Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — flamenco dance

The Greatest Flamenco Film Series Now at Your Fingertips – YouTube URL’s for “Rito y Geografía del Flamenco”
















Agujetas – Rito – English Subtitles

Amós Rodrígues Rey – Rito – English Subtitles

Antonio Mairena – Rito – English Subtitles

Beni de Cadiz – Rito – English Subtitles

Bernarda de Utrera – Rito – English Subtitles

Cádiz y los Puertos – Rito – English Subtitles

Camarón – Rito – English Subtitles

Cante Flamenco Gitano – Rito – English Subtitles

Cantes Flamencos Importados – Rito – English Subtitles

Cantes Primitivos Sin Guitarra – Rito – English Subtitles

Cantes Procedentes del Folklore – Rito – English Subtitles

Cristobalina Suarez – Rito – English Subtitles

De Despeñaperros para Arriba – Rito – English Subtitles

De Granada a La Union – Rito – English Subtitles

De Ronda a Malaga – Rito – English Subtitles

De Sanlúcar a La Linea – Rito – English Subtitles

Diego del Gastor – Rito – English Subtitles

El Barrio de Santiaago – Rito – English Subtitles

El Chocolate – Rito –English Subtitles

El Lebrijano – Rito – English Subtitles

El Pali (Sevillanas) – Rito – English Subtitles

El Vino y El Flamenco – Rito – English Subtitles

Enrique Morente – Rito – English Subtitles

Evolución del Cante – Rito – English Subtitles

Extremadura y Portugal – Rito – English Subtitles

Fandangos de Huelva – Rito – English Subtitles

Fandangos Naturales – Rito – English Subtitles

Fernanda de Utrera  – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana [Bulerias] – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana por Bulerias – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana por Tangos – Rito – English Subtitles

Fosforito – Rito – English Subtitles

José Menese – Rito – English Subtitles

La Cantaora – Rito – English Subtitles

La Casa de los Mairena – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia Pinini  – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia de Los Perrate – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia de los Torres – Rito – English Subtitles

La Guitarra Flamenca (1) – Rito – English Subtitles

La Llave de Oro del Cante – Rito – English Subtitles

La Paquera de Jerez – Rito – English Subtitles

La Perrata – Rito – English Subtitles

La Saeta – Rito – English Subtitles

La Serrania – Rito – English Subtitles

Las Tonas – Rito – English Subtitles

Lorca y el Flamenco – Rito – English Subtitles

Málaga y Levante – Rito – English Subtitles

Malagueñas – Rito – English Subtitles

Manolo Caracol (I) – Rito –English Subtitles

Manolo Caracol (II) – Rito – English

Manuel Soto “Sordera” – Rito – English Subtitles

María Vargas – Rito – English Subtitles

Melchor de Marchena – Rito – English Subtitles

Navidad Flamenca – Rito – English Subtitles

Niños Cantaores – Rito – English Subtitles

Oliver de Triana – Rito – English Subtitles

Paco de Lucía – Rito – English Subtitles

Pedro Lavado – Rito – English Subtitles|

Pepe de la Matrona – Rito – English Subtitles

Platero de Alcalá – Rito – English Subtitles

Romances, Tangos y Tientos – Rito – English Subtitles

Siguiriyas I – Rito – English Subtitles

Siguiriyas II – Rito – English Subtitles

Terremoto – Rito – English Subtitles

Tía Anica la Piriñaca – Rito – English Subtitles

Triana – Rito – English Subtitles

Viejos Cantaores – Rito – English Subtitles



Diego Clavel – Rito – Spanish

Difusión del Flamenco – Rito – Spanish

Falla y el Flamenco – Rito – Spanish

La Guitarra Flamenca (2) – Rito – Spanish

Los Cabales [Aficionados] – Rito – Spanish

Manuel Torre y Antonio Chacón – Rito – Spanish

Pepe Marchena – Rito – Spanish

Pepe Martínez – Rito – Spanish

Rafael Romero – Rito – Spanish

Soleares 1 – Rito – Spanish

Tío Borrico de Jerez – Rito – Spanish
(to 31’ 42” – after the original program ends, this version adds material by Tío Borrico from other programs in the same series)












This may be the same as the above-mentioned CANTE FLAMENCO GITANO (with English subtitles) — The program evidently features Gypsy singers performing songs that are not seen as Gypsy songs, and may have been titled CANTE FLAMENCO CON INTERPRETES GITANOS.


May 10, 2014   7 Comments

Hollywood “Goes To” Flamenco – Article by Miquel Jurado in El País of April 24, 2014 – translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Proyecto estadounidense para rodar un filme ambientado en el mundo del cante

(An American project for a film shot within the world of flamenco song)

Historically, Hollywood has ignored flamenco or, worse yet, used it as an exotic guind in forgettable B movies.  Not even Al Pacino, doing a few steps in a flamenco night club to the sound of the singer Potito and the guitarist Tomatito in “The Devil’s Advocate” with the Devil could go beyond the stereotype; it simply lent some of the exotic spice of a musical form that American cinema seemed unable to understand.

Even before that, Hollywood had squandered talents as enormous as Carmen Amaya in the 1940’s (she would have to return to here native Somorrostro district of Barcelona for Francesc Rovera Beleta to give her the cinematographic vehicle she deserved [in “Los Tarantos”]), and of Antonio Gades in the sixties, though not even Jean Negulesco could do him justice (his film break would come at the hands of Carlos Saura).  Nor would our warmly remembered Paco de Lucía have any luck; it’s best to forget his futile work in a film starring Raquel Welch in the early seventies.

Now the director, choreographer and scriptwriter Daryl Lynn Matthews seems ready to change things by entering more deeply into the world of flamenco.  At least, that’s the basis for his new project, “Caminando”.  Matthews, whose other work includes the script and choreography of Chayanne titled “Baila Conmigo”, has written a story centering on an ex-U.S. Marine pilot of Spanish background who returns to Spain to find out why his father, a professional dancer, fled from his homeland.

From that point on, the hatred and violence of Spain’s past mix with innocent present-day love affairs, within the context of the best of today’s flamenco.

“I began the project soon after writing “Baila Conmigo”, says Daryl Lyn Matthews.  “I knew very little about the real world of flamenco in which I submerged myself but I felt an obligation. Realizing that there really should be an international English-language film with a good story, told through this precious, sexy, intense and unsettling culture.”

To tell the story, which will be filmed in sites like Madrid (the presentation videos were shot in that city’s noted tablao, Casa Patas) as well as in the Canary Islands, the Texan director has been relying on some renowned collaborators including the director of photography Vittorio Storano (with three Oscars, for “Reds”, “The Last Emperor” and “Apocalypse Now”.  Production design is in the hands of Waldemar Kalnowski and the Spanish production is headed by Carlos Saura, Jr. with Chiqui Maya as artistic producer.

An agreement has already been reached with Universal Records who will provide some of its artists (Tomatito, Rosario. Pitingo, and Antonio and Josemi Carmona) for a soundtrack for which seven of the thirteen projected songs have been completed; another number, which was to have featured the guitar of the late Paco de Lucía, can never be finished.

The names mentioned for the cast include “international figures still to be decided”, who will be linked to a flamenco lineup headed by Rafael Amargo, Monica Cruz, Lolita Flores and Joselito Maya.

At present, the team behind “Caminando” has begun the process of crowdfunding [“micromenazgo”] through Indiegogo to reach the initial goal of nine million Euros that will allow the beginning of filming at the end of next spring.

End of El País article.  The original is at http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2014/04/24/catalunya/1398294823_551859.html

Translator’s note:  It would be nice indeed if this became the English-language film to finally introduce the complex world of flamenco to American and international audiences.  It seems to have some serious backing, though a reliance on crowdfunding can be problematic at best. 

(I know nothing more about the project, but will keep an eye out for any further signs of progress.)

Brook Zern  


April 26, 2014   No Comments

Manuela Carrasco: “The Pure Flamenco Dance Is Gone Forever” – Interview by Rosalía Gómez – translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

From Diario de Sevilla, March 19, 2014

Manuela Carrasco “The Pure Flamenco Dance Is Gone Forever”

Translator’s note:  The countless people and institutions working to change the flamenco dance to something newer, fresher and better have triumphed at last.  All over the world, spectacular productions on themes of Greek tragedy or the seasons or the architecture of Oscar Neimeyer are drawing huge audiences.

But such a total victory can cause collateral damage.  And in this case, according to la diosa, the loss – unlamented by today’s consumers of culture – is pure flamenco.

Here are the words of the greatest “bailaora” [female flamenco dancer ] of our age:  Read it and celebrate if you love everything new, avant-garde and trendy.  Read it and weep if you love flamenco.

“El baile puro se ha ido para siempre”

The artist from Seville, with the National Prize for Dance and the Medalla de Andalucía, returns to the Lope de Vega theater this weekend with “Suspiros Flamencos”, one of her most applauded spectacles

By Rosalía Gómez

Next Friday, along with springtime, there will arrive at Seville’s Lope de Vega Theater Manuela Carrasco, the genuine representative of a dance that is disappearing due to the transformation of the culture that has sustained and nourished it.  A dance of inspiration that this woman from Triana, who holds the Medal of Andalucía, has brought to stages for almost 45 years – she worked at Mariquilla’s tablao in Torremolinos at the age of ten – and through which she has earned endless honors, among them the 2007 National Prize for Dance [Danza – the dance as a whole, not merely flamenco] – as well as the unofficial titles of the ”Goddess” and the “Empress” of flamenco dance.

Following the premiere in the last Bienal de Sevilla, Carrasco returns with one of her most requested spectacles, Suspiros Flamencos (which debuted in 2009), a recital in which she’ll be accompanied by her usual musicians as well as those she calls the niños (kids): the dancers Rafael de Carmen, El Choro and Oscar de los Reyes.

Q:  Paco de Lucía felt panic when he played in Seville because there were always a hundred guitarists in the audience.  What does it mean for you to be dancing in your native turf?

