Elephant on parade

José Saramago street spectacular packs trunk for Madrid

The Elephant's Journey arrives in the Spanish capital on Saturday.
The Elephant's Journey arrives in the Spanish capital on Saturday.Francisco Seco (EL PAÍS)

In the 16th century King John III of Portugal decided to give his cousin Archduke Maximilian an Indian elephant from the Portuguese colony of Goa as a wedding present. The animal had been languishing in Lisbon as a plaything of his princes.

The story of Solomon the elephant and his Indian handler's journey from Lisbon to Vienna - across Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Austria - was told in a novel by the late Nobel laureate José Saramago. That book, The Elephant's Journey, has now been turned into a street theater spectacular by Portuguese theater group Trigo Limpo Teatro Acert, helped by the music of Spanish singer-songwriter Luis Pastor. The group has already performed it in several towns around Portugal, and on September 21 will be bringing it to the Plaza Constitución in Rivas-Vaciamadrid. The municipality, located just outside the Spanish capital, has named an avenue, school and library after Saramago. Last Saturday, Trigo Limpo Teatro Acert performed the show in Lisbon's central Praça do Município, where a thousand people turned out to see this mix of theater, music and circus that features more than 70 participants.

Pastor composed the music to accompany the Saramago poems that best served to underline, reinforce or move the story forward. He had originally been commissioned to write lyrics for the piece, but preferred to dive into the writer's old verse. "I found everything I needed there," he explains. "All the themes of Solomon's journey were already to be found there. I didn't have to write anything. Only put them to music." He drew on a wide array of influences to compose the music: from 17th-century Baroque music to bossa nova.

The elephant used in the show is a life-sized articulated wicker contraption that moves around on a wheeled platform. Last Thursday it was to be found parked outside the Saramago Foundation in Lisbon, which is run by the author's widow, the Spaniard Pilar del Río. She says the adaptation is very faithful to the spirit of her late husband's novel: "In its joie de vivre and sense of humor." The day before, she says, a man had stopped outside the foundation to admire the animal: "Then, to our astonishment, he said to us that he was Indian and that he looked after elephants."

El viaje del elefante. September 21, 10pm, at Plaza de la Constitución, Rivas-Vaciamadrid, Madrid.


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