Elena (Helena Kattani) is a journalist in Seville. One her hobbies is flamenco dancing. She discovers by chance online videos of the ’60s gypsy dancer Antonia Singla Contreras aka La Singla. She becomes aware of her being apparently mute and deaf. Despite that, La Singla launched her impressive but short career as a teenager starring in a significant role in Francisco Rovira-Beleta’s Los Tarantos (1963).
Under the wing of the veteran dancer Carmen Amaya, the young talent quickly began to blossom. Shea added rumba, bulerías, alegrías and jazz to her repertoire. Her dance acts were dazzling, incredibly rhythmic, powerful, and organic considering her disability. Antonia toured all of Spain and some of Europe, mostly France and Germany. La Singla befriended personalities like Paco de Lucía, Dali or Marcel Duchamp.
Elena comments with her family her discoveries. Apparently, Antonia disappeared out of public sight in 1968. She begins to investigate the whereabouts of La Singla. She finds out how the Singla family started to be known in the barracks at the Somorrostro slum of Barcelona in the ’50s. She locates Antonia’s former neighbours. The vast majority were also gypsies, a fundamental part of the population inhabiting this marginal area by the sea. Will Elena achieve finally her mission: to uncover La Singla’s fate?
La Singla is a documentary with elements of fiction such as Elena’s character. It’s successful when it shows how time changes cities and people. The transformation undergone by Barcelona during the preparation for the 1992 Olympics was quite the example. It represented the desire to open the city to the sea. It also conveniently erased slums (poverty was not an exception but the rule).
This doc portrays to some extent La Singla’s desire to be an artist. Her will to escape a predefined tragic destination triggered her. Antonia’s reveal to the world caused a real turmoil. The first half of this film consists of archive footage (all in black and white) with her photos, short films and TV shows recordings is pitch-perfect paced. Specifically, images shot by Colita, the famous Catalan photographer of Barcelona’s gauche divine, show off as superb. These minutes are dynamic, kinetic, and impactful, as it was the artist herself.
A much less inspired second half hampers the film results. It’s not that the footage isn;’t valuable. Many scenes completing Elena’s journey following Antonia’s steps are fictional, played by actors. Overall, the newly shot material doesn’t blend well with the archive from the ’50s and ’60s. The outcome is an uneven movie. La Singla’s mythical representation and charisma get a little diluted in the editing. Otherwise, this is a well intentioned and remarkable film.
La Singla premieres at the 31st Raindance Film Festival. It also showed in the Made in Spain section of the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival. This is a publication in partnership with Deve.