A:  I love dancing in Seville, although it scares me, too.  I know a lot of dancers are coming to see me; I realize that I’m an artist’s artist [artista de artistas].  But like every responsible artist, I respect the public in general, in any venue.  Every time I go onstage is like a premiere for me.

Q:  What do you think of when you’re about to go onstage?

A:  I always ask God to light me up so I can give the public my best – to show them brilliance [genialidad], although when  the lights go down, the truth is that I don’t see anyone at all.  I’m alone.

Q:  How would you define yourself as an artist?

A:  I’m a woman who lives by the flamenco dance (baile) and for the flamenco dance.  Goyo Montero told me that there are two very different women inside me:  One who is above the stage, and the other who’s below it.  In my daily life I’m a very simple person; I cook, I like to be with my family, I ask for people’s opinions about everything I do…Onstage, on the other hand, I am responsible for my art, demanding of myself, and aware of the fact that I am not like the other artists; I am the representative of a flamenco dance that is ending (que se acaba).

Q:  That’s something that has been said for a century or more.  Antonio Mairena, for example, said that authentic song would die with him, and look how many major figures have emerged since then.  Do you really believe that el baile de raíz (dance with roots) is dying?  Don’t you go the the theater to see the young artists?

A:  Pure flamenco dance is gone forever.  I don’t go to the theater often because I always leave angry.  Today the majority of young people want to dance like Israel Galván.  And I took Israel into my troupe and I know well what that boy is capable of.  But who among today’s young people is still dancing pure flamenco?  Farruquito, and very few others.  I don’t deny the merit of today’s dancers.  And more than that, I admire their execution, their speed, their professionalism, their capacity to spend seven hours a day in a studio, to do turns like a spinning top and just eat up the stage; but flamenco puro, the art, is something else.  The art exists, but you have to slow or stop yourself to find it.  The hardest thing is to find your own language without taking away its virtues [sin desvirtuarlo].  In any case, to avoid seeming negative, I’ll say that today I’m noting an upturn [un repunte]; that is to say that there are more people doing true flamenco than there were 8 or 10 years ago.

Q:  In all your biographies, it’s said that you are self-taught.

A:  That’s true.  No one taught me to dance, though of course I saw a lot of artists.  Since I was little, I wanted to be like Carmen Amaya.  I say here movie “Los Tarantos” in a neighborhood theater with my girlfriends and since then she has been a model for me.  When I was 13 or 14, I remember that my father – also a dancer – corrected some of my postures and gave me advice, but my dance has always been my own and no one else’s.  It’s also a fact that from the beginning, I’ve always been at the side of great artists and loved to watch them.  In the tablao La Cochera, for example, I was there with the trio Los Bolecos, and to me, El Farruco seemed to be the greatest; and also Rafael el Negro and Matilde Coral.

Q:  Was it Farruco who showed you how to stop time with your arms.

A:  No, this I learned on my own.  He had a different way of dancing.

Q:  Compared to other artists of your generation, you don’t seem anchored to the past, and you try to adapt yourself to the times.  You’ve even chosen to be directed by people as distinct as Ortíz Nuevo, Jesús Quintero and Pepa Gamboa.  Has your dance also  evolved over the course of your career?

A:  Of course.  I know that I don’t dance now like I did 25 years ago, that I don’t have the potencia (power) I did then, but that what I’ve lost in power I’ve gained in wisdom and in majesty.  And the ilusión (the drive, the dream) is the same as ever.

Q:  You have four grandchildren now, and a lot of turns in your body.  Have you sometimes thought of retiring?

A:  No, not now, because I feel good; I get up each morning and go to practice and I always have some project in my head.  With myself I’m the most sincere person in the world, and the day I no longer see myself with the requisite faculties for being onstage, I’ll leave, without any doubts.

Q:  For many years, you’ve been sharing your life and the stage with the guitarist Joaquín Amador,  your husband and the father of your daughters Samara and Manuela.  What has Joaquín meant to your career?

A:  Joaquín is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.  He’s a great guitarist, a great musician and his music has let me open up my mind.  We argue a lot in rehearsals, but I realize that I don’t often seem old or outmoded thanks to him and his music.

Q:  Has the tremendous economic crisis we’re living through affected figures of the first category like you?  And what do you think must be done to get out of this situation?

A:  Of course it has affected me.  Each time there are fewer galas and everyone pays late and pays badly.  I think we’re living through one of the worst moments in history and to fight it I’d ask the politicians to support artists and, above all, that they make it possible for everyone – artists and the people in the street – to have a job and  a worthwhile (digna) life.  There are poor people who are going through terrible times.

Q:  After your appearance in the Lope de Vega you’ll start preparing the big production that you plan to present in the Maestranza Theater during the next Seville Bianal.  In it, and following in the footsteps of Camarón, El Chocolate, Pansequito and El Pele, it will be Miguel Poveda who sings the soleares [Carrasco's signature dance] for you.

A:  Yes, God willing, although we haven’t been able to start rehearsing because he’s on tour.  I would like to create some new dances and I hope everything comes out marvelously well, the same as the coming 21st  and 22nd at the Lope, because the most satisfying thing for an artist is that the public goes home content.

End of interview by Rosalía Gómez


March 19, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Dancer Pepe Torres – Review in Crónicas Flamencas – translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Morón 2008

Pepe in Morón, 2008

Translator’s note:  Here’s a review from today’s Crónicas Flamencas website, describing the art of the brilliant dancer Pepe Torres of Morón.  It correctly compares Pepe’s extraordinary artistry to that of the greatest dancer I and so many others ever saw, the legendary El Farruco, and another of the art’s top ten, Rafael el Negro.


(It also makes a savvy and respectful reference to Pepe’s grandfather Joselero, the fine singer whom I heard most often while living in Morón and studying guitar with his brother-in-law Diego del Gastor).

Surrendering to the deep power of Pepe Torres’ flamenco dance

We live in a time when flamenco dance is taking different artistic directions: adapting distinct schools of dance to flamenco, making theatrical productions that try to channel certain messages, and in general becoming divorced from its primitive aesthetic.  And that strikes me as just fine; art is movement – never more appropriate than in this case – and it can be necessary to seek other sources to feed its evolution.  But with all these evolutions and devolutions, I note a certain lack of flamenco truth, of flamenco essence, of that characteristic perfume that flamenco must have and that, as I’ve said, has become all too scarce.

Fortunately, there are always people who take charge of maintaining the form, the personality and the character of this deep and serious art.  Pepe Torres, from Morón, is a clear example of this.  He was charged with bringing flamencura – the heart and soul of flamenco – to the Círculo Flamenco de Madrid, that filled out its programming with the only element that had been lacking: the dance.

Pepe’s dance distills flamenco-ness and essence.  And that’s what stood out during his performance in Las Tablas de Madrid.   For the occasion, he brought with him an outstanding group: the singers David El Galli and José Méndez and the guitarist Eugenio Iglesias.  Pepe’s humility is evident in his productions, where he always cedes a major role to his people, so one can enjoy the song, guitar and dance both separately and together.

Pepe Torres represents the elegance and masculinity of today’s flamenco dance.  In his movement one recognizes diverse aesthetic elements, but above all the style of El Farruco and Rafael El Negro.  His school has been his environment, his family – and it shows.  The spontaneity of the Gypsy whose apprenticeship begins in his mother’s womb, and in whose veins runs the blood of artists.  If there is anything the best defines his grandfather, the singer Joselero de Morón, it is the exquisite taste he had in simply pronouncing his words.  Pepe has inherited this, the simplicity with taste.  Starting with this premise, he develops his deep and emotive dance without banal adornments, alone with his personal truth.

With a public hungering for serious flamenco, Pepe Torres began the recital dancing his intensely flamenco bulerías as if he was in a family gathering.  Then Eugenio’s guitar came in behind David and José for the tarantos that changed to tientos.  After those sketches, it was time to bring on the steamroller song.  José Méndez was in charge of the soleá, and how well he delivered, slowly but with great taste and knowledge.  To close the first half, the man from Morón  danced an alegrías and a bulerías de Cádiz, to which he brought elegant porte (carriage) and gracia (flair, stylish charm).

As is becoming normal, and unlike the world of cinema, sequels are always good.  The artists come back on stage hot and ready, and things went flawlessly.  Eugenio played a granainas that gave way to a soul-stripping, grief-stricken siguiriyas de Jerez sung by David El Galli, who fought courageously to reveal the essence of the song .  Then, adding to the audience’s sense of tragedy, Pepe mounted the stage for his signature dance, the soleá.  His instinctive grasp and respect for that song and all its meaning make Pepe Torres’ interpretation one of the indispensable reference points for understanding the significance of this style within the realm of dance.  And – how could it be otherwise? – the evening concluded as it had begun, with a bulerías, pulsing with rhythm but this time with all the aficionados fully satiated with moving art.

End of review:  The original is at:


March 14, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Dancer Andrés Marín – 2014 Review by Manuel Bohórquez – translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  I’m one of the many admirers of the flamenco dancer Israel Galván.  And even though I’m often rightly accused of being a rigid traditionalist or worse yet, a “purist” in most flamenco matters, I somehow think Galván’s very experimental and even shocking newer works are not just brilliant but also somehow very flamenco.

The other male dancer who seems almost as radical and remarkable as Galván is Andrés Marín.  In fact, some of my trusted dance info sources insist that Marín is the guy who best captures flamenco essence in works that simply demolish flamenco’s allegedly necessary rules.

Below is a translation of an admiring critique of Marín by a critic I admire.  Manuel Bohórquez.  He is one of many experts who delight in ridiculing people who share my traditionalism (his well-researched revisionist portrait of the very early flamenco singer El Planeta is translated elsewhere in this blog).   The link to the original appears at the end.

