Barcelona loses a shrine to classical ballet
In 1936 ‘Maestro’ Joann Migriñà opened his emblematic dance school in the Gothic quarter. Its closure is a big loss for Barcelona’s cultural heritage
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Asunción Aguadé began dancing by chance. As a little girl, she was a thin, sickly-looking child and her mother, a humble dressmaker who had been left alone to take care of her two daughters, signed her up for gymnastics classes in the afternoons to strengthen her muscles.
"At the end of the class there was a piano and the instructor told us to improvise. It turned out that I had a lot of grace dancing — 'how cute, how cute,' he would say — and he suggested to my mother that I sign up for ballet," recalled Aguadé, 79, on a sunny February afternoon in her apartment in Les Corts, a residential neighborhood in southwest Barcelona.
Her mother, who neither knew what ballet was nor had the money to pay for classes, ended up listening to the instructor and took her to the Institut del Teatre, the oldest public institution dedicated to training in the performing arts, dance and theater in Barcelona, for entrance exams. And so began a career that would see Aguadé become the star dancer of the Liceu, the city’s main opera theater, and a follower of the tradition of the master Joan Magriñà, ‘el Mestre,’ an icon of classical dance in Catalonia.
"Actually, ‘El Mestre' sponsored me," Aguadé said, recalling the day she went to audition at the Institut, dressed in a costume her mother had sewn for her. "I had to pass a lot of tests, even a dictation, and by that time I made a lot of orthographic mistakes," she laughs.
She was only 12 years old, but her talent dazzled Magriñà, then principal dancer and choreographer of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, and director of ballet studies at the Institut de Teatre, the dance school he himself had founded on Petritxol Street in the heart of the Gothic district, in 1936.
Convinced of the potential of his new pupil, Magriñà insisted that the girl not only study at the Institut, but also take classes at his prestigious school, a benchmark for classical ballet and the bolero school in Barcelona, where the daughters of the city's wealthy families studied.
"I remember there were always luxury cars parked outside the door," jokes Aguadé, who at her age still has the slender and agile body of a dancer. The Petritxol school cost 500 pesetas a month back then, a cost her mother could not afford. But the 'Mestre' suggested that they pay what they could until the girl was able to pay the entire tuition with the money she earned during the Summers in classical Spanish ballet performances on the Costa Brava — her stage name for tourists was Mary sun — and in her first appearances at the Ballet del Liceu, where Magriñà "hired" her as an apprentice," her first role in a dance company. From there, she moved up through the ranks — corps de ballet, soloist, prima ballerina — until she became director and choreographer herself.
Not only that, when the 'Mestre' retired in 1976, he offered her to take charge of his emblematic school on Petritxol street.
"For me this is a sanctuary. If you want it, you can run it alone," he told her.
Aguadé accepted the challenge, and ran the school for more than 40 years, maintaining the same philosophy of its founder.
"The style of a school is marked by its teacher. And Magriñà was not just a dancer, he was an artist," she explains.
A big loss for Barcelona
Unfortunately, in December 2022, Aguadé was forced to close the Petritxol premises. Months of closure due to the pandemic and a hip operation that forced her to hire a third teacher put her financial balance in check, and the veteran dancer, unable to continue to assume the management, has not been able to find a solution. She has tried in many ways: looking for a transfer, asking for help from public institutions, from the city council to the Institut del Teatre or the Liceu — to which she suggested that they integrate the school into their facilities — without success.
"They weren't interested at all," she laments the lack of support from public institutions.
Today, the school — two dance halls with intact parquet flooring and a pleasant foyer overlooking a bright interior courtyard — is closed and only a ceramic plaque reminds us that in 1936, the maestro Magriñà founded the studio on the second floor of this 18th century building.
"I had the plaque made," Aguadé recalls. The plaque, placed in 1995, was paid for by the residents and shopkeepers of Petritxol Street.
"There was a time when the ballet had the support of the Catalan bourgeoisie, but not now," she says.
This lack of interest in classical ballet became very clear to her when in 1988, the Liceu's management decided to dissolve the theater's Ballet, which she herself had led until a year earlier.
"They were reducing our appearances more and more, it was a constant struggle with the director to get us programmed, so I left," she recalls.
Upon leaving the Ballet, Aguadé began to devote herself fully to the Petritxol school, taking over the lease. The premises, licensed and in good condition, are owned by two priests from nearby Badalona, who are currently asking for 1,400 euros a month. Aguadé does not even ask for a transfer prize, to make everything easier. Even so, she has not found a successor.
"I have tried, it has not come out," she says, lamenting the loss of a place that would have to be cultural heritage of the city and that has left a void in the world of classical dance in Barcelona.
Before, when a dance teacher detected a talented student, she sent him to the Petritxol school, "now all that's left is the Institut," adds the experienced dancer. Ironically, when she tried to become a teacher at the Institut de Teatre, she was told she couldn't because she didn't have a higher degree.