Valencia, 15 March 2019.

I have an arrangement. I use a pass to get into the plaza, but this pass doesn’t always mean I will have a seat. For most events I’ll find an empty spot in the cheaper concrete rows in the tendidos and sometimes, when the bullring is sold out, I sit on the stairs.

But tonight I sit in a new accomodation, in a narrow, corridor-like passage with wide polished stone steps leading down to the wooden barrier that separates the public from the arena. It’s an unnumbred no-man’s land hidden away in Sombra in the leftover space next to the expensive seats with comfortable backs and metal arm rests.

This afternoon at five, Jesús Chover (who once called himself Jesús de Valencia), a 28-year-old local lad, will be promoted to full matador de toros and the line-up is extraordinary. Heading the bill is Julian López Escobar, “El Juli,” one of Spain’s former miracle boys, the wunderkind, the ‘niño prodigio’ who was fighting calves as young as four and who made his debut as a killer of bulls in Mexico at 15 to dodge the minimum age in Spain. He took his alternativa at the age of 16 in the French bullring of Nîmes. El Juli will be the padrino of the ceremony. To Chover’s right-hand side stands the witness: Andrés Roca Rey, the Peruvian, born in Lima 23 years ago who became an instant taurine sensation when he triumphed in, and was carried through the main gate, of Las Ventas, the “cathedral of bullfighting” on the afternoon of his confirmation three years ago.

Today the bulls are from the ganaderia of Victoriano del Rio/Toros de Cortés. (“Tonight we have bulls from Victorino” says a misinformed lady next to me.) It is a breeder whose bloodline is purely Domecq by Jandilla and Juan Pedro.

For a ritual like this it is an extraordinary line up. Although he is local, Chover is not a well-known torero with a history of spectacular triumphs. And for a novillero who made his debut nine years ago, he is “rather advanced in years.” The only reason I can think of, is that management offered him this combination as a favor knowing that the corrida would sell out anyway, no matter who’d be the third man on the poster. So why not put in a home boy?

At five o’clock the toreros are called to order and the procession gets under way. El Juli wears a marine-blue suit with gold; Roca Rey is in purple with azabache (jet) trimmings, and Jesús Chover, as is customary on these solemn occasions of the alternativa, is dressed in a new white suit decorated with gold sun discs. He walks bare-headed. It is his first appearance as a matador in this bullring.

To the delight of the local crowd, Jesús confidently crosses the sand and kneels in front of the bull gate. His toro bravo is called Talliota and weighs 537 kilos. The animal shoots out of the toril, straight at the matador who distracts the charge with a spectacular pass of his whirling cape. At the sound of the bugle announcing the arrival of the picadors, Chover leads his opponent to the waiting horseman with some fine veronicas. The bull takes two pics and is then led away. The matador-to-be cleverly places his own banderillas in a tribute to his mentor, the ever popular Valencian matador Vicente Ruiz El Soro who is in a wheelchair after a life threatening infection in his leg almost killed him.

We are now ready for the ceremony of the alternativa.

The three bullfighters step on to the sand and padrino El Juli symbolically offers the neophyte the first bull by handing him the muleta and sword and receives Jesús’ capote in return. He speaks some words of advice and they embrace. Next, witness Roca Rey steps forward and shakes hands with his new colleague. Then the newly promoted matador walks over to the stands and dedicates the ceremonial bull to his parents.

I record two very good series of right-hand muleta passes and some naturales with a very low held hand to which the noble animal responds splendidly. The sword goes in slightly to the side and while some fans wave their handkerchiefs, it is not enough to cut the ear. Jesús walks the arena in triumph.

Ebanista comes into the ring. He is the only red bull and weighs 539 kilos. El Juli steps out and greets him with some fine veronicas. As he takes Ebanista to the picador for some slight pics (El Juli doesn’t like his bulls to be pic-ed) I notice the animal shows some signs of weakness and he stumbles when Roca Rey leads it to the center of the arena for some fast chicuelinas. The public still can’t get over the fact that Juli stopped placing his own banderillas several years ago and protest the banderilleros in his cuadrilla who do an excellent job. The bull has now been prepared for the return ceremony. Chover offers his padrino the muleta and sword and in return is handed his capote. They embrace again. Roca Rey and Jesús shake hands.