Andrés Marín:  The Maturity of an Innovator
by Manuel Bohórquez

I have a weakness for Seville’s dancer and choreographer Andrés Marín.  It’s best not to admit that since objectivity is a virtue for a critic, but I’ve had it up to here with that notion.  I think I was the first critic to write positive words about him, saying that he brought some new and revolutionary notions to the Seville dance tradition.  And I wasn’t mistaken.  Each of his productions has been a bet on the future, but with sense/sensitivity/sensibility, always bringing in new elements without losing sight of the past.

Creating is what creators do, and Andrés is a true creator.  And it’s not easy to create something new in an art infested with self-appointed vigilantes of so-called purity.  This artist has known since the start of his career that he must have his own discourse, his personal stamp, even if, as the singer Juan Valderrama has said, it’s just a stamp from the Post Office.

Marín’s new work, OP.24, debuted last night in Seville’s Teatro Central, is one of the best things I’ve seen in all of his now extensive career.  And one of the most flamenco, too, although there will be those who insist it’s not flamenco at all, but something else,  If anyone has any doubt, in this interesting work of dance and flamenco music – Andrés is always very careful in his choice of music – we hear farrucas, siguiriyas, natural fandangos and fandangos de Lucena, the caña and songs from the Eastern regions, such as tarantas, among other things.

Of course, if anyone goes expecting to see the farruca as it was danced by Manolete, or the siguiriyas as Mario Maya did it, they’ll leave frustrated, because Andrés has created his own farruca and his own siguiriyas, which are the two great dance pieces in this work.  Two pieces from a choreography that emerges from his laboratory, but with impressive aesthetic and musical beauty, sung by a pletórico [abundantly gifted] Jesús Méndez [a fine young flamenco singer from the family of the immortal La Paquera de Jerez], played by Salvador Gutiérrez who has grown by leaps and bounds as a guitarist, and with percussion by a phenomenon, José Carrasco.

But speaking in general terms, OP.24 is a well-rounded work, in which everything is connected, and in which Andrés is a master of ceremonies who puts at the service of his dance everything that’s onstage: the song, the playing, the percussion, the lights and the scenery, a simple and austere mis-en-scene that doesn’t distract the viewer in any way.

Andrés sings, marks the compás (rhythm) on a clay vase and on a platform, with his hands.  His footwork, perhaps somewhat abusive and repetitive, is incredible in its precision and all of his movements reflect an aesthetic that sobrecoge.  It’s no exaggeration to say that works like this, that are not easy to understand if one does not know Andrés Marín well, serve to justify a major dance performance cycle like Flamenco Viene del Sur.  Tradition and avant-gardism with the personal stamp of a unique dancer, of an extraordinary talent, with astounding faculties and an enormous capacity to create beauty within the natural beauty of dance itself

His name is Andrés Marín and he’s from Seville.  And he is an innovator who has matured and who always knew what he wanted to do:  To dance out his fantasy.

End of review by Manuel Bohórquez.  The original page on his marvelous blog is at:


March 5, 2014   No Comments

1999 Flamenco Vivo Production of Hombres y Mujeres – Review by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Date:  Fri, Mar 19, 1999 11:35 AM EDT
From:  Brook Zern
Subj:  Carmen’s Sisters and more — Mujeres y Hombres on B’way

Last night was the premiere of “Mujeres y Hombres”, presented by the Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana company, of which Carlota is the Artistic Director.

By my lights, the event was a resounding success.  The evening as a whole worked very well, and the audience loved it.  And it was a tough audience, since the New Victory — a smallish (400-odd seats) beautifully-renovated theater right off Times Square — features productions aimed at families and at children, who can be the toughest critics.

The show was in three not-long parts.  One, waving the flag for hombres, was “Bailaor”, choreographed by Antonio Hidalgo with music by Roberto Castellón, a longtime guitarist on the New York scene who played very well and is clearly coming into his own.

“Bailaor” is based on a fascinating premise:  Showing the evolution of male flamenco dance over the last century or so.  In maybe forty minutes, it seamlessly reveals the essence of the changes that have transformed the art.  Starting with a zapateado done in a constricted and rigidly formal style (think El Estampío or Vicente Escudero), it slides into a farruca with the freer moves and postures of subsequent bailaores (think Joé Greco and Antonio Gades), and wraps up with a full-tilt bulerías highlighting all the unorthodoxies and freedom of today’s unbuttoned generation of hot male bailaores (think Joaquin Grilo or Joaquin Cortés or whoever’s dating supermodels right now).

The dancers who made it work were Antonio Hidalgo, Rodrigo Alonso and Pedro Blasquez.  Flutist Terence Butler, an American who lives in Barcelona, joined in as things got up-to-date.

I thought it was interesting and effective — for me, it underlined major changes to make them evident.  (In other words, it was probably designed to be obvious even to kids, so I didn’t have my usual dance-blind trouble grasping the message.)

Another segment was “Ask For Me”, choreographed by Antonio Hidalgo and danced by Antonio and Carlota.  They make a good pair; the dance was dramatic and certainly came off quite well.

The “Mujeres” segment is “Carmen’s Sisters”, conceived, choreographed, danced and sung by Clara Mora.  (Well, she has plenty of expert help, but the impressive aspect was her crucial role in making everything work.)

This is a terrific production.  It’s really a song-based rather than a dance-based flamenco work, though both are happening all the time.

It focuses on the somehow dramatic story of the ordinary life of women, specifically Andalusian Gypsy women, and the songs are the key to understanding their lives.  Amazingly, Clara Mora — an American woman who fully grasps the essence of flamenco — has solved the daunting problem of explaining the song and stating the words in English without damaging the high drama of the cante.

She often joins the others in chorus parts — and she also manages to recite the verses so intensely yet self-effacingly that the audience knows what is being said almost without knowing how.  It’s a real tour de force — especially because her dancing is obviously superb.

Elena Andúar, Esperanza Montes and Tania García are the other dancer/singers.  Elena does the heavy-duty cante extremely well, and the others are a pleasure to hear and watch.  The loose story line works as high drama, because it values the ordinary lives of women in the Andalusian and Gypsy cultures.

David Serva plays guitar throughout.  This brilliant musician does everything exactly right, as usual.  It is always a privilege to experience his unique artistry.

The good and bad news is that the six or eight remaining performances of “Mujeres y Hombres” are practically sold out.  I hope there will be additional opportunities to see the production, and would be particularly enthused if the “Carmen’s Sisters” segment took on a life of its own, perhaps in a somewhat expanded version.

All in all, a memorable evening.  Once again, Carlota Santana has done an outstanding job of bringing notable flamenco to the boards.

Brook Zern

February 11, 2014   No Comments

Un Baile en Malaga – 1838 Account of a Flamenco or Pre-flamenco event – Translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  This text comes from Alvaro Fuente Espejo’s website “Puente Genil con el Flamenco”, and was possibly provided by the flamenco expert Norberto Torres.  I believe the text author was a Polish diplomat called Count Dembowski.  [My interjections and intended clarifications appear in brackets.]  The website introduction begins:

The following is description of a flamenco gathering – or a pre-flamenco gathering, depending on your point of view – from the same year as the well-known account “Un Baile en Triana” by Estébanez Calderón.   (Little by little, things like this are coming to light…)

In terms of flamenco historiography, the this description of what [flamenco specialist] Eusebio Rioja doesn’t hesitate to call a “juerga flamenca” [the term assumes it is a flamenco “jam session”] occurred in Malaga on November 4th, 1838, the Day of Saint Carlos, and is described by the Polish writer in a letter sent from that city the following day.  It’s worth noting that this is the same year that Serafín Estébanez Calderón, who was the political leader of Seville, described a similar event in his “costumbrista” work [on popular or folk customs] titled “Un Baile en Triana”.

The letter begins with a reference to the musical and improvised activity as it developed within the collective [association] of the blind, one of the few offices that was dedicated to facilitating this group’s journey from marginal life to integration into society:

“Yesterday, early in the morning, the blind came in with a kind of serenade marking Saint Carlos’s day, which is my Patron Saint’s day.  They sang while accompanying themselves with violin, guitar and tambourine [pandereta]…”

What follows is a dance “function”, organized according to the rules of this type of spectacle, half-private and half-public, in which the flamenco genre is in the process of being created [se va a gestar parcialmente]:

“My companions from the house have come to congratulate me [felicitarme], and to reassure them of my respect [deferencia] for Spanish customs while at the same time  satisfying my curiosity, I have arranged a Gypsy zambra [the word refers to an evening of dance, as well as a specific dance form].

The organizer [[procurador], a service-oriented person [persona muy servicial], has offered to seek out the Gypsies, and they, now that the accounts are squared away, have accepted the invitation of the curial as a stroke of good fortune.

At nine in the evening, all were reunited in doña Marquita’s store:  In my role as the patrón of the fiesta, I gave my arm to the two prettiest Gypsies, and all the invited guests followed me into the sala del baile, illuminated mysteriously by an old lamp with three points, hanging down from the ceiling by a rope.  The eight Gypsies, three men and five women, took their seats in the fondo of the room.  Among the women, Rita stood out by the expression on her Moorish physiognomy and the richness of her voluptuous talla [stature], free of any constraints.  A black leather bucle [loop], adorned with a rose, fell from her left sien [temple], and her short indiana [printed calico] skirt left open to view a tiny foot imprisoned in a white leather escarpín [slipper] that would have been the envy of the lovely ladies of Paris, or the beauties of China.

Seated near Rita was the chubby/thickset [gruesa] Juana, her mother, twice as dark [doble de negro] as her, and covered with chains and fine metal cadeneta [chain stitching].  This is a custom among the Gypsies of Malaga, for “imprisoning the devil in his house”, and that belief has enriched the owner of the chestnut stand that she has in the Plaza de la Constitución.

Pepe, the most renowned bailarín [dancer; usually connotes formal dance as opposed to bailaor, flamenco dancer – but this is likely a later distinction] in Malaga, where he lives by making false keys and running a tavern, wore white pantaloons, faja encarnada [red belt], a shirt with an immense chorrera [frill], and an earring hanging from his left ear with a crucecita [little cross?] that reminded me of the Neapolitan “jettatura” [evil eye].

