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Photo by Pep Herrero
Kings' Day parade
2 of 2
Photo by Pep Herrero
When it comes to the arrival of the Three Wise Men on January 5th, Barcelona pulls out all the stops. No head of state, religious leader or celebrity is greeted with the same festive spirit shown at the cavalcada dels reis (Kings’ parade). Dancing, singing, music, lights, dazzling costumes and mesmerising scenes are its essential ingredients. It’s no surprise, then, that preparation starts months in advance and the whole process is intensive, ensuring that the end result is a show fit for kings, and the 500,000 or so children and adults watching.
As early as the summer before the big event, scenographers, set builders, choreographers, singers and artists are working on the main artistic ideas, a process that is headed by Marta Almirall, the director of festivals at Barcelona council’s Institute of Culture. “I have no problem finding inspiration. The hardest part is putting those ideas into practice,” she said.
It’s difficult to believe that Almirall, whose background is in dance and choreography, would find any part of directing the cavalcada hard, given her extensive experience as artistic director of the opening and closing ceremonies of such events as the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 2004 Forum Barcelona and 2008 Expo Zaragoza. However, she highlights a major difference in her work today: “The cavalcada is unique in that it is a moving show that is one kilometre long and divided into blocks. Usually an audience sits and watches a performance but in this case it moves past [them] and is effectively a group of small shows.”
One way that Almirall has dealt with this special characteristic, which inevitably presents all kinds of logistical and technical problems, is by unifying some essential elements. As of last year, for example, the music is the same throughout the parade and the wardrobe was more consistent and in line with the kings’ story, thanks to the revamping of more than 1,200 costumes in the local government’s private collection. “Everyone was really well-dressed, made-up and in character,” said Almirall. “Plus there were lots of dress rehearsals so everyone knew how to wear their costumes theatrically. All of this helps the overall impact of the show.”
Even though Almirall admits that her only childhood memory of the parade is staring fixedly at the lorries full of toys, she believes that the best thing about it is the spectacle rather than the presents that the kings bring, and she hopes that the cavalcada “transmits other values, such as a love of theatre, for example”.
This is a motivating factor behind the ambition of this year’s event to try to integrate the public even more than before. While Almirall has been working on the closeness of the performers with the public for a while now—last year children had their hands stamped with the word ‘received’ when they gave their letters to pages—she stresses that it’s going to be even better this year. More than this she won’t say, so as not to ruin the surprise.
To help achieve her objectives, Almirall works with 1,200 collaborators: 300 professionals and 900 volunteers. Professional drivers, light and sound technicians, postmen and women, dance students, actors and artists are just some of those who are prepared to give up their free time and work solidly for at least two months.
Metropolitan spoke to three of the people involved with getting everything ready for the parade to find out what it’s like for them working on the cavalcada dels reis...
José Menchero: scenographer and set builder of the kings’ carriages and star float
“We’re given complete freedom to do what we want as long as it’s in line with the story. We look for inspiration from everywhere—books, film, internet, and then mix it all up a bit.
The kings’ carriages are fundamentally the same but with individual details. All are open books with maps showing where each king is from, and all have a bridge and a throne. We add new details to the carriages every year and change colour schemes and the lighting. For this year’s show we’ve been developing the second viewing level—effectively the tall elements that can be seen from further back. I can’t give exact details but it’s going to be really beautiful.
The public always receives the cavalcada very positively and seeing the amazement and wonder on the children’s faces is incredible. My greatest satisfaction is having been part of the parade while it has been improving artistically over the last few years. There is now a greater respect for it among artists, the theatre and dance groups, and they want to be involved. Now I’d like it to be taken even more seriously and received as an art event in its own right, with critical reviews in newspapers.”
Babarana Pons: director of choreography
“I direct the choreography for the whole event and part of my role involves selecting volunteers from dance schools. The minimum age is 14 because it’s such hard work. There’s months of preparation and rehearsals and then the final performance is three hours long with no breaks. A big part of my work is motivating the volunteers because even though they’re enthusiastic, if it’s the first time for them, they’re not aware how tiring it is.
The most beautiful thing is doing it for real. Seeing the children’s excitement and their parents’ joy when you greet them and give them a sweet… well, nothing compares.
People’s experience of the parade will depend on where they’re watching. If your view is blocked, or if there’s a technical problem and everything stops right in front of you, the magic vanishes. That’s why we aim to give 100 percent the whole time. I hope everyone sees the beauty in the event and that it really excites them because every year the bar is set higher than the year before.”
Jordà Ferrer: scenographer and set builder with the company Antigua y Barbuda
“Last year we did one of the toy factory floats and the comparsa (walking parade) for the star. Working on the floats comes with certain size limitations as the parade goes down some pretty narrow streets and passes under the city’s Christmas lights and a low bridge at one point. One way round the height restriction is to make the roof flat so that dancers can bend down when necessary.
Once we have the design, the dancers who perform on our float come to our workshop and we explain where they can walk and they give us their input, saying what they’d like to be able to do and we try to make it work for them. After this we finish everything off, adapting things if necessary and painting it all.
During the parade, I’m inside the float doing the mechanics so I can’t see the final result, but it’s all great fun because there’s such a brilliant atmosphere. It’s really incredible to feel the emotion and happiness of everyone participating in the show, especially after working flat out for almost three months in the workshop. It’s a magical night.”
And what it means to them…
Three young friends explain what they like most about the cavalcada and their parents share their own Kings’ Day memories:
Marina Ramon Benitez, 7: “I like the lights and seeing the kings right in front of me. When they see all of us they must think ‘what a lot of presents to deliver!’”
Lorenzo Ramon, father: “One year, my favourite king, Melchor, told me I’d been bad. I felt so disappointed that I behaved much better the next year.”
Enric Ortega, 7: “Melchor is my favourite because he’s always the first to arrive. I like the sweets, too. It must be fun throwing them to everyone.”
Begoña Picazo, mother: “Watching the cavalcada was something really special. My best memory is my dad letting me stand on the top of the car so I could see better.”
Lucia Jimenez Vazquez, 7: “I think the kings must be very happy when they see all of us waving at them. I’d love to join in the singing and dancing.”
Lucia Vazquez Reynes, mother: “I loved seeing the beautiful clothes—all so different and exotic. I was always very nervous and excited; at last, the kings were here!”
KINGS ON PARADE
The kings will arrive by boat at Moll de la Fusta at 5pm on January 5th. After being greeted by the mayor and making a short speech, they will go to Parc de la Ciutadella from where the parade will begin at 6.30pm.
The mounted ‘Royal Guard’ and the Patge Anunciador (announcing pageboy) lead the 800-metre long cavalcada on its five-kilometre journey. A dazzling star of Bethlehem follows and then comes the Royal Post, collecting children’s letters for the kings, as well as babies’ dummies—some 5,000 xumets are collected annually. The kings’ carriages then appear, along with their respective entourages and toy factories. The Time Carriage accompanies King Melchor, reminding children to go to bed on time so the kings can deliver their presents. Last up is the train transporting the coal that will be left instead of a present for those children who have misbehaved.