The traditional and most common format of a Corrida sees three matadors alternating in order, to face and ultimately kill six bulls over the course of roughly two and a half hours. This format is followed for bullfighting in Spain, Mexico, France and other countries with this tradition.
The proceedings will open with the paséillo or the opening parade. The three matadors will enter the ring together with their cuadrillas, their support crews of banderilleros and picadors. The parade also features the arena workers who smooth out the sand between bulls, and the mules which will remove the dead bull at the end of each performance.
In the parade the toreros will march across the ring towards the “Palco Presidencial”, the judges' box, where the “presidente”, a judge officiating the event, stands and salutes the parade as they reach his side of the ring. The president is the chief assessor of the bullfight, who is assisted by an artistic advisor as well as a veterinarian; his role is to preside over and judge the spectacle.The matadors, the star performers of the afternoon, somewhat akin to being the frontman of their band of toreros, can usually be distinguished by their wearing a suit of lights with gold embroidery. The banderilleros will wear suits with either silver or black adornments.
After the parade, the most senior matador on the card, the one who has been confirmed in the office of full matador for the longest period of time, takes position behind the barrier facing opposite of the toril, the gate from which the bull will enter the arena in order to begin the action.
A corrida is divided into three thirds or "tercios". The tercios are announced with the playing of drums and trumpets, which sound at the command of the President.
FIRST THIRD – THE BULL'S ENTRANCE AND THE ACT OF THE LANCES
The first bull will enter the ring through the gate and the matador and his team will immediately begin to test and asses the bull’s reactions and condition. All toreros will be carrying a capote at this point, a large cape that is usually managed with both hands.
The fabric is traditionally fuchsia and yellow in color, although some bullfighters, out of superstition, use a fuchsia and purple, or fuchsia and blue cape, as yellow is considered to be unlucky. The size of the cape varies between 113cm and 123cm depending on the height of the bullfighter, and weighs between 4kg – 6kg.
The matador will step into the ring to open his performance officially and begin to try and craft an opening to his creative work by performing stylistically charged opening passes and to take control of the bull. The work with the capote is often seen as one of the most visually appealing parts of the bullfight and has gained in importance in the crowd’s perception over recent decades. The basic and most classic pass performed during this phase is the "veronica": each bullfighter tries to give a personal interpretation of this pass. The pass can be performed with an open or closed stance, and ranges from the more technical oriented to a more expressive interpretation of the basic movement. Many critics hail the veronicas’ of matador Morante de La Puebla as the best artistic version of the pass of anyone currently active, while Julian Lopéz El Juli is often cited as an example of technical precision when executing the pass.
Once the matador has taken control of the bull, the President will indicate for the picadors to enter the ring. A picador is a bullfighter on horseback, who uses a lance to inflict injury to the large lifting muscle on top of the bull’s neck, the "morrillo". Every matador employs two Picadors.
When bullfighting began, the picadors were the protagonists of the bullfight, and for this reason they are the only toreros apart from the matadors who are allowed to wear gold embroidery on their jackets. The lance used is no more than 270cm in length, with a short, pyramid-pointed spike no more than 2.9cm long.
Once the picadors have positioned themselves on opposite sides of the ring, the matador will ideally position the bull close to the center of the ring facing the picador who is further away from the gate where they entered the ring. The picador’s horse wears a protective coat in order to shield it from injury by the bull’s horns. The horse also has the right eye covered, allowing the picador to control the horse without it panicking as the bull approaches. The picador then begins to provoke the bull, by means of movement and voice, into attacking the horse. As the bull charges into the horse he will attempt to withstand the charge by placing his lance into the large shoulder muscle called the morrillo. A truly brave bull needs very little encouragement to charge.
The act of the lances serves multiple purposes. It gives the crowd and the breeder an opportunity to assess the bull’s braveness and reaction under duress, with the desired reaction being a more focused charge and aggression as the bull experiences an intense emission of endorphins. And while the injuries inflicted do not greatly trouble the bull, they usually lead to it carrying its head slightly lower which will factor into the matador's performance in the third and final tercio.
This process is usually repeated between 1-3 times, depending on the category of the bullring, the physical reaction of the bull and the matador’s assessment of the changes in the animal's behaviour. In between the different "pics" the matador will often lure the bull back towards the center of the ring in order to perform further cape passes. The intention of the passes at this stage will be in order to measure the effect of the previous “pic”, to further display his art, or a combination of the two.