Rita took charge of the guitar, and don Pedro, the elegant cura [priest], began by dancing a fandango with Dolores, a young embroiderer who worked in doña Mariquita’s house.  The pirouettes of my priest did not scandalize us, because you know beyond doubt that the sacerdotes [priests]  are not excluded by law from Spanish dances.  With the arrival of the tenor and the bass [bajo], who had come from the Opera House where they had sung “Semiramis”, the Gypsy songs and dances began.  One of them accompanied the verses of the “playera”, a song beloved by the moradores [denizens] of the beach, by strumming the guitar; the men and the women alternated in the song, marking the compás [rhythm] with handclaps, a curious effect that they call “palmoteos” [sometimes simply palmas].  At times a gitano [male Gypsy] danced with his gitana.

Imagine the pair dancing together, Pepe and Rita face to face, the left arm at the cadera [hip], the right foot recogido [upswept], as they await the end of the verse.  Soon, the agrio [bitter] sound of the castanets overshadows the the handclaps and the music of the guitar; it’s Pepe and Rita, dancing together, each reproducing the same movements of arms, feet and head.  This the the paseo, or the first part of the playera.  Then, when Pepe launches himself toward Rita, she flees from him, inciting him, and when Rita advances, Pepe retreats in turn.  The moment arrives when the Gypsies renew their songs and mix into them exclamations that seem to embriagar embolden the dancers, and – a strange thing – has a similar impact  on the singers and even the spectators themselves.  “Olé jaleo!  “Toss the sugar!”  “Go for it, move it!”  “Muerte!” [“Death!”]  “Alma, Alma” [“Soul, Soul!”]  “Olé, olé, olé”.  Shouts that bubble with ardor and animation in Spanish, and that would only be possible to translate imperfectly if at all into French.

All the spectators enthusiastically repeat  the words; Juana’s strong voice dominates all the rest.  Rita’s movements are bacchanalian  [son de una bacante], her face is that of a pitonisa [fortune teller].  The flashing of her black eyes  seem to follow an invisible god whose influence she is under; her limbs [miembros] all tremble and palpitate with new life.  The Gypsy does full turns, animated with similar furious energy [furor].  In sum, give me words to describe for you the incidents of this impassioned pantomime so full of  passion, gracia, voluptuousness,  Everyone applauds Pepe and Rita who, drawing renewed energy from continuous cups of ponche [strong punch] and anís, danced several times during the night.

After the dinner, a young widow sang an enchanting rendition of the charming [graciosas] songs of “Tripilittrápala”,  the “Panadera” [bread woman] and the “Contrabandista” [smuggler].  We then heard a Gypsy butcher whose father’s girth was such that he was called the Full Moon of Malaga.  Nonetheless, he played the guitar with rare perfection, and despite his clear voice, we couldn’t listen to him because of his horrible pronunciation.   He preceded each vowel with a “v”, to the point that the words of the song emerged from his mouth so disfigured as to be ridiculous.  It was hard to fathom the vanity of that Gypsy.  Knowing that I was a foreigner, he kept interrupting the verse at any point to offer me the guitar and invite me to be heard in turn.  “Now it’s your turn to sing, sir.”  When he sang en falsete [in a falsetto voice], he wiggled and moved his legs like a madman, and invited all those near him with dance steps to render him admiring tributes.

The dancing was still going on when, on hearing the church bell strike six, doña Mariquita, anxious to open her shop, begged us to put an end to the fiesta.” ) Majado, 1986” 91-93).

[End of text]

Note by flamenco authority Norberto Torres:

This text is noteworthy because it took place the same year as the famous Triana dance of Solitario in Seville, but in another region of Andalusia that is perhaps insufficiently studied in flamenco historiography: Malaga, where we find the same sequence of events and participants.

This similarity shows that the appearance of flamenco is not an isolated incident in a specific place, but a social phenomenon that erupts within a determined context.  In both cases, a key factor is the presence of Gypsy men and women, conveniently organized to meet the demand of a public that  consists of outsiders/strangers [forasteros].

In this case, the key person and patron is a Polish aristocrat.  And the person who rounds up the “artists” is no less than the “procurador” of the city itself, in whom we recognize a consummate tejedor de redes clientelistas, [weaver of social networks] while in Seville it had been the local governor Estébanez Calderón who took on the same role.  The “function” or event seems to dilute the social classes, and in this case we see a congregation of “lower class Gypsies”, according to Ford, and members of the aristocracy, the clergy, and the judicial and artistic bourgeoisie,

The guitar is strummed, played by Gypsy men and Gypsy women, which reaffirms that it was part of the musical customs of this collective group.  ‘’Even Dembowsky – the author of the text — gives us a sketch of one of them who was a butcher by trade, but a virtuoso in the execution of his art, playing and singing at the same time [a rarity in flamenco], as did the [recent] guitarist and concert artist Pedro Bacán.  Finally, we can’t overlook the recurrent references to the noisy nature of this occasion, produced primarily by the percussive sounds of the palmas and the castanets.

End of entry

Translator’s note:  The musical form called the playera is sometimes regarded as an older form of the siguiriyas.  The theory is that playera was a shortened term for plañidera — those hired mourners whose job was to plañir, or weep and wail (yes, plaintively) at funerals.  Their lamenting — which would have been unaccompanied, and without a lively rhythm — was linked to the tragic deep song or cante jondo form known as the siguiriyas, which is indeed a tragic lament with a complex, broken rhythm that may be hard to discern.

Well, say goodbye to that theory.  The real-deal siguiriyas was and is so profound and draggy that nobody dared to dance it until Vicente Escudero took it on in the 1930′s or so.  (To his critics, he just said, “I could dance in a church without profaning it.”  For that matter, the often avant-gardist Escudero, who hung out with Dali and the surrealists, apparently also danced flamenco to the sound of a foundry press or a steam drill, so nothing was sacred to him.)

I conclude that the playera was clearly named for the layabouts and lowlifes who hung out on Malaga’s low-rent beaches or playas and might’ve been called playeras, and it was danceable two hundred years ago.  So whatever it was (it might’ve resembled or been another flamenco form), it sure as shootin’ wasn’t an early siguiriyas.

(Who sez I’m not a diligent, rigorous and qualified academic researcher?)

Brook Zern

January 29, 2014   No Comments

Important 1883 Description of Flamenco From U.S. Book “Spanish Vistas” (with exact dance description) – Comments by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

I found an 1883 book that describes flamenco as seen by an American traveler in Spain.  Passages touch on the song, and also describe in detail a dance performance in Malaga some time prior to the publication date.  The book is called “Spanish Vistas”, by George Parsons Lathrop, published by Harper & Brothers, Frankln Square (Philadelphia?), 1883.  It’s nicely illustrated by Charles S. Reinhart.

While suited to armchair travelers, the book is also aimed squarely at potential American tourists, with sections in the back on safe travel (bandits had recently been subdued by the Guardia Civil) and other handy hints.  It’s also gracefully written and sharply observed.  The intro (which mentions a book by John Hay from a few years earlier, called “Castillian Days”) describes a meeting with a Spaniard who, learning the author was not an Englishman but a North American, exclaimed happily “You are for the Spanish Republic (a Republican), then!”  The author says he then asked the Spaniard: “How many Spaniards are in that party?”

“Party,” the Spaniard cried.  “Listen: in Spain there is a separate political party for every man.”  After a slight pause he added, bitterly, “Sometimes, two!”

Anyway, the section on Seville shows that the author is conversant with music.  A description of the Thursday-morning fair still rings true.  He writes:

“With very early morning begins the deep clank of bells, under the chins of asses that go the rounds to deliver domestic milk from their own udders.  There is no end of noise.  Even in the elegant dining-room where we ate, lottery-dealers would howl at us through the barred windows, or a donkey outside would rasp our ears with his intolerable braying.  Then the street cries are incessant.  At night the crowds chafe and jabber till the latest hours, and after eleven the watchmen begin their drawl of unearthly sadness…until, somewhere about dawn, you drop perspiring into an oppressively tropical dream-land, with the sereno’s last cry ringing in your ears:  “Hail, Mary, most pure!  Three o’clock has struck.”  This is the weird tune to which he chants it.  (Then the book shows a well-rendered melodic line, done in common time, revealing an aptitude for writing relatively straightforward if unusual music; but, predictably, the author never attempts to render flamenco song in notation.)

The text continues:

“An Enlish lady, conversing with a Sevillan gentleman who had been making some rather tall statements, asked him:  “Are you telling me the truth?”

“Madam,” he replied gravely, but with a twinkle in his eye, “I am an Andalusian!”  At which the surrounding listeners, his fellow-countryment, broke into an appreciative laugh.

So proverbial is the want of veracity, or, to put it more genially, the imagination, of these Southerners.  Their imagination will explain also the vogue of their brief, sometimes pathetic, yet never more than half-expressed, scraps of song, which are sung with so much feeling throughout the kingdom to crude barbaric airs, and loved alike by gentle and simple.  I mean the Peteneras and the Malaguenas.  There are others of the same general kind — usually pitched in a minor key, and interspersed with passionate trills, long quavers, unexpected ups and downs, which it requires no little skill to render.  I have seen gypsy singers grow apoplectic with the long breath and volume of sound which they threw into these eccentric melodies amid thunders of applause.  It is not a high nor a cultivated order of music, but there lurks in it something consonant with the broad, stimulating shine of the sun, the deep red earth, the thick, strange-flavored wine of the Peninsula; its constellated nights, and clear daylight gleamed with flying gold from the winnowing field.  The quirks of the melody are not unlike those of very old English ballads, and some native composer with originality should be able to expand their deep, bold, primitive ululations into richer, lasting forms.  The fantastic picking of the mandurra accompaniment reminds me of Chinese music with which I have been familiar.  Endless preludes and interminable windings-up enclose the minute kernel of actual song; but to both words and music is lent a repressed touching power and suggestiveness by repeating, as is always done, the opening bars and first words at the end, and then breaking off in mid-strain.  For instance:

“All the day I am happy,
but at evening orison
like a millstone grows my heart.
All the day I am happy.”

