Last night I saw live flamenco.
Almost unknowingly, I have carried it with me since my childhood in rural Australia.
My grandmother returned from an overseas trip with a gift from Spain – an ersatz tortoise-shell comb to add drama to one’s hair. It features a delicate painting of a pair of flamenco dancers. Their tiny, slender bodies emanate grace and drama. (As a child I couldn’t see the passion.)
Last night I saw live flamenco in a rooftop amphitheatre.
The city, dense before us, thinned as it was gathered and lifted by the hills beyond. The Alhambra, a mighty palace complex, jutted proudly on its perch across the valley. Beneath us, at street level, a tall man – muscled and gleaming, with panther-like confidence and grace – ran a fitness class. Combined, they were the perfect opening act for our evening show.
Falling darkness brought our focus to the waiting stage. Four chairs against a dark plum background. The musicians filed in: two female vocalists, two male guitarists.
Earlier in the evening I caught a few minutes of rehearsal, having been informed it was the real thing. The dancers were wearing trackie dacks (Australian for ‘tracksuit pants’). I was shocked. Had things changed so much since the days of my comb? Had flamenco been contemporised and casualised to such an extent? (I quickly realised it was not so but it was a nasty moment.)
In front of the night stage I waited for the dancers to appear…and sat back with pleasure when they did. The women wore bottom-defining, ruffled, black skirts. The men were streamlined in black pants fitted to their ribs. The dance (and comb) held true.
I marvelled at the dancers’ ability to remember complex choreography – curlicued hands; feet working different rhythms and actions (something that doesn’t happen often in daily life); swaying hips and strutting, swinging, stamping legs. When they began, I thought of spiders – graceful, tendril-like, moving into the space around them. Then they claimed the space and the spiders were gone, replaced by scorpions, snakes, bulls.
Perhaps some of the intensity was lost in the space between us – we were 30m away. I admired the dance but it was only at the end, in something like a jam session, that I felt it.
Guitarists, singers and dancers stepped past the mikes. That simple act transformed the situation. It became them and us beneath the stars.
The singers danced together first. Then the dancers took turns – somehow not just showing what they could do but asking the singers to call them so that the dance might be.
A woman gave her mournful, harsh, ancient sounds. A man danced. And he could only dance because she called him to it. Woman to man, person to person, longing to response, call to answer. Vulnerable. Strong. The voice requiring response in order to exist and then to be complete.
I watched an idea pouring from one human vessel to another – transmogrified from song to dance; voice and body expressing it simultaneously.
Last night I saw live flamenco. And now I crave more.
One doesn’t have to go to Spain to experience the drama of dance or the embodiment of an idea. Last week in my ballet class, one of the attendees brought along an Indian friend who danced a story for us. As in flamenco, she was expressive face, precise hands and deliberate feet. She was prince and princess, hunter, farmer and evil-doer. Find a dance class. Find a dance show.
Be your own dancer in the moonlight. A few hand gestures and foot movements can awaken you in surprising ways.
Perhaps for you a piece of music will become not a dance but a poem, a brooch, a building, a garden bed.