I saw my first flamenco show when I was in the 7th grade, but it was in a giant auditorium at George Mason. I don’t remember much from it except for the fact that I thought it was rather boring and that I was more interested in the lunch afterward.
My second flamenco experience was in the Museo de Baile Flamenco, a museum dedicated to the art of flamenco music and dance. The setting was very intimate, with a small stage in the center and chairs on three sides, so close together it was impossible not to touch your neighbor. Suspended from the ceiling were fake orange trees mixed with wooden stools and the lighting was dim and reddish. Overall, the place had ambiance.
A few minutes later, a well dressed man appeared on stage and welcomed us to the performance, first in Spanish, then in English, then in French, then in Italian, and then in German. I thought he was going to keep going, but I suppose he just ran out of time. Anyway, with a hearty applause, the master of ceremonies left and the singer and guitarist walked on stage. The lights dimmed, and the guitarist began to play. When the other man began to sing, the first thing that struck me was how similar it sounded to Arabic music. With its lonesome and emotional wail that rises and falls, it seems to strike a chord within you and suddenly, you are giving him your undivided attention.
And then, the dancers entered. There isn’t a set time when you start to dance flamenco–you’re supposed to feel it. You can see it on their faces when they decide that it’s time and suddenly, you’re swallowed up in a spectacle of stomping feet and twirling skirts. It’s amazing how flamenco can be both extremely feminine and manly at the same time. When the woman dances, she’s elegant, but powerful, commanding the stage. And when the man dances, he’s strong and manly, like a torero in the bull ring. Flamenco is unexpected…one moment it’s silent and everyone is still and then in the next, there’s the frenzied strums of the guitar and the rhythmic steps weighted with so much emotion. There were moments when I realized that I was holding my breath. Flamenco definitely needs to be seen in an intimate environment, because otherwise you loose the most important part: the emotional connection to the performance.
I can understand how flamenco isn’t for everyone, but if you find yourself in Spain, especially southern Spain, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to see a show. You can find one basically anywhere, in special restaurants, hotels, or tablaos, which are sort of like flamenco dinner theatre.
But if you are stuck on your couch, here’s a good example of in-casa flamenco. Carlos Saura, a Spanish director, created a trilogy of movies about flamenco, all based on great works of literature. My favorite one of his is Carmen, based on Mérimeé’s famous novella-turned-opera, which actually takes place in Sevilla. Fun fact: the tobacco factory where Carmen worked is now the University of Sevilla. It’s gorgeous.
Another fun example is the Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo. This comes in the point of the movie when the village has to perform a dance to release the two lovers from the ghost of woman’s dead husband.
Flamenco songs are usually about youth, love, beautiful women and loss, and the dance is always infused with passion. En fin, flamenco is an impressive art. Someday, I hope to learn a few steps myself!