Whatever happens to Tangier's landmark Cervantes Theatre – Gran Teatro Cervantes – in its second century will not likely be a repeat of its tumultuous first 100 years. Despite the attention raised by the 1913 -2013 centenary year and the wonderful exhibit at Tangier's Cervantes Institute which opened last night, the future of "GTC" is likely to be a continuation of its long decline into oblivion. Le Monde highlighted the fading beauty earlier this year.
It need not have been so. In this centenary year, theater greats Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford wanted to lead an international fundraising effort to restore GTC to its former glory, but ran into general apathy or bureaucratic hurdles – is the Teatro Cervantes still Spanish? (yes) or is it Moroccan (yes, at least the city of Tangier has a say in its destiny). The Ashford/Branagh effort never got off the ground.
The current exposition (through 12 January) in Tangier is well worth seeing, lovingly mounted by Madrid Autonomous University (UAM) Prof. Bernabé López García, a renowned expert on Spain in Morocco. GTC has been a theater, a cinema (early Bollywood was its specialty post-independence), and even a wrestling ring… Artifacts from the theater (chairs, decor) and a wealth of documents from the Spanish Consulate archives, make this a highly educational display.
With the assistance of French Tangier-based photographer Daniel Aron, whose imaginative use of lighting momentarily brought the eerie derelict back to life, the exhibit provides a wealth of historical detail on a century that saw two world wars, a civil war (though in Spain, Tangier was affected), transition from International Zone to Moroccan independence, then a long, slow decline, with the last event happening in GTC in 1993. It's been closed – and falling apart – ever since.
Despite encouraging words from the mayor of Tangier (evoking King Mohammed VI's "Tangier Metropolis" project) and the Spanish Consul General (hoping that the renovation of the port will help the theatre, which is in the general neighborhood), one gets the distinct impression that this current exhibit is the best thing that has happened to GTC in quite a while. And that, save an intervention from on high – inshallah – the venerable theatre will continue its downward death spiral. This centenary is Year Zero – what comes now is anyone's guess.
Photos thanks to Instituto Cervantes Tangèr.