The Flame in Flamenco

November 24, 2008

I was in Seville, Spain last week and got to see the spontaneous side of Flamenco. This was not at a theater but at a little tablao called La Carbonería where audiences sat on benches. My son and I were seated a few feet from the stage, so when the singer, sitting in the middle of the dancer and the guitarist, started the proceedings with three sharp stamps of his foot, we could almost feel the little platform shake. The dancer (whose name, we gathered from his lyrics, was Luna), while still seated, watched the singer intently as she copied his
(clapping rhythm). But when she danced, his eyes were on her and his hands burst into star shapes at passionate moments. She was tall and statuesque and her hips swiveled like her fan swiveled. It was thrilling to see them up close.

But the best part was after their act was over, and they were joined on the tiny stage by an unruly group of about eight of their colleagues. The singer pointed to a young man in the group with some sort of challenge or invitation in his voice, and the guy responded by dancing freely. Then the singer pointed to a woman in jeans, who danced with a sensual pleasure. After a bit more of this, the entire group took a bow (after kissing each other as at a family reunion) and trouped back to their table at the side of the stage. And then they really let loose! They continued a flamenco conversation, passing the flame from one to another, singing/shouting or clapping or doing flamenco arms right at the table. Each one expressed to the others their joy or despair of the moment—or of their memory. The audience seemed to fade away for them, and they dug deep inside to tell each other their real feelings. Flamenco as communication; Flamenco as a community. We don’t usually see that kind of intimacy and urgency when we go to a big theater to see Flamenco.