25 Feb 2019

Spanish story finds NZ link

From Voices, 7:00 am on 25 February 2019

When Daniel Fernandes Gonzales was asked to put on a play using the Spanish language, he wasn’t quite sure how to do it.

“At the time, I didn’t really know any other fluent Spanish actors around here,” he said.

Daniel had moved to New Zealand in 2012,  when his New Zealand wife was pregnant with their second child. He said given the economic crisis at the time and a conservative government in Spain the decision was made to migrate to Aotearoa. 

Daniel is an actor, director, producer and artistic director of Babel Theatre company

So when Daniel met Adriana Yianacou, who had migrated to New Zealand 14 years ago and moved to Auckland two years ago, the rest is history.

Together the pair have produced Ay Carmela, a Spanish story that is set during the Spanish Civil War but their version has been adapted for Kiwi audiences. It is set during the time of Daniel and Adriana's grandparents.

"My grandfather fought in the war in the Republican side," says Daniel.

"When the war started, he happened to be on the territory occupied by the facists, so he was forced to enroll on the fascist side, but he managed to cross to the other side and fought for the Republic until they lost the war and then was imprisoned. He was saved from execution by signing a letter that claimed he had been forced to fight on the Republican side."

There has been a lot of interest in the work both here in New Zealand and back in Spain.

It debuted at Auckland's TAPAC last August as part of the International Theatre Festival.

Daniel Fernandes Gonzales and Adriana Yianacou in Ay Carmela.

Daniel Fernandes Gonzales and Adriana Yianacou in Ay Carmela. Photo: Supplied

“One of my personal ideas has been always how do I connect my culture with the culture I am raising?” says Daniel.

He is a father to three children now, and back in Spain, he has two sisters and his mother died there in 2014.

“My wife is Kiwi, and my kids are Kiwis and I don’t just want to only talk always about my own roots.”

Ay Carmela is both a play and film about the tragic human cost of war and the two main characters are Paulino, played by Daniel, and Carmela, played by Adriana.

Paulino and Carmela manage to survive the war, but then get caught on the wrong side of the border, with the fascist army.

“There are two sides, the Republicans and Spanish fascism. So when they end up in a village that has been conquered by the fascists, and they find out they are artists, they are then asked to put on a show for them,” said Daniel.

Daniel then had a light bulb moment when he read about a little known Kiwi connection in two books by war historian Mark Derby. The books will be on sale at the theatre.

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Incredibly, he discovered some New Zealanders went to Spain to help defend against fascist forces of dictator, General Franco, as part of the International Brigades.

Daniel then sought permission from the original playwright to adapt this into the play and got given the green light.

“We wanted to take the audience to another time when the world was facing challenges that would change the shape of human history forever," he says.

There are ancestral links to the story too for Adriana too.

“Part of our history is our own grandparents were part of the Spanish Civil war and were all affected in various ways,” says Adriana.

“So our approach has been personal but also I love the fact that in our theatre we can dig into our own cultural roots to breathe life into this play," she says.

And the decision to do the play speaking Spanish was made to ensure its authenticity,  but they didn’t want non-speaking Spanish theatre goers to be left out.

Ian Sinclair

Ian Sinclair Photo: Supplied

Cue Kiwi journalist, Ian Sinclair. He plays the flamenco guitar live for this show, but he also narrates small parts in English.

“It’s like a dream come true really,” said Ian. “Because to be performing with professionals and Spanish actors and actually writing live music as well as getting to play it, Flamenco and being able to talk about one of my favourite subjects, which is the Spanish Civil War. - what more could you ask for?”

The original Ay Carmela has been translated into nearly 20 languages and performed in 14 countries already. This adapted version of the play will be on at the Bats Theatre for the Fringe Festival in March.

The timing of the show in Wellington also coincides with the presentation of a new bilingual book, penned by Latin American women living here.

Titled Viva la Vida it is the fourth publication by the Auckland Latin American Community or ALAC Inc.

Eighteen Spanish speaking women share their experiences of migrating to New Zealand, in poetry and short stories.

Viva la Vida Auckland launch.

Viva la Vida Auckland launch. Photo: Supplied

ALAC Inc's Felipe Forero said 18 writers residing in New Zealand from Chile, Colombia, Guatemala-Salvador, Mexico, Spain, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina participated in the project.

The book's first launch last year coincided with the 125th year of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand.

“First of all as a migrant, I have been mesmerized by the real diversity that New Zealand has” says Daniel.

“We hope that Ay Carmela becomes a showcase of the great diversity that is present in New Zealand and how migrants can contribute to the culture of Aotearoa, without forgetting their roots."