I was never a fan of the child matador El Juli, but I became a fan of the new El Juli. Of the matador who’s tauromachy clearly evolved through the years. Who since a few temporadas—and no doubt advised by his then-manager Roberto Domínguez—left out the noise in his performances: the swirling whirlwind called the Lopesina and the spectacular pairs of banderillas. No doubt it was a tricky decision and cost him a good deal of his fans but many went there before him. I remember José Ortega Cano used to be a matador-banderillero as was José Miguel Arroyo, the one they called Joselito. They stopped doing it to become more serious bullfighters.

Julián López is still a young man of 36. He too concentrates on the last tercio and—being a matador—on his estocada where he clearly found inspiration in the mighty sword of his fellow Madrileñan Joselito. This evening however, his faena lacks conviction and his usually magnificent sword, although it drops the bull, lands slightly in the ribs.

From my place close to the barrier I can read the copper name tag on the harness of the traction horse that has come in to drag out the bull Ebanista. Curiously, the horse is called El Rey Roca.

Roca Rey’s first bull is called Maleado and weighs 536 kilos. The first swing of his capote brings the people to their feet. The crowd is ecstatic. Every pass is met with an standing ovation, but in my opinion there is nothing spectacular about Roca Rey’s faena with Maleado. He reminds me of other crowd pleasers who have gone before him. He may be exceptionally brave, (some say he has matured since he arrived upon the scene) in my opinion, it’s all done too fast. It’s too sensational with too much gallery play. The young Roca Rey is already an expert on controlling the public and so, although his sword first pinches bone before entering the bull’s body to the hilt, the handkerchiefs are out by the thousands and get the Peruvian contender the first ear of the evening. But I’m not convinced… yet.

At 6.15 p.m. El Juli confronts Impuesto, another black bull from the Victoriano del Rio/Toros de Cortes ganadería. The 532-kilo animal protests violently during the faena. He head-butts the muleta and clearly makes it known he does not want to be part of El Juli’s taurine plans, but the matador forces him to follow the lure of the red rag in a series of fine muletazos. An almost perfect sword ends the life of Impuesto but El Juli is rewarded with a lukewarm applause, only. Although tonight El Juli failed to bring his magic, I’m sure he’s still got a few tricks for the future.

We’re getting ready for the second performance by Roca Rey. The 538-kilo bull is called Jaro and again I find the Peruvian’s capework too hurried, too uncontrolled. Not that the public minds, they are constantly on their feet, cheering him on.

Suddenly, well into the faena, a bolt of lightning, a moment of pure Incan sorcery, makes me sit up. Roca Rey performs a spectacularly slow series of naturales ending in an incredible pase de pecho. A set of manoletinas ends the faena, the bull is lined up and the sword slides in. The arena erupts. A moment later the young matador from Lima walks the sand in triumph with two ears held high. In the callejon strong men gather to carry him out the Valencian main gate for the fifth time in his career as a matador.

But the sixth bull is still to come: the 538-kilo Corchero for the recently promoted Jesús. It’s a wild, uncontrollable bull, too wild and uncontrollable for the inexperienced Chover. After welcoming his opponent at the toril gate again and the picador’s horse, only three of his banderillas cling on to the bull’s back. Others fly through the cool Valencian night air and land on the sand. During the faena Corchero retreats, making it difficult for Chover to perform his muleta passes. He kills the bull with a half-sword or as they say, a media-estocada.

El Juli leaves the arena and is cordially applauded. Roca Rey is carried through a cheering crowd to his waiting trailer and Jesús Chover can look back on a dignified alternativa. An evening he can talk about with pride. With excellent pictures to show his grandchildren.

 cronica de Pieter hildering

Fotografias  de Mateo.Tauroimagenplus