Classic artistic passes performed during this phase include "chicuelinas" (as seen in the photo below), "gaoneras" or personal trademark passes like Julian Lopéz El Juli’s "lopecina".
If during this phase of the proceedings the bull displays any sort of physical impediment, such as issues with its vision, weak legs or any other sign of weakness or injury, he can be rejeceted and leaves the ring upon which a replacement bull will be sent into the ring.
As the picadors leave the ring, the matador and his "banderilleros" as well as knowledgeable members of the crowd, will have a good perception of the quality of the bull and its potential for a rounded and artistically valuable performance in conjunction with the matador.
SECOND THIRD: ACT OF THE BANDERILLAS
As the trumpets sound again, they signal the beginning of the second third, the act of the banderillas. Normally this phase is performed by each matador’s group of banderilleros in turn, with the matador observing the proceedings from nearby in order to further study the bull. However, on occasion, it is the matador himself who will place the "banderillas". These matadors are known as "toreros-banderilleros".
The banderillas are straight sticks made of wood, 70cm in length, with a 4cm blade on one end. The blade serves to fix the banderilla in the bull’s skin. The banderillas are placed in pairs into the muscle on the top of the bull's shoulders. On most occasions three pairs will be placed to complete the tercio. The banderillas are placed by provoking the bull to charge face on. As the bull approaches, the banderillero runs in a curved line towards the bull, and at the point at which the bull and the banderillero cross paths, he leans over the horns to place the banderillas, avoiding being caught or seriously gored by the bull.
Matadors who place their own banderillas often move away from the classic, functional “al cuarteo” – style of placing the sticks and display more varied and flamboyant techniques, to incorporate the banderillas as an important element in their overall performance. The matador currently best known for his placement of banderillas is El Fandi, for whom this part is often the mainstay of his performance.
Besides being a showcase of skill and courage, the banderillas often serve another purpose also, encouraging the bull to engage in long charges again, as the charges sometimes become shorter during the first third after its encounter with the horse. This phase also gives the matador a final chance to assess the bull and its behavioural tendencies and movement before the final act.
FINAL THIRD: THE MULETA AND THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
The final third is the longest and most iconic phase of the bullfight. It is the matador's one-on-one encounter with the bull during which he employs the famous one-handed red cape.
The "muleta" is smaller than the capote and is made of a red, more lightweight fabric. The fabric is mounted on a wooden stick, the "palillo" or "estaquillador", which gives shape and rigidity to the muleta. The matador will also carry an imitation sword, made of either wood or aluminum, which is used to extend the fabric and increase the size of the cape when giving right-handed passes . This will later be exchanged for a real killing sword made of tempered steel.
The" faena", the performance with the muleta, is the main part of the matador’s artistic display. During the faena the matador will strive to display an aesthetically and technically coherent performance which will culminate in the "moment of truth", the killing of the bull.
Faenas are often initiated by the matador passing the bull in parallel lines across his body. The matador will have his feet together and straight, and only moves as, the bull turns around to repeat its charge, slowly moving it towards the center of the ring. Others prefer to open their performance in the center of the ring. French matador Sebastian Castella is famous for his stoic, opening pendulum passes, switching the pass, and passing the charging bull behind his back.
After the parallel opening a classical faena with a bull which is collaborating well can be described as being structured in the same way as a piece of classical music. The matador will strive to link a sequence of verse-like series of 4-5 passes, each one building in intensity and finished with a flourish or “remate”, such as the chest pass. The passes will force the bull to curve around the matador’s body in a circular fashion, only to be released into a parallel line of charge again, and away from the matador’s body at the end of each series of passes.
Passes are either performed with the muleta in the right hand, called "derechazos" or right-handed passes, or with the cape in the left hand called "naturales", (because the cape is not being extended by the sword and falls into its natural shape).
These passes will vary from matador to matador in the posture adopted, speed, fluidity of movement, rhythm, angle of the cape, how they are linked to each other, and other factors.
Through this, and depending on the level of apparent collaboration with the bull that the matador can achieve, he will attempt to evoke an emotive reaction in the crowd, making them connect with his performance.
During his encounter with the bull, the torero is dependent on his understanding of the bull and its behavioural tendencies, adapting his performance to changes in the bull’s movement and its physical condition. Often the ending of a faena will see the torero employ shorter passes, positioning himself right in front of the animal and displaying total dominance of the bull.