[Limitless Guitar Solo.]  [sic]

It is like the never-ended strain of Schumann’s “Warum?”  The words are always simple and few — often bald [sic].  One of the most popular pieces amounts simply to this:

“Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality,
since when the bulls they are slaying –
O damsel of my heart –
they do it with serenity.
Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality.

But such evident ardor of feeling and such wealth of voice are breathed into these fragments that they become sufficient.  The people supply from their imagination what is barely hinted in the lines.  Under their impassive exteriors they preserve memories, associations, emotions of burning intensity, which throng to aid their enjoyment, as soon as the muffled strings begin to vibrate and syllables of love or sorrow are chanted.  I recalled to a young and pretty Spanish lady one line,

“Pajarito, que te vuelas”.

She flushed, fire came to her eyes, and with clasped hands she murmured, “Oh, what a beautiful song it is!”  Yet it contains only four lines.  Here is a translation:

Bird, little bird that wheelest
through God’s fair worlds in the sky,
say if thou anywhere seest
a being more sad than I.
Bird, little bird that wheelest.

Some of these little compositions are roughly humorous, and others very grotesque, appearing to foreigners empty and ridiculous.

The following one has some of the odd imagery and clever inconsequence of some of our negro improvisations:

“As I was gathering pine-cones
in the sweet pine woods of love,
my heart was cracked by a splinter
that flew from the tree above,
I’m dead: pray for me, sweethearts.”

There was one evening in Granada when we sat in a company of two dozen people, and one after another of the ladies took her turn in singing to the guitar of a little girl, a musical prodigy.  But they were all outdone by Candida, the brisk, naive, handsome serving-girl, who was invited in, but preferred to stand outside the grated window, near the lemon-trees and pomegranates, looking in, with a flower in her hair, and pouring into the room her warm contralto — that voice so common among Spanish peasant-women — which seemed to have absorbed the clear dark of Andalusian nights when the stars glitter like lance-points aimed at the earth.  Through the twanging of the strings we could hear the rush of water that gurgles all about the Alhambra; and, just above the trees that stirred in the perfumed air without, we knew the unsentinelled walls of the ancient fortress were frowning.  The most elaborate piece was one meant to accompany a dance called the Zapateado, or “kick-dance.”  It begins:

“Tie me, with my fiery charger,
to your window’s iron lattice.
Though he break loose, my fiery charger,
me he cannot tear away.”

and then passes into rhyme:

“Much I ask of San Francisco,
much St. Thomas I implore;
but of thee, my little brown girl,
ah, of thee I ask much more!”

The singing went on:

“In Triana there are rogues,
and there are stars in heaven.
Four and one rods away
there lives, there lives a woman.
Flowers there are in gardens,
and beautiful girls in Sevilla.”

That’s the end of flamenco references in the Seville section.  The author then moves to Granada.  He writes:

“The gypsies of Granada are disappointing, apart from their peculiar quivering dance, performed by gitanas in all Spanish cities under the name of flamenco.*

[* Footnote:  Fleming, a name commonly applied to Spanish gypsies; whence it has been inferred that the first of them came from the Netherlands.]

Their hill-caves, so operative with one’s curiosity when regarded from across the valley, gape open in such dingy, sour, degraded foulness on a nearer view, that I found no amount of theory would avail to restore their interest.  Yet some of the fortune-telling women are spirited enough, and the inextinguishable Romany spark smoulders in their black eyes.  Perhaps it was an interloping drop of Celtic blood that made one of them say to me, “Señorito, listen.  I will tell you your fortune.  But I speak French — I come from Africa!” And to clinch the matter she added, “You needn’t pay me if every word of the prediction isn’t true!”  Much as I had heard of the Spanish bull, I never knew until then how closely it resembles the Irish breed.

[The famed Spanish artist] Fortuny’s model, Marinero, who lives in a burrow on the Alhambra side, occasionally starts up out of the earth in a superb and expensive costume, due to the dignity of his having been painted by Fortuny.  Dark as a negro, with a degree of luminous brown in his skin, and very handsome, he plants himself immovably in one spot to sell photographs of himself.  His nostrils visibly dilate with pride, but he makes no other bid for custom.  He expands his haughty nose, and you immediately buy a picture.  Velveteen [the author's fellow traveller] chanced upon Marinero’s daughter, and got her to pose.  When he engaged her she was so delighted that she took a rose from her hair and presented it to him, with a charming, unaffected air of gratitude, came an hour before the time, and waited impatiently.  She wore a wine-colored skirt, if I remember, a violet jacked braided with black, and a silk neckerchief of dull purple-pink silk.  But that was not enough: a blue silk kerchief also was wound about her waist, and in among her smooth jet locks she had tucked a vivid scarlet flower.  The result was perfect, for the rich pale-brown of her complexion could harmonize anything; and in Spain, moreover, combinations of color that appear too harsh elsewhere are paled and softened by the overpowering light.”

That’s the end of descriptions of flamenco and Gypsies in Granada.  From there, the author and Velveteen go to Malaga — via Bobadilla, a railhead I remember from the 1960′s.  The next chapter begins:

“A gypsy dance!  What does one naturally imagine it to be like?  For my part, I had expected something wild, free and fantastic; something in harmony with moonlight, the ragged shadows of trees, and the flicker of a rude camp-fire.  Nothing could have been wider of the mark.  The flamenco — that dance of the gypies, in its way as peculiarly Spanish as the church and the bull-ring, and hardly less important — is of Oriental origin, and preserves the impassive quality, the suppressed, tantalized sensuousness belonging to Eastern performances in the saltatory line.  It forms a popular entertainment in the cafés of the lower order throughout the southern provinces, from Madrid all the way around to Valencia, in Sevilla and Malaga, and is gotten up as a select and expensive treat for travellers at Granada.  But we saw it at its best in Malaga.

We were conducted, about eleven o’clock in the evening, to a roomy, rambling, dingy apartment in the crook of an obscure and dirty street, where we found a large number of sailors, peasants and chulos seated drinking at small tables, with a very occasional well-dressed citizen or two here and there.  In one corner was a stage rising to the level of our chins when we were seated, which had two fronts, like the Shakspearian stage in pictures, so that spectators on the side might have a fair chance, and be danced to from time to time.  On this sat about a dozen men and women, the latter quite as much Spanish as gypsy, and some of them dressed partially in tights, with an affectation of sailors or pages’ costume in addition  At Madrid and Sevilla their sisters in the craft wore ordinary feminine dresses, and looked the possessors of more genuine Romany blood.

But here, too, the star danseuse, the chief mistress of the art of flamenco, was habited in the voluminous calico skirt which Peninsular propriety prescribes for this particular exhibition, thereby doing all it can to conceal and detract from the amazing skill of muscular movement involved.  A variety of songs and dances with guitar accompaniments, some effecive and others tedious, preceded the gypsy performance.  I think we listened nearly half an hour to certain disconsolate barytone wailings, which were supposed to interpret the loves, anxieties, and other emotions of a contrabandista, or smuggler, hiding from pursuit in the mountains.  Judging from the time at his disposal for this lament, the smuggling business must be sadly on the decline.  The whole entertainment was supervised by a man precisely like all the chiefs of these troupes in Spain.  Ther similarity is astounding; even their features seem even identical: when you have seen one, you have seen all his fellows, and know exactly what they will do.  He may be a little older or younger, a little more gross or less so, but he is always clean-shaven like the other two sacred types — the bull-fighter and the priest — and his face is in every case weakly but good-humoredly sensual.  But what does he do?  Well, nothing.  He is the most important personage on the platform, but he does not contribute to the programme beyond an exclamation of encouragement to the performers at intervals.  He is a Turveydrop in deportment at moments, and always a Crummies in self-esteem [the meaning of these references is unknown to me].  A few highly favored individuals as they come from the café salute him, and receive a condescending nod in return.  Then some friend in the audience sends him up a glass of chamomile wine, or comes close and offers it with his own hand.  The leader invariably makes excuses, and without exception ends by taking the wine, swallowing a portion, and gracefully spitting out the rest at the side of the platform.  He smokes the cigars of admiring acquaintances, and throws the stumps on the stage.  All the while he carries in his hand a smooth, plain walking-stick, with which he thumps time to the music when inclined.

At last the moment for flamenco arrives.  The leader begins to beat monotonously on the boards, just as our Indians do with their tomahawks [sic -- shouldn't it be tom-toms?] to set the rhythm; the guitars strike into their rising and falling melancholy strain.  Two or three women chant a weird song, and all clap their hands in a peculiar measure, now louder, now fainter, and with pauses of varying lengths between the emphatic reports.  The dancer has not yet risen from her seat; she seems to demand encouragement.  The others call out, “Ollé” — a gypsy word for “bravo!” — and smile and nod their heads at her to draw her on.  All this excites in you a livelier curiosity, a sort of suspense.  “What can be coming now?” you ask.  Finally she gets up, smiling half scornfully; a light comes into her eyes; she throws her head back, and her face is suffused with an expression of daring, of energy, and of strange pride.  Perhaps it is only my fancy, but there seems to creep over the woman at that instant a reminiscence of far-off and mysterious things; her face, partially lifted, seems to catch the light of old traditions, and to be imbued with the spirit of something belonging to the past, which she is about to revive.  Her arms are thrown upward, she snaps her fingers, and draws them down slowly close before her face as far as the waist, when, with an easy waving sideward, the “pass” is ended, and the arms go up again to repeat the movement.  Her body too is in motion now, only slightly, with a kind of vibration; and her feet, unseen beneath the flowing skirt, begin an easy, quiet, repressed rhythmical figure.  So she advances, her face always forward, and goes swiftly around a circle, coming back to the point where she began, without appearing to step.  The music goes on steadily, the cries of her companions become more animated, and she continues to execute that queer, aimless, yet dimly beckoning gesture with both arms — never remitting it nor the snapping of her fingers, in fact, until she has finished the whole affair.  Her feet go a little faster; you can hear them tapping the floor as they weave upon it some more complicated measure.  but there is not the slightest approach to a springing tendency.  Her progress is sinuous; she glides and shuffles, her soles quitting the boards as little as possible — something between a clog dance and a walk, perfect in time, with a complexity in the exercise of the feet demanding much skill.  She treats the performance with great dignity; the intensity of her absorbtion invests it with a something [sic] almost solemn.

