Fancy Footwork: Flamenco Struts its Stuff

Olga Pericet
Flamenco, the dance, takes its name from the bird flamingo, though it seems to have little correlation with any winged creature. Some think it’s a Mexican dance, but its origins come from southern Spain, with aspects of Moorish, Persian and gypsy cultures tightly woven together. And even though the dance is old, flamenco scholars (yes, there are some) have pegged 1820-1830 as the “birth” of what we now know as flamenco. Oddly, much about the history of the dance is still in dispute, but nonetheless, what is seen and heard on stage today will capture your imagination. I certainly did to me and now I love watching this vibrant, amazing dance. The Flamenco Festival is held each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Surprised? Considering the synthesis of cultures in Albuquerque - represented by Spanish, Mexican, and even American Indian, and the city’s deep desire to support cultural heritage, it’s no wonder the best Flamenco dancers in the world come here to teach and to entertain during a week long celebration of all things Flamenco.

Albuquerque provides a great backdrop to visit the festival, with plenty of museums (consider the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum), chili topped food (El Pinto is terrific) and plenty of culturally significant things to see and do (consider visiting the Acoma Pueblo – the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America). Evening performances run every night of the festival, and by day hundreds of eager dancers, some novices, some seasoned, some perhaps rusty, don tattered clothes and fill the Carlisle Gym on the University of New Mexico campus, just off historic Route 66 to dance their way into a shared visceral experience.

Understanding Flamenco
Flamenco is probably the most versatile and multi-faceted dance there is. It is at once a dance and a synthesis of music, including dancers and musicians. But Flamenco is also playful; dancers interact with the audience, and with the others on stage; truly a collaborative effort. Obviously the dance is the focal point, but there is singing, the guitar and the palmas (rhythmic clapping) - layers of artistry at work, each contributing to the overall experience. And Flamenco also has a diversity of styles, from traditional to modern stylistic approaches with elements of improvisation. The word you hear most often associated with Flamenco is “passion.” But the liberating aspects of Flamenco are more than passion, they are primal, eternal, and they are timeless. I need to mention about the singing, as some people don’t understand it. There is often a sorrow in the singing, which translates to an almost crying when you hear it, a sad convulsing type of sound.
Rafael Campallo

Watching Flamenco
There are no traditional “strong male/weak female” roles as you see in other dances. What I love about Flamenco is that there is confidence and assertiveness, sexuality and sensuality by both men and women. Group dances of necessity are choreographed, but solo and duo performances contain plenty of improvisation. An example of this was when renowned dancer Adela Campallo lost her hair clip during a frenzied moment at the 2012 festival. Realizing it was dead center on stage, (the audience too was keenly aware) she gracefully maneuvered herself into position, picked it up, incorporated it into her dance and put it back in her hair without breaking her staccato movement, and to the thunderous applause of the audience. Solo performances like hers can run as long as 20 minutes, a physical challenge for any dancer and a drain on legs and feet, however the complete submersion into the dance, the near hypnotic dedication is fascinating to watch.
Alfonso Losa

Learning Flamenco
Joaquin Encinias, Associate Director of the National Institute of Flamenco, started dancing when he was four. During the festival he teaches classes including one for beginners, showing them the basics, offering the most comprehensive method of Flamenco instruction in the country. “Flamenco is the study of music, nuance and culture as much as it is a study of movement,” he tells me during a break. “It’s a deeper experience that I think a lot of Americans are starving for,” he says. Ricardo Anglada has been teaching guitar for four years at the festival and tells me that the guitar, though now the primary musical instrument, was introduced to Flamenco after singing and palmas made their way into the dance. “That’s the beauty of Flamenco, it’s always changing and it adapts to other styles,” he says. “Flamenco today is more versed in musical variations, incorporating elements of jazz and blues,” he tells me. And this was clearly evidenced on stage, where there is a freedom of musical expressions. But mainly people come to see and feel the dancing which is both fluid and staccato, aggressive and graceful, powerful yet lyrical. And the beauty of the festival is that it allows anyone to learn. When I mention to one teacher that I’m a middle aged, slightly heavy-set male who is enthusiastically intrigued by Flamenco, she interrupts me. “You’re never too old and never too heavy,” she retorts. “I’ve seen heavy gypsies’ who will amaze you.” (I guess that was something of a compliment.)

Perhaps Flamenco is beckoning you. Perhaps you see in the dance a longing reflected in your own soul. And then, who knows, you might find yourself in Albuquerque at the Carlisle Gym with dancers from across the globe exploring an art form as old as time and as vibrant as today. National Institute of Flamenco

Check out my exclusive video I shot at one of the performances. Cameras are not allowed during performances, though I was permitted to film. This 6 minute video is a rare chance to see what you’re missing:Exclusive Highlights of the Albuquerque Flamenco Festival

1 comment:

  1. I went to a contemporary art fair in Shanghai recently, which was a real eye-opener. Chinese contemporary art has come leaps and bounds from the watery Zen landscapes to huge canvases of strange-looking beings. The prices being asked and paid were huge too.
    Oriental, if not Chinese, my print of Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting, http://en.wahooart.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8BWS6R, bought some time ago from wahooart.com, is as lovely as ever.