May 3rd, 2008


3rd of May, rebellion and firing squads

Thugs in gas masks on stilts, carrying lengths of rubber hose, menaced the audience as La Marseillaise played over the loudspeakers. They represented Napoleon's troops. A rabble with torches dispersed through the audience. They represented the people of Madrid, who rose up in rebellion against the French troops occupying Spain on May 2, 1808. Then fireworks seemed to burn down and blow up the main post office (photo above), which represented the War of Independence.

Nothing is quite like La Fura dels Baus, a Spanish aerial acrobatic troupe that put on a show last night at Cibeles Plaza for the bicentennial of the uprising. My husband and I were among 100,000 people who filled the streets. We were wowed.

Historical figures flew above the crowd, hoisted by cranes. Fireworks punctuated key moments. A release of 100 doves signaled the end of the war. King Fernando VII returned to the throne as a tightrope walker. A huge gold marionette representing la Pepa, as the Constitution of 1812 is called, danced through the crowd as we all chanted "Viva la Pepa!" I'm not sure what the human-scale gerbil exercise wheel meant as it rolled around, but La Fura dels Baus is Catalan, and that province of Spain has a sense of aesthetic that escapes me.

The climax came as acrobats hanging in the air reenacted the firing squads of May 3, when Napoleon's troops retaliated against the May 2 uprising, a tragedy made famous by a Goya painting. (You can see the painting at my home page.) That's the photo below, as "blood" streams down the facade of Linares Palace.