Forward again!  She gazes intently in front as she proceeds, and again as she floats backward, looking triumphant, perhaps with a spark of latent mischief in her eyes.  She stamps harder upon the floor; the sounds follow like pistol reports.  The regular clack, clack-clack of the smitten hands goes on about her, and the cries of the rest increase in zest and loudness.

“Ollé! ollé!”

“Bravo, my gracious one!”

“Muy bien! muy bien!”

“Hurrah!  Live the queen of the ants [sic]!” shouts the leader.  And the audience roars at his eccentric phrase.

The dancer becomes more impassioned, but in no way more violent.  Her body does not move above the hips.  It is only the legs that twist and turn and bend and stamp, as if one electric shock after another were being sent downward through them.  Every few minutes her activity passes by some scarcely noted gradation into a subtly new phase, but all these phases are bound together by a certain uniformity of restraint and fixed law.  Now she almost comes to a stand-still, and then we notice a quivering, snaky, shuddering motion, beginning at the shoulders and flowing down through her whole body, wave upon wave, the dress drawn tighter with one hand showing that this continues downward to her feet.  Is she a Lamia in the act of undergoing metamorphosis, a serpent, or a woman?  The next moment she is dancing, receding — this time with smiles, and with an indescribable air of invitation in the tossing of her arms.  But the crowning achievement is when the hips begin to sway too, and, while she is going back and forward, execute a rotary movement like that of the bent part of an auger.  In fact, you expect her to bore herself into the floor and disappear.  Than all at once the stamping and clapping and the twanging strings are stopped, as she ceases her formal gyrations: she walks back to her seat like one liberated from a spell, and the whole thing is over.”

Well, that’s all I can find about flamenco and Gypsies in the book “Spanish Vistas”.  The illustration for the last section, incidentally, looks like an engraving, and is signed “G.S. Reinhart — Paris, 82″.  (The author implies that the artist worked from sketches, done by Velveteen.)  It shows five seated people — three women, a male guitarist, and the cane-wielding character described as doing nothing; I wonder if he’s the agent/manager, or could he have been a big-deal singer who didn’t happen to sing that night?  The women, including the one shown dancing, are all in very full dresses with shawls.  The guitarist leans forward, clearly paying attention to the dancer.  The instrument has the pre-Torres shape, the head is scalloped on the sides and the pegs are of wood.  There’s an atmospheric painting behind the stage, and what looks like a footlight up front.

I’m certainly impressed with this author’s descriptive powers.  I think I saw that same dance last month at Symphony Space on Broadway, at the flamenco show.

I won’t start evaluating any historical insights all this might or might not offer.  I’d just note that when I thought everyone agreed flamenco was really pretty old, I remember looking at these passages without much wonderment.  After all, they were — well, hardly contemporary, but written in what I viewed as the latter stage of flamenco development.  Seen in that light, everything seemed logical.

Now, when I am forced to wonder whether flamenco might not have coalesced into a coherent art until the 1850′s or so — I hope that’s a fair paraphrase of the thinking of the postmodernist scholars and some others — I must consider the notion that all this describes an art that was really quite new at the time of writing.

And that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.  Reading the book, I got the feeling that this art — which the author had seen in so many cities, always with great similarities, and involving so many recognizable forms (the pine-cone verse is associated with the jabera, a sort of proto-malagueña) — had certainly been around for more than one measly generation.  Not as a public spectacle, necessarily — but done in some context where flamenco could develop the many canons and rules that the author refers to here.  If folks really think all that happened in half of a single creative life-span — less than 30 years — then I can hardly apologize for calling the idea “insta-genesis” with all the doubt the term implies.

In any event, I hope others will get something out of these excerpts.

Brook Zern

Note from 2014:  It’s remarkable to think that this chatty and familiar description of touristy flamenco was contemporaneous with Spain’s first serious flamenco book, the crucial 1881 “Cantes Flamencos” by Antonio Machado y Álvarez, which makes the art seem so old and so deadly serious.

Please call this blog entry to the attention of dance scholars, and other researchers or interested people.  I don’t think it’s well known, and I think it’s important.  (Also, please suggest that they read another significant blog entry — this one on the singing —  by seeking the author’s name “Sneeuw”.)

And I hope someone will choreograph a flamenco dance based on the exact description of the one the author saw in Malaga. Thanks.


January 19, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Dancer Israel Galvan Opens Nimes Festival – 2014 report from eter.com – translated with comments by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

“The magnificence with which this dancer from Seville delivers himself in “Lo Real” makes him planetary, preeminent and the precursor of a unique art that’s as much his own as it is universal, and that only Israel Galván commands. “

That’s an approximation of the last sentence of the accompanying link to an impressive online egghead Spanish publication, eter.es – the url is: http://www.eter.es/dn/actualidad/noticia.php?id=16740

The article begins by saying that the world of artistic productions in France is an an uproar (“an atmosphere of semi-psychosis”, to be precise), due to the cancellation of performances by a controversial (“polémico”) comic accused of anti-semitism.

Galván’s production that opened the Nimes Flamenco Festival is about the Nazi extermination of the Gypsies of Europe, but amid the hubbub its allusion to this subject “passed almost unnoticed.”

But despite this, “no one seemed to doubt the extremely high artistic quality of the performance: with song by David Lagos and Tomás de Perrate, guitar by Chicuelo; backup jaleo (hell-raising) by Bobote, plus piano, percussion, violin, saxophone and, among others, the special participation of the dancers Isabel Bayón and Belén Maya.

I’m sometimes asked why, if I think the rules and regs of the flamenco tradition are so crucial, I give this Galván character a free pass when he ignores everything.

Maybe it’s because I saw him dance a phenomenal, dead-on traditional bulerías barefoot in goofy shorts on the sand beach at Sanlúcar, just for the hell of it.  Or maybe it’s because he often transcends or obliterates all the barriers I try to impose on flamenco.

I revere most great flamenco artists because they are so local – so quintessentially Jerez or Seville or Morón.  Galván is non-local to such an extreme that the right word for his art is, indeed, planetary.  So much the better that, like it or not, and rules be damned, it is also flamenco.

Brook Zern

January 12, 2014   1 Comment

Flamenco Dance Authority Teresa Martínez de la Peña on Trends from 1920 to 2000 – Translated by Brook Zern

by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  My very limited knowledge of flamenco dance led me to translate a long article by a noted dancer/dance authority, Teresa Martínez de la Peña, presented as a “ponencia” or lecture, during a course of flamenco studies in Spain and titled “The History, Theory and Aesthetic of Flamenco Dance”.   It ran — around the year 2000 —  in “Revista de Flamencología”, a serious periodical put out by the Cátedra de Flamencología in Jerez.  I hope it will be useful or interesting to dancers, dance students and dance historians.

It divides the art into phases.  I have not translated the sections which deal with early history of the dance.  Instead, it begins with the section on Theatrical Flamenco, beginning in the 1920′s:

Theatrical Flamenco

“What best characterizes this modern phase, which lasted until the 1970’s, is the appearance of flamenco in the theatre, where companies were formed; and also the creation of something totally original, called Ballet flamenco.

This was an important development, which placed flamenco dance at the same elevated level as that of the great European ballet companies.  But it was also a difficult and problematic moment for traditional flamenco.  The enormous scenic leap transformed flamenco dance almost entirely.  It ceased to be the dance of an individual artist, changing into a collective dance form with an inevitable loss of spontaneity.  It also lost the guitar as the key accompanying instrument, as the orchestra took that vital role.  And the dance became subordinated to a general plot or theme, which took away flamenco’s traditional freedom of expression.

In exchange for this, the world of high culture gave flamenco a mis-en-scene that adorned the art and dramatized its action, along with lighting and stagecraft that produced powerful and surprising effects.

The way in which this new conception of flamenco was arrived at was a direct result of the intellectual and artistic life and styles of this time.  No one knows why the elite circles of Paris suddenly cast their collective glances at the dance, though one reason may have been the presence of the Russian ballet company of Diaghilev.  What is certain is that in Paris, Spain’s dancers found their ideas for renovation of the art.

Among all the flamenco activities of this epoch, the most important and fundamental is the creation of a ballet flamenco; and this stage inevitably was centered on that aspect of the art.

In April of 1914, a work called “Gitanerias” (Gypsy doings) debuted in Madrid’s Lara Theater.  The leading figure was Pastora Imperio, who was accompanied by her brother Victor Rojas and the dancer Maria Albaicing.  The genre of the work was never clearly specified; it simply appeared as a finale or “fin de fiesta” after the theatrical production, following the custom of wrapping up such works with a dance.  But in accordance with its musical composition and other characteristics, it was really a ballet, carefully prepared, as would be expected when the production was overseen by Nestor de la Torre, one of the best designers in the theatre as well as an avant-garde painter; and the libretto was by Gregorio Martinez Sierra.

This was the first production of Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo”, though it was barely noticed by the public or the critics, perhaps because it was in such a secondary position in the evening’s proceedings.

But from that point on, the work would constantly be on stage and reinterpreted by major dancers, each offering their version as has continued right on to today.

The first to follow up on this was Antonia Merce “La Argentina”, who made an exhaustive study of the music and who was inspired by the dances of the Gypsies in Granada’s Sacromonte district.  In 1925, at the Trianon Lyrique Theatre of Paris, her production of “El Amor Brujo” debuted to strong public and critical acclaim that Fernandez Cid called “a dazzling version”.  But the greatest compliment the artist could hope to hear came from Manuel de Falla himself, who said “You and el Amor Brujo are one and the same.”

