Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Authority Manuel Ríos Ruíz

Flamenco Dancer El Farruco – Reflections on a Golden Era

Flamenco’s truly great artists occupy a strange position.  There are numerous others who may be excellent or brilliant or wonderful.  But there are a few singers, a few dancers, a few guitarists who simply stand apart.  Underline “a few” — rarely have more than a dozen or so been alive at any one time, and today one would be hard pressed to name half that number.

Farruco was always, always placed in this category.  Dancers, asked about other dancers, almost invariably began by putting him aside as a given, as something utterly unique.  (Someone once asked Miss Peggy Lee who she would consider the finest singer in her profession.  Her answer:  “Oh, you mean besides Ella?”  This graceful reply connoted the same stand-alone stature that Farruco had in flamenco dance.)

(Less gracefully, I’ve seen several cases where artists were asked to name their favorite dancers and stopped dead at Farruco.  Juan Habichuela, as one example, answered, “I saw Farruco dance.”  The interviewer pressed for other names.  Habichuela replied, “I saw Farruco dance.”  The interviewer said, “Yes, but…”  Habichuela responded, “I saw Farruco dance.”  The interviewer finally got the point.)

While I rarely abase myself for dancers, preferring to save my abject humiliation for singers and guitarists, I tried to see Farruco whenever possible.  In 1987, he was in New York for the remarkable Flamenco Puro production that I saw many times.  Before that, though, I had the privilege of seeing him often in Seville in the mid-sixties.  A fellow American was involved in the drug trade — he subsequently spent several years in a cold cell in the Pyrenees.  I’m hazy on the details, but this relatively novel product-testing opportunity seemed to attract some flamenco people including Farruco, who may then have been part of Los Bolecos at Cortijo El Guajiro.

The happy result for me was to see him dance often at what may have been maximum energy.  There was nothing like him in the world.  He had indeed mastered the art of stillness, and combined it with outbursts of such miraculous power and incomparable art that it became all the harder for me to watch other flamenco dancers.

Here’s the entry from the two-volume Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado del Flamenco, by José Blas Vega and Manuel Ríos Ruíz, Cinterco, Madrid, 1988, long out of print:

“El Farruco:  Artistic name of Antonio Montoya Flores.  Born 1936 in Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid).  Dancer.  Sobrino nieto (grand-nephew?) of [the seminal, legendary flamenco guitarist] Ramón Montoya, son of La Farruca and father of El Farruquito and Las Farrucas.  He debuted in the productions titled “Galas Juveniles” and “Los Chavalillos de Espana“, continuing in the company of Lola Flores and Manolo Caracol, with whom he toured all of Spain, alternating this with appearances in tablaos, among them El Guajiro in Seville.  In 1955, he joined the troupe of Pilar López, touring many countries with special success in the Palace in London, where there were 18 curtain calls from a wildly enthusiastic audience.

From there he went to the tablao Corral de la Morería in 1957, and then to El Duende in Madrid in 1961.  In 1962, he was invited to dance at the Córdoba Festival.  He joined the José Greco Dance Company in 1965, traveling to several continents, and later joined Matilde Coral and Rafael El Negro in Seville’s tablaos including La Cochera, and in Madrid’s Café de Chinitas and Los Canasteros in 1970 and ’71; he also became a principal attraction in the many local Festivales that were being initiated in Andalucía.

Following the death of his son Farruquito in a traffic accident [at age 18, in 1974], he retired until reappearing in 1978 with his daughters Las Farrucas in the Seville tablao La Trocha.  Among his most important later appearances stand out his participation in the III Bienal de Arte Flamenco of Seville in 1984, and “Flamenco Puro”, presented in New York in 1986 and ’87, together with El Guito, Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Habichuela, El Chocolate, Adela Chaqueta and Manuela Carrasco.  Lately, he has alternated his appearances with teaching his art.

Among the critical appraisals of his work we’ve selected the following:

José Luís Ortiz Nuevo writes:  “When Antonio El Farruco walks onstage, the personal dimension is revealed (el personal se le rinde) simply on seeing him, and all remain enraptured by the contemplation of this living marvel.  His life has been colored by tragedy, and his dance by genius.  His eyes are those of a restless child, and his body delineates the exact figure of the rhythms of flamenco.  And he still reveals the agility it takes for those sublime movements that create the sound of the bulerías.  And the sheer majesty that is displayed in his simply walking to take his place in preparing to dance.”

