The Beginnings of Toreo en Redondo

José Carlos Arévalo

(translated by Tristan Wood)

 

(‘Redondo’: A pass in which the muleta is swept in front of the bull’s face in order to continue with others of the same type, each one taking a semicircular form… A conjunction of pases redondos is known as ‘torear en redondo’. – Diccionario Espasa Términos Taurinos by Luis Nieto Manjón)

 

Pepe Alameda, the most important historian of toreo of the 20th century, a Spanish writer who, in his capacity as a bullfight critic in Mexico, traced the line of toreo, from its evolution in the time of Pepe-Hillo to our own days, pointed to June 3rd 1914 as the date on which toreo en redondo commenced. Its discoverer was Joselito ‘El Gallo’ in the bullring of Madrid, facing one of the six bulls of Vicente Martínez that were fought that day.

 

The images of a film (from which Alameda extracted various photographs) demonstrate how the young maestro from Gelves presents the muleta in his left hand, holding it out in front of him; how the toro follows it; and how the torero, making use of the sword to guide the cloth, sends the animal on the course of its curved journey. Then he moves back a step, and, in the same way, thrice encourages a circular charge in such a way that the half circumference of each muletazo is linked and ends up as a spiral of passes converted into one immense, continuous muleta pass (the product of the three).

 

This should have dazzled the spectators, but they didn’t react to it as a breakthrough. Indeed, it made no impact on the critics of the day, possibly because it took time for people to realise what they had seen and felt, or because, in a less explicit way, they had seen it before.

 

It is surprising that, a year earlier, specifically on 14th December 1913, another influential taurine critic, Don Quijote, made note of a faena of Juan Belmonte in Mexico’s capital city to a bull of Piedras Negras, with which he linked eight naturales en redondo. The date is surprising because the revolutionary author of the three canónes – parar, templar and mandar – was not regarded as someone who performed linked toreo en redondo, but rather as someone who imposed the norms of modern tauromachy on an absolutely outdated faena structure of single passes, given to one horn or the other, but, in his case, executed according to the inaugural laws of the new toreo.

 

Film of that faena was shown in Spanish cinemas during January of the following year. I tried to locate it in the Mexican cinema archives, and asked after it with the critic Julio Téllez, possibly the world’s most important specialist in taurine documentation. It was in vain – the film was actually North American and was apparently archived in Los Angeles. However, I did find in the library of the bibliophile Luis Ruiz Quirós a report by the critic Roque Solares Tacubac in which, surprisingly, he makes no mention of the feat, but rather a distant precedent, when he was also present in the city’s Plaza Colón, when Fernando ‘El Gallo’ linked four naturales en redondo.

 

Were they linked or given one after the other? Did Belmonte link those passes too? Solares Tacubac indicates that both toreros – Fernando the more distant from the bull and Juan more closely to the animal – turned on their heels without altering where they stood. According to Alameda, this is not linking, but rather giving one pass very soon after another. But his arguments are not very convincing.  If the bull repeats its charge on the same horn and the torero constructs pass after pass, this is toreo en redondo.

 

A torero turning on his heels and continuing to torear occurred a long time ago – some critics made note of this when commenting on the toreo of Cayetano Sanz. And it is something that ought to be inside toreros’ heads whenever the braver bulls follow the lure keenly. Indeed, Guerrita’s Tauromaquia discovered in the long charge of Saltillo bulls the possibility of extending, or changing, the course of a pass, as much with the capote (in verónicas) as with the muleta (in naturales). Also toreros of a different cut – like Reverte, who linked three naturales to a bull in Bayonne, and, on various occasions, El Espartero – announced el toreo en redondo in embryonic fashion in the last few years of the 19th century.

 

But it is in the first years of the last century when toreo with the muleta sought the nexus of union with linked toreo. Rafael ‘El Gallo’, for example, began to switch the muleta when it was behind him in order to link the natural to the chest pass, and Rodolfo Gaona gave the first ‘tres en uno’ through linking the trinchera to the natural and thence to a molinete. It was precisely El Gallo, “the divine bald one” who, on occasions, was determined to link el toreo por naturales. Don Quijote recorded this occurring in a memorable faena during a corrida de Beneficencia that took place in Madrid in the century’s first decade.

 

By now, toreo linked en redondo was in the air. Naturally, it would fall to Joselito to impose it as the supreme norm of tauromachy. Nevertheless, some toreros continued to seek what was then a utopian desire of theirs. In Madrid, on 30th March 1913, there was a commotion when the utopia became a reality as Cocherito de Bilbao linked three naturales en redondo with one bull. And two months later, on May 18th, Machaquito performed linked naturales en redondo with a bull in Barcelona’s Las Arenas. What’s more, on July 6th in the same plaza, El Gallo linked five naturales en redondo with a bull of Salas.