Immediately afterwards, all the outstanding dancers followed suit.  Vicente Escudero debuted his version in the Trianon Lyrique in 1926; La Argentinita premiered hers in 1933 in Madrid’s Teatro Espanol; and Mariemma began dancing the work at age 16, though her best-known version debuted in 1947 at the Opera Comique de Paris.  Pilar López opened her version in Madrid, though it is not known if her version used the same choreography as that of her sister La Argentinita [not related to La Argentina] as an homage in her memory.  And Antonio Ruíz Soler, known as Antonio, also debuted his version.

Needless to say, the work had all the aspects to perpetuate itself since musically it was perfect for flamenco ballet.  It had rhythms form the flamenco song forms known as zambra and bulerías in the Danza de Fuego, of the tanguillo in the Danza del Terror, and of the flamenco tango in other sections.

But one must return to Antonia Merce “La Argentina” to understand the real summit of the work, that which would revolutionize the basic mechanism of Spanish dance and take it in a more international direction.  This dancer had not only cast her glance upon the ballet; there is another genre of dance that has been less studied and that nonetheless occupies an important place in the work of these seminal flamenco dance companies and their successors.  I refer to those short dances that, due to their stylistic variety, have no specific overall name.  The are sometimes called “danzas de concierto”, or “danzas de recital”, or “solistas”.   They are short works by nationalist-minded Spanish composers which differ from ballet in being interpreted to piano accompaniment and in not having any sort of plot or story line.  They are based on the sheer virtuosity of the steps involved, which punctually follow the variations of the main melody.

La Argentina looked closely at these because her object was not to make a great masterpiece, but to improve all of Spanish dance.  She wished to offer a varied spectacle that was totally Spanish, one that “cupiera” [drew upon?] not just traditional flamenco but also stylized flamenco.

Building on this idea, in 1929 La Argentina debuted the first “Compañía de Bailes Españoles” or company of Spanish dancers in the Opera Comique de Paris.  Its initial repertoire featured two brief ballets, one called “El Contrabandista” (The Smuggler) with music by Oscar Espla and a libretto by Cipriano Rivas Cherf, the other called “Juerga” (flamenco jam session) which was totally flamenco with music by Julian Bautista and libretto by Tomas Borras.  Together with them was presented “Sonatina” by Ernesto Halffter, and Albéñiz’s “Triana”, which met the most public and critical success.

Within this style of concert dances, Vicente Escudero created truly advanced works that were very original musically, as his work would remain throughout his entire career.  In the initial years, he could not connect with flamenco’s traditional system of rhythmics called the “compás”, and later he would challenge written music as well.  In effect, he composed his recital pieces according to his own internal sense of rhythm – a confluence of sounds of zapateado (footwork), palmas (handclapping), metal castanets and a clicking of the fingernails.  In this style he framed his “Ritmos sin música” (Rhythms without Music) and “Bailes de Vanguardia” (Dances from the Vanguard).  He even danced to the rhythm of two separate motors working at different intensities.  In this sense, it can be said that he was the artist of that epoch who was most restless and anxious to seek out new forms and approaches to the dance.

Mariemma followed the line of La Argentina in her solo dances, and there are even those who say that her way of dancing was very similar if not derivative.  Of course, the two had in common the fact that they had turned away from classical dance only to integrate themselves into the Spanish style of dance.

Carmen Amaya also danced to orquestral music; in those works, the dance step that was most frequently employed was the “destaques” – but the sheer impetus of her powerful natural dance style could not be subjected to bland formats and between one destaque and another the effect was that of authentic flamenco.

Argentinita danced in a style that was open, clear and finely balanced.  The effect was harmonious, which was just what this style of dance demanded.  But her vocation and inclination was toward flamenco and thus almost all of her works go in that direction.  Paradoxically, the last dance she interpreted was “Capricho Espanol”, which drew upon the concepts of highly stylized dance;

In the work of Pilar Lopez one readily sees her passion for flamenco, but she brought this same lucidity to all types of dance.  The number and variety of her choreographies is incalculable; she arranged works the music of all nationalist Spanish composers, but her best works were totally flamenco, such as “Los Caracoles”, the first version ever to use this type of dancing, full of flamenco elements and at the same time carrying a strong Madrid accent.  [Of all flamenco styles, the one called “Caracoles” is most closely associated with Madrid.]  “La Cana” [the name of a venerable old flamenco form] was another of her unforgettable flamenco creations, in which a duo dance between her and Alejandro Vega was the prototype of stylized flamenco, and perhaps the finest work ever conceived in this style.

The spectacle created by the dancers Antonio and Rosario, and their form of working together, was the most fitting approach to developing these dances.  Their technique was applied to a dance style that was agile, smooth and brimming with vitality.  The steps were inlaid into a choreography full of art, where their Seville-style charm and grace shone through the classic norms, notably in Sarasate’s “Zapateado” where their extraordinary virtuosity was complemented by their sheer, innate sparkle.  Just like Pilar López, they soon exhausted the repertoire of the nationalistic Spanish composers, joining these to Andalusian romances that were purely traditional.

Other dancers followed, of course, notably Luisillo, Maria Rosa, Roberto Iglesias and José Greco, each one imprinting Spanish dance with their personalities.”

Contemporary Ballet Flamenco

For thirty years, the Spanish ballet had remained unchanging with respect ot its formal orientation as a spectacle, because the innovations of each new director did not affect its structural foundation.

For many years, a technical line was maintained that distance this art from the changes that were operative in other forms of dance and in society itself.  Spanish flamenco ballet was working in exhausted fields, becoming impoverished, and beginning to repeat itself endlessly.

As a reaction to the evident deterioration of these spent forms, there would be a spectacular change in the way flamenco ballet was performed.  New elements were added, some so daring and far-out that it was hard to know if one was watching dance or theatre.  In reality, this is not so strange.  It is simply a matter of flamenco drawing close to today’s worldwide current that fosters productions where theatre, dance, light, color, mime, sound and other components are blended or fused, with none subordinate to any others and with the effect of creating a large artistic range to the proceedings.

Mario Maya, Antonio Gades and José Granero form the vanguard of this contemporary phase of the art.  The three originally belonged to classicism, but each would break with this style in his own way.

With the debut of “Bodas de Sangre” (Blood Wedding) , and “Camelamos Naquerar” (in Gypsy language, “We Wish to be Heard”), by Antonio Gades and Mario Maya respectively, appearing in 1974 and 1976, there undoubtedly dawned the contemporary phase of ballet flamenco that has remained the key force to our day.

The first innovation came in the choice of the libretto.  In contrast with the charmingly likeable content of previous ballets, which were almost always concluded with a happy ending, these works chose dramatic texts, most of which focused on a social message pointing out injustice and discrimination, or satirizing antiquated customs and attitudes.  The culmination of this may be the production of Garcia Lorca’s “Amargo” (“Bitterness”) by Mario Maya, which is charged with the premonition of death.  One must note that this tendency is international in its scope.

The setting is spartan in its austerity, although this does not seem to derive from the plot line but rather from theatrical ideas that were first seen outside of Spain.  Wooden framed props and backgrounds are used, with schematic symbols that allude to the content of the work; or there may be just a simple black curtain, upon which the silhouettes of the artists themselves are cast as the décor.  Upon a narrow area at the bottom of the stage are the musicians, singers, and in some cases the dancers themselves, profiling their art as a picture of great plastic beauty.  This became the most common approach, and it remains so today.

As for the other props, they are virtually non-existent.  Only a chair and perhaps a table appear, not as ornaments but as functional elements for the dancers.  In these rudimentary forms, we are taken back to the simple surroundings – taverns and private rooms – of the very first flamenco artists.

Lighting technique may lean toward darker elements.  From that remarkable 1970’s version of the notable man’s flamenco dance called the Farruca as done by Antonio Gades in Madrid’s Zarzuela Theatre — where his dark suit and the curtain blended together in the half-light of a stage without a focal point, where only the slow, solemn air of a guitar marks the dance — to the 1995 production by Joaquín Cortés in the Apolo Theatre, where the entire spectacle has that same aspect, many flamenco ballets have followed this identical approach.

Other dancers leaned toward the use of restless, red-toned lighting as in Antonio Gades’ production of “Carmen”, although all seem to return to full illumination of the stage for the final numbers featuring the bulerias and other festive flamenco styles.

Costumes, too, have taken a broad turn, looking backward over several decades to arrive at today’s style.  Women wear shorter skirts, or they may dress in long, silk costumes, while men dress as country horsemen or wear simple pants and shirt, often using the softer sombrero of the 1930’s.

The apron has become popular in works that have an Andalusian theme, and as a symbol of the original flamenco costume here is always a shawl around the woman’s neck or tied at the waist.  In this context, men now use the “traje corto” costume instead of the pants and shirt.

There is more realism in the action.  Movements are highly expressive, arms open wide.  Rounded forms are abandoned and profiling postures are used, especially by men, in place of facing or foreshortened poses.

Women have gained the most freedom, doing the same open steps as men as well as driving zapateado footwork all done with much airy sprightliness; even in distinctive versions as Gades’ “Carmen” the female movement is aggressive.  There are three interpreters who embody this new form:  Christina Hoyos in the dances she does with Antonio Gades, Manuela Vargas in “Medea” and “El Sur y la Petenera”, and Merche Esmeralda in “Los Tarantos” of Felipe Sánchez.  The each present an angular use of arms, open hands that add drama, a strong “zarandeo” of the skirt, and a kind of violent action never previously seen where theatrical interpretive moves are blended with dance.

In the mid-1980’s, there was a proliferation of ballets where the artist’s intent was to present choregraphic novelties and innovations.  Styles seemed to multiply, and new themes were introduced that worked in parallel with the above-described prototypes that remained dominant.

José Granero marked the height of advanced creativity when he conceived the idea of a flamenco ballet based on Greek tragedy and realized this vision with Euripides’ “Medea”.  From this difficult challenge there arose a work that claimed a truly fundamental place in the history of flamenco ballet, just as Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” and “Sombrero de Tres Picos” did so long before.

