Attending an intimate flamenco performance in Seville, Spain was a great experience. The intensity, explosive sounds, and refinement of this art form caught me off guard and surpassed all preconceived notions. I expected a strong but tourist driven display attempting to capture a historic dance form from a long ago time. In Prague whole orchestras dress up as Mozart for tourists who are sold on the idea that one should attend a classical concert in a place Mozart once visited. It might provide a living for those musicians but the quality and authenticity of that experience is second rate. This is not the case with Flamenco in Spain.
Seville is a prime location to attend flamenco and we searched out a highly rated venue. One reviewer made the adept observation that larger venues use amplification to create the aural experience of true flamenco. A smaller venue allows the acoustic guitar, vocalist, clapping, stomps, finger snaps, and whoops to fill the space. We found a theater with a small courtyard with three rows of chairs on three sides and maybe 60 in attendance. We skipped venues that included a meal or drink in preference for a show that focused solely on the performance.
The posturing and drama of flamenco is unlike anything else I have experienced. The intensity of a look and the interplay between the male and female dancers surpasses the heightened sexuality common to many other coupled dance forms. I don’t think this pair touched once during the couples dance. The sense of anticipation, desire, and appreciation was rich and subtly erotic. But the romantic interplay existed only in hints and suggestions – far sexier than an overt display. Each partner displayed a palpable longing for the other.
Our flamenco performance featured acoustic guitar and male singer. The guitarist filled the small space with powerful playing. The singer had a raspy voice that suggested a much older age. While he often sat back in the mix of aural activity, his heartfelt singing set a sweeping emotional tone. The music had a natural ebb and flow. Soft moments gradually built with intensity as the performers got louder, stomps became more active, and the cross rhythms of clapping and foot movements faster and more complex. The louder moments were explosive and thrilling. One dancer, three sets of feet holding the beat, two clappers, a singer, guitarist, and a male shouter made a lot of noise.
The apex of the female dancer’s solo was striking. Her fast and dramatic movements played against a cacophony of music from the admiring men who sat at the back of the stage. At the loudest moments it went suddenly soft as the wild energy subsided only to build again. The cycle of loud and soft happened several times. Each climax reached new peaks.
The male dancer offered his solo last. While the female offered a complement of beauty and power, the man embodied a display of untethered masculinity. His cycles of soft and loud involved a lot of fast footwork with a still upper body. Then his body would explode with controlled but wild arm movements and fast twirls in the small stage space. Several sections were accompanied only by a rhythm section of feet and clapping. The return of guitar and voice signaled his fireworks-like finale. By the end his fast twirls caused a shower of sweat to spin from his hair and he was disheveled but visibly elated. The authentic pride and joy drove his commanding presence. His solo was the height of the show!
We enjoyed the experience so much we booked another show in Madrid. The performers used a small stage with mood lighting, amplification, and other modern dramatic effects. The performers were good but the deeply personal expression and authenticity were absent. This second show proved we had witnessed something special in Sevilla. The intimacy of the space, virtuosity, and profound dedication to a rich and historic art form gave us a special experience. In the past, when people have mentioned seeing flamenco in Spain, a mist of nostalgia and awe moves across their face. I get it now. Authentic flamenco is spectacular.
During the most exciting parts of the performance I wondered how I could capture the essence of this explosive music and transform it for something special in a future composition. That thought has stayed with me and I don’t yet have an answer. But my passion to somehow use this experience for my own art supports my conviction to travel and attending live performance. When we see the world we are changed. Our palette is expanded and deepened. We move beyond ourselves to be swept up in the richness of a different culture or another artist’s dedication to their chosen expression. I am happy to be in Spain.