the same seven or eight figuras monopolising the principal cartels for nearly ten years. The afición has been crying for some years that the ferias should be opened up to young, up and coming toreros. Thus far the toreros and empresarios have resisted the change (or is it that they did not feel that the suitable youngsters were up to the task?). Until now. All winter we have read and heard the taurine press proclaim that finally, the young toreros would be given an opportunity to dine at the top table. The principal youngsters, we are told, are Roca Rey and López Simón. Although they are closely followed by José Garrido and the soon to be matador Ginés Marín.

This week has been the first litmus test for the new hook, firstly with the mano a mano between López Simón and Roca Rey in Castellón and now with this corrida. Cuvillo bulls for Joselito Adame (who is not strictly one of the new generation, but who has made himself a figura in Mexico and is looking impose himself on the Spanish season like no other Mexican since Zotoluco), José Garrido and Roca Rey.

The young toreros face two battles, they must attract sufficient crowds to show the empresarios that they are an economically viable alternative and they must triumph with the bull. The taurino’s hook has a shelf life, if the torero, cartel or concept does not deliver in the ring, it will soon be discarded. Castellón was a promising start, the plaza registered a good attendance, López Simón triumphed and Roca Rey performed well. For starters in Olivenza, the ring was nearly (though unfortunately not completely) full. Let us see how each torero performed.

Joselito Adame’s opening Cuvillo reached the muleta with a noble, subdued charge. Joselito had to guide it a mid-height during the first few series en redondo to ensure that it would cope with toreo en redondo. The toreo was clean, but lacking in emotion. Slowly but surely he was able to slowly add some more intensity to the faena, but this was by no means impassioned toreo. This was smooth, simple, series en redondo to a bull that needed solid technical handling. The crux of Adame's faena was using height and his positioning to ensure that the bull could cope with each pass and ensuring he was placed just so to link each subsequent muletazo. This was the type of faena that an aficionado can enjoy in an understated manner (while at the same time lamenting the bull’s lacklustre performance), but I did not expect the crowd to enjoy it enough to petition for an ear. The prize was duly granted by a generous president.  

The fourth bull was an entirely different proposition. It was wonderfully classy and had the motor to follow the lures with commitment and vigour. An excellent bull for the torero. One that would allow good toreo, but would also undermine the torero if he was unable to rise to the challenge to give a great performance. Joselito was very good, he was not able to give the great faena that a top tier torero might have managed, but he performed at a high level that many would have failed to match. Once again, Adame’s timing was completely on point. His toreo was utterly clean and smooth, an absolute pleasure to behold. Joselito also lowered the lures further this faena, in order to match the bull’s profound charge, And he was completely in control between each muletazo linking his toreo seamlessly. Joselito Adame is not a torero that is known for the aesthetic expressiveness of his toreo, but during this faena he was utterly relaxed which, allied to his silky toreo, gave his work a halo of beauty. There were the token, but underserved, calls for an indulto towards the end of the faena. These were unwarranted, the bull had been very good, not great, for the muleta and did nothing of note at the horse, so Joselito did well to dismiss them with a swift sword thrust. On this occasion, the two ears were entirely deserved.

José Garrido gave an emphatic performance with the cape during his first toro. He stepped on to the sand with the attitude that today he must triumph, he must create spectacle and begin to earn the contracts that the mundillo is reticent to hand out gratuitously. Garrido's opening veronicas were dominant and well linked, capped with a kneeling media which served as a prompt to the crowd that here was a torero entirely committed to this corrida. Garrido’s quite was completely unique. Kneeling in the centre of the ring, he gave a couple of largas cambiadas linked with a kneeling saltillera – breath taking, unique and emphatic. The quite perhaps lacked the profound qualities that some may look for in cape work, but it was no less meritorious. With the muleta, this bull had greater piquancy than the opener and necessitated low, demanding muletazos in order to dominate it into toreo en redondo. Garrido was up to the challenge and constructed an emotive faena around his low toreo en redondo by derechazos. He concluded with a well-structured arrimón and circulares. A full estocada allowed him to cut two deserved ears.

His second bull was a combination of incomplete qualities. It was obedient, but had a raspy edge. It was mobile, but lacked commitment to follow each charge through completely. It was, in short, an average bull that leaves the aficionado wanting, but can offer possibilities for a faena to the torero. Garrido understood his animal well. His muleta was firm and decisvee, timing the bull’s charges andoffering it no choice but to follow the lure and, subsequently, repeat its charge. José constructed the faena intelligently and managed the most intense passages at the conclusion of his performance. Garrido’s toreo was low, linked and controlled. He gave the crowd a worthy faena and they in turn responded by petitioning for an ear, completing an important morning for the young torero.   

Roca Rey’s first bull was dreamily classy. The aficionado may call for more nerve, but, if the torero is up to the task, this type of bull can be the foundation for great faenas. Thus far I had Andrés down as a torero that was extremely capable and whose concept revolved around stillness and close work. Today, I also discovered that he could perform delicate toreo fundamental of the highest order. Given that the bull lacked an edge of piquancy to give its classy charge greater emotion, it required toreo of the highest quality. Roca Rey understood this perfectly, his faena was characterised by it sheer quality. It was smooth, well-linked, long and perfectly controlled. Andrés featured both hands in the faena, but the quality of the naturales shone above the derechazos – he used the flow of the cloth beautifully as he channelled the bull’s sweet charge through each pass. Roca Rey completed his performance with his characteristic arrimón, made up of close ojedismo, arrucinas and all manner of cloasely worked passes. After taking the real sword, he gave a series of luquesinas that were met were frenzied applause by the crowd, as well as calls for an indulto that were entirely out of place. Instead of opting to force the indulto, Andrés secured a full estocada and was awarded a slightly generous tail, although given the quality of the faena and the small plaza context, I am happy to indulge this prize.

The final bull of the afternoon was perhaps its poorest. The animal was sluggish, weak and conveyed no emotion. On the basis of timing and a conviction that he would manage a faena, Roca Rey managed to create some spectacle with the animal. Demanding toreo en redondo was impossible, but he eventually worked the bull round to performing smooth and closely worked figure of eight toreo. The crowd welcomed his positive attitude. In the face of such a lacklustre opponent and Roca Rey, no doubt spurred on by the crowd’s encouragement, even gave them a coda of kneeling passes. This faena will not live in our memory, but it is important to highlight the torero’s determination to extract a performance from a seemingly empty bull. If Roca Rey continues in this vein, he will surely be one of the cornerstones of toreo’s generational shift.