This work divides the stage into superimposed planes, giving each dance its own space although at times when the action is at its most intense there is a coming-together of these planes.  It presents delightful scenes from Andalusian folklore and from the flamenco tradition, together with the crackle of sheer tragedy as expressed by Manuela Vargas.  Nonetheless, it does not distort any element; there is a clear, well-studied and even cerebral aspect that makes possible the success of the work.  The orchestral music and the guitar as played by Manolo Sanlucar are the culmination of this ballet.

The Baroque returns to this field with José Antonio’s “Don Juan”, whose first scene shows a Venetian-style Carnival, full of color and movement, using a highly ornamented choreography that in “El Cachorro” reaches the limits of scenographic fantasy.  This is based on a popular legend surrounding that famous image of Christ from Seville, and the action takes place around a large cross which, in the final moment as a dramatic apogee, rises up bearing the crucified Christ.

Also in this time frame, a simpler kind of dance recital form reclaimed a place in the art, notably in the work of Cristina Hoyos and Blanca del Rey who presented striking tableaus that covered all the major flamenco forms.

The most interesting innovation in contemporary flamenco ballet is undoubtedly the presentation of unschooled, Gypsy dance.  La Argentinita had already done this in the 1930’s in “Las Calles de Cádiz”, when she added to her trained company the three best dancers from the cafés who danced in their own way; but this was a sort of comma in the production that would not be repeated until the time we’re discussing, perhaps because it seemed to clash with or contradict the feel of a production that was refined, stylized and Baroque in nature.  One of the most successful later uses of this was found in Rafael Aguilar’s version of “Carmen”.  At a specific moment, all the plots and machinations  of ballet come to a halt, remaining blacked out, while in one corner, under a yellow light, a Gypsy sings and dances a flamenco tango, with the natural expressive force that evokes the loudest applause of the evening.

This kind of Gypsy dancing also abounds in Felipe Sánchez’s “Tarantos”, as befits the theme of the story [involving conflict between two Gypsy families]; at one particular moment, a group of Gypsy children dance and provide the highlight of that act.

The newest artists to approach the ballet flamenco, such as Joaquin Cortes, Antonio Canales and Sara Baras, all bring a drive to innovate and renovate.  This impulse is so strong that one can talk of the present-day phase as one marked by “new tendencies”.

Latest Tendencies

It’s difficult to say exactly when flamenco dance entered its new creative phase, because there is no specific ballet that marked the event as happened last time with the works of Antonio Gades and Mario Maya.  There is a continuous evolution, marked by the continuous introduction of novel elements that we will situate in the context of the 1990’s.

This decade is even more prolific than the last regarding the production of ballets, and it’s alos even more daring with regards to everything that comprises the “action of the dance”, and the mis-en-scene.  Everything seems to constitute one more step on the staircase of the new style that we can call today’s flamenco.

In terms of theatrical form, the new decade presented a type of spectacle that is neither a recital nor a full-fledged flamenco ballet, as this term has been understood from its introduction to the present day with its implication of great artistic and technical complexity.  The companies were stable, which assured the quality of the production, and the choreographer was always a respected artist of great experience.

The 90’s offered complete freedom in these areas.  Generally, today’s companies consist of a small number of dancers; sometimes just the two who are the protagonists, and rarely more than ten.  In the traditional nomenclature, this would be termed a “group”, rather than a “company”.

Another astonishing aspect is the precarious way in which groups are assembled for works called “ballets”, and even more surprising is the new inclination to throw together companies which are ephemeral rather than long-lasting.

Of course, whatever the name and duration of such a spectacle, the important thing is that it be danced well.  But this new form has two aspects:  On one hand, flamenco broadens its expressive possibilities, acquires larger number of dancers, and augments the number of people who come to the theater – the only way such events take place today.  This offers the possibility of becoming a soloist to good dancers who formerly had to work in minor venues, or who were bound to always have a minor role in theatres.

The negative aspect is clear:  The love of theatre, or better yet, the urge to direct theatrical-flamenco companies, leads many dancers to create their own.  But transforming an artistic vision into an actual theatrical event is very difficult, and so we see that despite the occasional masterpiece, there are more works that are immature and mediocre.

Today, one always goes to a flamenco event with doubts about what will transpire, because there are no clear reference points to take advantage of.

In addition, the concept of an integral flamenco spectacle has changed.  It is becoming customary that when the curtain rises or during intermission, the spectator is confronted with a musical group that tries to please with a jazz work, or a classical violin or flute solo that has nothing to do with flamenco, or Andalusia, or even Spain.

Presented at the beginning, this can be interpreted as an introduction to the spectacle, but when the musical solo appears intermixed with the ballet, there is no sensible way to do this except by cutting short the time for the dance.

These considerations bring us to the matter of the music that surrounds today’s flamenco.  Music that inspires the dance, serves as the motor for harmonious movement, creates the form and style of the dance.

New Tendencies in Music

Flamenco dance has a way of accepting any musical approach and blending with it; the system works smoothly enough, leaving the melody to one side and responding primarily to the rhythm.  This was evident in the 1950’s with the advent of the rumba flamenca as it took root in Catalonia, and it remains true with new styles we encounter today.

I believe the artist Kiko Veneno was the first to introduce the idea of flamenco fusion.  Ever since then, through the 1980’s, it has been common to see a musical group consisting of flute, violin and bass providing the music for flamenco productions.  But it was only heard initially; when the dance began, these musicians were silent and only the guitar accompanied the dancer.

Today’s dancers are very familiar with this style, and the musicians have reciprocated by adapting to the dance.  The result: they work together to offer the flamenco spectacle.

When the dance is accompanied by a guitar, the dancer is effectively in command.  But when the music is provided by an orchestra, the dancer must adapt – something that can only be done by forcing the dance.

She will extend a step, prolong a pose, or simply indicate the melody’s rhythm with her arms while her feet await a danceable rhythm.  Dance becomes poorer with respect to its integrity as flamenco, and the result is dancing along with a free-rhythm music whose key characteristic is improvisation.  It’s a real problem for the dancer, who must always be adjusting the piece to a metric system.

Of all newer music, the most tempting for the dancer is fusion, notably with Cuban styles and rhythms.

One of the new qualities fostered by new music is the introduction of the cajón, a wooden box that serves as a percussion instrument; it is intended to underline and reinforce the rhythm, and it does this effectively because it makes a strong and sonorous sound.  Sometimes it even reproduces the sound of the dancer’s heelwork, so it becomes heard as a sort of duet.

The cajon has come to substitute for the function of the palmas or handclaps, but in a more rudimentary form because the palmas, beyond functioning to mark the basic rhythm, have a real musicality; it is a living art, reflecting the musical sensibility of the hand-clappers themselves.  They never drown out the action of the dance, but rather encourage the dancer to greater expressive heights.  When the singer comes in, or when the footwork is quiet, the handclapping is done in a “sorda” or muted way that is appropriate and does not compete.  It’s a shame that the art of hand-clapping is gradually disappearing, so that we no longer find the Cádiz-style handclapping that offered a prodigious form of flamenco musicality; though in Jerez, the tradition of clapping remains strong.

Regarding the technique of dance, one must say that between dance and music there is a direct correlation; and thus the alterations of the music are reflections of what happens in the dance – which is to say that ultimately the dance will suffer a profound transformation.

In this current phase, the choreographic action – that is, the steps as utilized – is impressively versatile.  Each new stage spectacle brings forth some capricious novelty, either of form or of structure.  One is left with the impression that the choreographer puts upon a chessboard a series of flamenco steps, which are then moved about at will.  The choreographer seems to play with them in an arbitrary way, missing the deep connections that they should have.

Now, one cannot speak of creation in its strictest sense, but rather of mixtures.  There is no specific discipline that unifies the various disparate elements.  One ends up talking of various tendencies which share only the sense of irregularity.

There is another aspect that should be considered because of the novelty it offers, and the danger that it entails.  From the early creation of the Spanish ballet, there were certain classical elements in its execution.  Refined postures that seemed so appropriate for the theatre; the studied way a leg was raised; the care with which the body was positioned – all these evolutions occurred in harmony with the idea of the true classical ballet, but that form had been assimilated long ago.

The disturbing thing is that during a flamenco spectacle one finds a totally classical dance which is completely unrelated to the theme.  I would call it an unwelcome and inappropriate interruption that does violence to the intention of the work.  Today, we see this happen when the dancer shifts from the aggressive rhythm that is the essence of flamenco to the restrained, melodic cadences of an adagio or a prelude.  The dancer must completely alter, even reverse, the quality of the dance.  For example, consider the way a flamenco dancer does the basic walking step – short steps, firmly grounded by the heelwork.  By instead using a classical approach, raising off the heels onto tiptoe, it becomes ethereal, and the entire aspect of the body changes completely.

And today all the flamenco artists, before becoming artists, spend many years learning the discipline of the classical ballet – in fact, most of the first-rate artists of this era have come out of the Spain’s National School of Ballet.  Classical has become a universal and exciting discipline, which for the dancer is a necessary form of expressing oneself.

As far as what we might call traditional flamenco, in recent years we’ve seen a move toward greater technical complexity and greater speed.  In fact, this frenetic velocity is not only the mark of the dance in general, but it is repeated insistently so that one sees the repetition of traditional closing moves and also the “desplantes” that mark key points in a dance.  We have seen the end of slower-paced, reposed flamenco; now there’s a sort of violence to the art, sometimes contained and sometimes expressed openly.  There is no longer any room for the kind of deliberate grace that demands gentleness and calm tranquility.  There’s only time to do one thing and the next, as quickly as possible.

This is a flamenco that disorients the aficionado who is grounded in the tradition, but that attracts the majority of the new fans in the art.”

End of article by Teresa Martínez de la Peña.  Again, this translation omits her comments on the earlier phases of flamenco dance, prior to 1920.

Brook Zern

January 11, 2014   No Comments