Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — flamenco dance

Flamenco Dancer Pepe Torres Speaks From the Heart – translation and comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s note: I can’t seem to find the publication that carried the following comments by the brilliant flamenco dancer Pepe Torres, but I did find my translation of it. In an eloquent statement, rendered far less elegant in my translation, Pepe speaks from the heart about the price of honesty and integrity.

“Today I’d like to say a few words…

For more than 20 years, I’ve been leaving my heart, my kidneys and part of my liver on the world’s stages. I’ve crossed from the West Coast of the U.S. to the island of Japan, by way of the small Spanish town of El Coronil, with all the jindama [hassles/ anxiety] that the airlines give to flamenco artists.

From childhood I’ve known that in this profession, you can be at a local town fair one day and at New York’s Lincoln Center the next. Modesty aside, I’ve sometimes left audiences amazed, while at other times I’ve just done what was expected of me, because that’s the way art is.

No one has ever given me anything; I’ve been in flamenco tablaos, trying to make sure that my heart never turns me into a mere functionary of the art. In short, doing no more nor less than my compañeros, but to arrive at this point…to feel the warmth and respect of a certain part of the public, and the affection of my compañeros… has been a long road of effort and dedication. And I’ll keep fighting and enjoying this road if God gives me health…but after seeing what I’ve seen, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the purer the song or guitar playing or dance of an artist, the hungrier that artist will be.

Its disheartening, but when all is said and done, I have the happiness of knowing that I never sold myself, I never sold out, and I never will, just to get to the top of a discouraging world of marketing. And the pride of knowing that all I am today is a person who is aware of the meaning of Flamenco, the meaning of Andalucía, the meaning of respect. I’ve acquired this through my struggles and experiences, and without anyone’s help. So please pardon the sin sabor [unpleasant taste] of these words, but it’s one thing to be famous and another thing to be a good artist through and through.”

End of Pepe’s statement

Translator’s note: Pepe, all flamenco aficionados owe you a debt of gratitude for sharing your art so generously in these difficult times. I consider you, along with Farruquito, to be the crucial guardian of the finest strain of masculine dance. You are a living repository of flamenco art – not just dance, but as embodiment of the entire flamenco realm.

In my years of visiting and living in Morón, it was your grandfather Joselero whose superb singing I heard most often. He was a wonderful artist and a wonderful and generous person.

He was almost always accompanied by his brother-in-law Diego del Gastor. On the guitar, I’ve tried to capture Diego’s elusive power and feeling ever since; you achieve that glorious goal better than anyone I’ve heard. To me, that puts your little-known guitar playing practically on a par with your internationally acclaimed dancing.

When I witness your dance, I feel enveloped by flamenco itself. Today, the word “pure” that you use with such evident pride is under pressure from many talented artists who consider it meaningless or outmoded. Their novel approaches often reflect a desire to find greater self-expression at the expense of flamenco’s traditional constraints that keep the art firmly centered. I admire some of them, and may even consider their work to be worthy of the honorific “flamenco”.

Some follow that path because it reflects the changing demands of the marketplace in our modern world. You have chosen to follow the path of most resistance, marketing be damned. That’s why we are indebted to you in your struggle to present flamenco that is always very flamenco, always close to the bone.

When I want to explain what flamenco dance should look like, I just refer people to you.

Brook Zern

April 5, 2017   3 Comments

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