From the moment the trumpet sounds to signal the beginning of the final act, the matador has ten minutes to carry out his performance. If he does not kill the bull within this time-frame, a warning will sound granting him a further three minutes to finish the performance before a second time warning. He then has a further two minutes, but once the third time warning has sounded, the matador must withdraw, and the bull is returned to the pens for slaughter. Hearing the third warning is a rare occurrence and may be considered a moment of great chagrin for a matador, because he has failed to kill the bull.
When the matador feels that the bull is ready, he will walk to the barrier to exchange his aluminum sword for the real killing sword. His goal now is to dispatch the bull in the most effective manner possible. This moment is also called the "moment of truth" or the "suerte suprema".
The most common technique used for the kill is the volapie. For this the matador will position himself in front of the animal, directly between the horns and, presenting the muleta to the bull with his left hand, he will then encourage the bull to lower its head, and to focus on the muleta. In a combined movement, often accompanied by a loud vocal outcry, breaking the silence of a bullring that has fallen quiet in anticipation of the final act of the performance; the matador will then move the muleta to invite the bull to attack, while at the same time taking a step towards the bull. As bull and matador come together, he will place the sword high up between the bull’s shoulders, using his right hand.
There are two positions from which to execute this manoeuvre, one is called “natural” and the other “contraria”. From the natural position, the bull will leave the encounter towards the center of the ring with the torero exiting the towards the fence – this is typically used with bulls that are still very brave and forthcoming with their charge towards the end of the faena. From the “contraria” position, the bull will leave the encounter towards the barrier, with the torero exiting towards the center of the ring – this is typically used with bulls which have slightly withdrawn, or have begun to defend a narrow area of territory.
The goal of the sword trust is to sever the aorta, with a successful attempt often bringing the bull to the ground within moments of the matador having entered for the kill. If a bull is still on its feet after a sword entry, and seems physically incapable of charging for another entry, the matador will change to a sword with a small cross bar towards the end of a short, thick blade. With the bull’s head lowered this sword is then used to dispatch the bull immediately, by cutting the spinal cord about four finger-widths behind the head. If successful the bull will instantly collapse with the crowd rising to their feet applauding, and in case of a successful performance, showing their appreciation of the work of the matador.
The number of attempts to kill the bull and the effectiveness of the bullfighter in dispatching the animal in a swift and elegant manner weigh heavily on the overall evaluation of a matador’s performance. The momentum of a beautiful and captivating performance can easily be lost by repeated failure with the sword.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND TROPHIES
After the bull’s death the matador will return to the barrier in order to wash his hands and take some refreshment. A team of mules will enter the ring to eventually remove the bull from the ring to the ring’s abattoir.
Before this, in those cases of a strong performance by the matador, the crowd will now be on their feet waving white handkerchiefs towards the President’s box. This is because they are petitioning for the matador to receive a trophy - either one of the bull’s ears, both ears or in rare cases both ears and the bull’s tail, which is the highest honor that can be awarded. The tail is not unusual in minor events, but the Madrid bullring for example has not seen one in over 40 years. Lesser performances can simply be rewarded with applause or a standing ovation.
The first ear, according to the official regulations covering the bullfight, must be awarded if the majority of the audience requests it, the award of the second ear (whether or not the public continue to request it) is at the sole discretion of the President. The level of performance needed in order to obtain trophies depends very much on the standard of each individual bullring. A performance that will be granted both ears and a tail in a small village might not even be worth a single ear in Madrid or Seville.
The President can also decide to award the bull a lap of honor, with the crowd standing and applauding the animal as it is dragged around the circuit, and then out of the ring. In rare cases where an animal displays exceptional qualities and bravery, it may be spared and allowed to return to the ranch as a breeding animal; this is seen as an extraordinary success for the matador, as he has successfully showcased the animal’s qualities and true character.
If the matador is granted trophies he will take a lap of honor around the ring, thanking the public for his awards. After this first bull, the second most senior matador will perform with the second bull of the day. This is followed by the newest matador on the card with the third bull, and then repeated in order as each matador faces their second bull of the afternoon.
If one of the matadors is injured at any time during the proceedings and cannot physically continue, the next senior matador on the card will assume his responsibilities, and perform with the injured colleague's animals in his place.
After the death of the last animal of the day, those matadors who have cut two ears or more are carried out on shoulders through the main gate of the ring. Those who have been less successful will walk out through the gate at their original entry point accompanied by their banderilleros.