 

It is also significant that two top novilleros of those days, the aragonese Florentino Ballesteros and the Basque Diego Mazquiarán ‘Fortuna’, achieved their greatest successes by linking muletazos en redondo. The speed with which the toreros assimilated the latest discoveries of tauromachy was as fast as their comprehension by the critics was slow. Gregorio Corrochano himself, in his study of the Age of Gold, hardly noticed it. But that was not the case with José Díaz de Quijano, who signed his taurine writings as ‘Don Quijote’. His book Cinco lustros del toreo, published in 1935, reliably analysed toreo’s evolution in the decisive years of its transformation, from 1907 to 1932. And in 1915, he published his Catecismo Taurino, in which he declared that linked toreo en redondo was the supreme expression of tauromachy.

 

In this regard, he testified that the diestros immediately after José and Juan incorporated Belmonte’s norms in the execution of lances and passes and the toreo en redondo imposed by Joselito to link muletazos. In one faena Ballesteros gave to a novillo of Urcola at Barcelona on 21st October 1915 (in a mano a mano with Fortuna), he said that Florentino, “was as templado as Belmonte, controlling the cloth with the left hand; putting it forward to torear with the elegance of Fuentes (whose style  he reminds me of at times); straight away producing five astonishing naturales – magnificent, perfect, without ceding an inch of ground and finishing them off brilliantly”. And he also gave testimony to another faena of Fortuna’s in Barcelona in which he linked nine naturales in redondo.

 

But it was Joselito who, at least a year earlier, imposed the norm of toreo en redondo… when the bull’s bravery permitted it. At that point, the maestro of Gelves was going through a prodigious osmosis, incorporating into his toreo belmontista traits, including the assimilation of his aesthetics as a significant aspect of linked toreo. In effect, it is the true toreo of Juan (which lacked José’s dramatic ability to cargar la suerte), seasoned with the luminosity of the latter’s intelligent ability to lidiar, which artistically legitimised the principal invention of modern toreo, the discovery of its syntax, the capacity to articulate passes in a language of discourse, the origin of the modern faena that Chicuelo affirmed years later and which Manolete later on consolidated. It is no coincidence that the two maestros who developed under a gallista influence (Manolete via Cámara and Luis Miguel through his father, Domingo Dominguín) created, in the first case, the faena composed of linked series en redondo, and in the second case, the circular, a muletazo that contains within itself the spirit of a series of passes.

 

Yes, it was Joselito who established the foundations, who exposed and demonstrated them. He did this in the principal plazas of Spain and left an everlasting impression (at the cost of a cornada) in Bilbao’s Corridas Generales in the years 1916-18.

 

In Madrid, on October 10th 1918, he brought off possibly the faena of his life with the Guadalest bull ‘Gorrión’, when his linked toreo en redondo was the centrepiece of his great faenas. Here is how Don Quijote saw it:

 

‘The lidia of the bull ‘Gorrión’, number 42, very brave, alegre, quick to charge, eager in all three tercios – a negro listón – will remain an indelible memory. Joselito ordered that its head should be kept for him and in its arrastre it was given a vuelta al ruedo.

 

‘With this animal, José realised one of his most complete and brilliant achievements as a stupendous lidiador. He gave it nine successive, linked verónicas, almost without altering his position, that were prodigious in terms of their temple and grace and very close indeed. Carriles and Farnesio gave dreadful puyazos in three varas in which the brave bull charged fiercely and solidly, strong and keen, killing three horses in the process.

 

‘José, after a few short capotazos from Blanquet, placed three monumental pairs of banderillas al quiebro in no time at all – all three in the same part of the arena and bunched in the space of a 5-peseta coin. Without leaving that terrain, in an amazingly reduced period of time, he linked 10 muleta passes – extraordinary, inexpressibly emotional and very, very beautiful. The first was an ayudado por alto from on his knees; the bull turned very quickly to the extent that José’s muleta was still at its muzzle. What an amazing continuous sequence of 10 passes! The ayudado was followed by a forced, right-handed chest pass and a natural, the cloth still in the same hand, three passes en redondo with the left hand, an ayudado por bajo, a further natural (with the left hand), then another (with the right) and a pase de pecho, again with the right hand. The sword, given too soon, hit bone. Irritated with himself, he produced three punishing ayudados por bajo of enormous mastery, finished off with a left-handed chest pass and a natural with which he positioned the bull. He went in to the kill with determination and, even though it was not perfectly executed, the estocada was a better one. They awarded him two ears; he twice paraded around the plaza and he had to come out twice more to the centre of the ring, the ovation continuing throughout.’

 

There is a serious misunderstanding in what aficionados have come to believe – that Belmonte was the first 20th century torero and Joselito was the last 19th century maestro. That’s not correct; the history of toreo shows that all the revolutions are nothing more than the last and definitive step in a long evolution. Belmonte’s stillness, just like Joselito’s linked toreo en redondo, had important precedents. But the two matadores form the two pillars, are the two great legislators, or modern tauromachy.