Teatro Arniches is a small theater to the left of downtown (if you’re going up the hill). The Flamenco performed was a modern expression of the traditional art form. The small stage was lit by a number of simple spot lights that cast faint squares, or shone into men’s faces laying out their bare shadows on the wall behind them. There is a dumpy man sitting on a chair in the back with a cello between his legs. There are no women in this performance, only two male dancers to march and flourish across the stage in varying displays of manhood. They wear tight black, with their chins pointed down from straight necks over their turtlenecks. When they roll their sleeves up in the second act it is as striking as the sudden snaps of castanets.
This is Flamenco in it’s modern, artistic form. The first time I saw flamenco was on a terrace at a cafe tucked into the hill in Granada. The situation was a casual, although no less talented. The stage tended to be occupied by pairs or just a single musician. Flamenco is an art form rooted in the tradition of participation. Every dancer is a musician, and every musician sits on stage with the dancers, as much a part of the visual as the bright skirts or rolled up sleeves. The dancers clap as they dance, and many of their steps are loud stops that clatter rhythm into the guitar strings. But most strikingly, the audience members are part of the performance as well. Audience members clap out their own flamenco rhythms from their seats, right into the music of the performers. Flamenco doesn’t bother with the space between performer and audience so strictly respected in traditional American performances. It retains some of the feel of gathering around a camp fire, while the young dance and the elderly clap and strum.
Classical music is struggling to survive in the 21st century. Symphonies spend enormous effort striving to appeal to the new generation, who have lost interest in sitting and listening for two hours. But Flamenco continues.
Dancing in a Spanish night club, away from the bustle of the tourists, somebody starts clapping out a Flamenco pattern. His claps find the hidden rhythm in the techno, and people drift towards him. Others join into the clapping, and there’s a circle of Spaniards stomping in place, their hips a controlled sway of energy. A girl swirls into the circle, and even though she wears a tight black skirt I can see the bright colors of a gypsy flash about her ankles.
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