Manuel Ríos Ruíz:  “Farruco’s dance is based on the posture and the elasticity of movement without which flamenco style is disfigured.  His despantes and replantes are motivated and developed by a sense of the deep aesthetic understood through arrogance; and, beyond grace, he offers a racial plasticity in which movement is sparse but there is a surprising beauty that is electrifying.  Farruco is courage itself dancing.”

José Blas Vega:  “El Farruco remains an authentic figure of dance today; but to have seen him when he was in possession of all his faculties was to see interpretations so impregnated with power and genius that it was shocking to witness.”

End of entry.

In humble wonder,

Brook Zern


May 5, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer José Menese Interprets Classic Poems – Article by Manuel Ríos Ruíz – Translated by Brook Zern

Manuel Rios Ruiz (one of my favorite flamenco experts) wrote of the art for a leading Spanish paper, ABC.  Here’s a 2001 article — a sort of new/old twist on flamenco.

Jose Menese and Ginesa Ortega Will Interpret the Classics in the Teatro Real

Madrid – Jose Menese and Ginesa Ortega will sing the poems of Gongora, Lope, Calderon, San Juan de la Cruz, Quevedo and Cervantes on the 8th in the Teatro Real.  For Jose Maria Velasquez, the musical and literary adapter [and the key man in creating the great documentary series "Rito y Geografia del Flamenco"], “classical poetry is blended with classical flamenco in a set of correlations whereby I’ve tried to let each element retain their original structure.”

Flamenco artists today are drawing inspiration from the most revered authors, and the legends of the past.  As examples of this much-discussed tendency, there are the Lorca versions and the avatars of “Dona Juana la Loca”.  Now we will see “De Mis Soledades Vengo (Classics and Flamenco)”.

For this production, the poet José María Velásquez has compiled a selection of poems and songs from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.  “To do this properly, I have respected above all the integrity of the selected verses, which I consider sacred and untouchable.  I have adapted them to some flamenco values, according to the particular character of each verse, remembering that these are not the same things as the deep natural verses  of the martinetes or the soleares,” he explains.  He says that the adaptation involved an exercise in forms, compases [rhythms], accents and metric resolutions, seeking points of conjunction between  the poetry of that era and flamenco as it is today.  The key is to let both elements retain their original structure, so that we add a new dimension of music to the the language of poetry.”

The artistic director Luis Torres Rubio worked with Jose Menese, a maestro of cante flamenco, and with Ginesa Ortega, a singer with a firm grasp of theatrical values in presenting flamenco.  With them will be Enrique de Melchor and Jeronimo with their guitars, the profound dancer Carmen Ledesma, and the palmeros-dancers Chicharito and Gregorio Parilla.  In addition, Joan Albert Amargos will direct a chamber orchestra in this first flamenco production in the Teatro Real.  Great expectation surrounds this event, where verses of Gongora, Ruiz de Alarcón, Lope de vega, San Juan de la Cruz, Fray Luís de Leon, Calderón de la Barca, Santa Teresa, Quevedo, Rojas, Tirso de Molina, Guillén de Castro and others will become martinetes, soleareslivianas, rondenas, malaguenas, peteneras, tangos, nanas, tangos, sevillanas and bulerías.

In his illustrious career, Menese has interpreted flamenco in such prestigious venues as the Olimpia in Paris and the United Nations Auditorium in New York.  But for this artist from La Puebla de Cazalla, it is of great importance to sing flamenco in the Teatro Real of Madrid, above all while interpreting the great classical Spanish poets.  “It is a beautiful challenge, and a great responsibility.  But it is also a great honor.  I never hesitated to accept this chance to be part of a flamenco event that has such difficulty and such interest,” says the singer.

The die is cast.  Flamenco never ceases to find new expressive modes.  And on this occasion, through the rigor of orthodoxy, it will try to add to its inheritance the great lyric values of Spain’s classical poetry.

End of translation.

Ginesa Ortega is a fine singer, and probably used to experimental stuff.  But José Menese is the most rigidly orthodox/traditionalist/purist singer alive — it’s interesting to see that he had no trouble with this increasingly popular notion of adapting poet’s verses to flamenco, even if it means breaking the rigid melodic/syllabic structure as it must.  Old dog learns new trick! – olé, José.

Brook Zern

January 10, 2014   No Comments