I had long heard about the flamenco of Andalusia, an enchanting region on Spain’s southern coast that gave birth to this distinctive art form. But it was not until I saw Farruquito , grandson of the legendary El Farruco, one of the greatest dancers in the history of flamenco, that I truly experienced the visceral passion and excitement this iconic performance art holds.
It was 2003, Flamenco Festival New York at City Center and Farruquito was just eighteen years old. He attracted a glamorous crowd of artistic types, the fashionable and the chic. The moment Farruquito took the stage, swathed in black from his shoulder-length raven hair to his heeled boots, I was mesmerized – his brilliant footwork, dynamic flourishes and commanding flamboyance. I’d never seen anything like it. Seville’s famous gypsy flamenco star returned to New York this past March after 13 years. I jumped at the chance to see him again. Farruquito’s rapturous performance inspired me to visit the place where it all began.
I started my flamenco crawl in Seville. The capital of Andalusia captivates the senses with its orange-tree lined streets, tasty tapas and the sound of flamenco. This colorful metropolis situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and drenched in sunlight most of the year has a rich Moorish heritage. Here you’ll find exquisite palaces, Baroque facades and fun loving people.
My first stop was the impressive Flamenco Museum where I learned about the unique art form that has been passed down through family dynasties since originating in Andalusia nearly five hundred years ago. It is the purest form of expression of Andalusian folklore and was declared an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by Unesco. Many believe flamenco to be the invention of the gypsies, and they have been its leading practitioners.
Immersing myself in the wonderland of flamenco, I became acquainted with the different styles, from heart wrenching seguiriyas to fun filled exuberant bulerías. A tour of the innovative museum included educational exhibits, interactive screens and videos of the greats performing the different styles of the dance. A film clip of master artist Antonio Gades gliding his feet like a matador performing an exalted tap-ballet left me spellbound. The guide explained that flamenco is made up of four elements: song, dance, guitar, and the Jaleo, which means something akin to hell raising and involves handclapping (an art in itself), foot stomping and shouts of encouragement. He stressed that most importantly it is an expression of the soul and that the best Flamenco dancers possess a special gift of channeling the emotions.
Another component of flamenco is ‘duende’. Poets and writers have given ‘duende’ an otherworldly, spiritual significance. If during a performance you are catapulted from the depths of despair to ecstatic bliss, you have experienced ‘duende’ – one of the wonders of this mystical art. The tour culminated with a live flamenco show. Per my recent tutorial, I observed the singer and guitarist watch the dancer’s feet to cue their timing, which I never noticed before. Then I proceeded to book a dance lesson at the museum.
Seville enchants with its cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and palm-lined promenades. The Royal Alcázar Palace’s lush fountain filled gardens, courtyard of dolls and maids and sumptuous Hall of Ambassadors evoke the stirring images of A Thousand and One Nights. Also stupendous is the massive Gothic Seville Cathedral with the world’s biggest altarpiece and famed minaret turned belltower, the Giralda.
After taking in the sights I alighted at an outdoor café on lively Calle de las Sierpes, the main shopping street. As I lazily sipped a glass of wine, a sexy female flamenco dancer in a red and magenta dress suddenly appeared with her guitar player and performed in the street to an adoring audience
The Seville Flamenco Biennale was a highlight of my trip. This three -week festival in September attracts the most illustrious musicians and dancers and is widely considered the most important international event within the flamenco world. A coveted seat is the hottest ticket in town. Many parallel shows, events and exhibits are also scheduled in addition to the official program facilitating a veritable flamenco feast.
With a stunning lineup of artists second to none, I found the performance by acclaimed flamenco dancer Antonio Molina especially moving. My emotions reached a fever pitch as ‘El Choro’ displayed rhythmic brilliance in the seductive dance accompanied by his esteemed ensemble. As I shouted ‘ Ole, Ole ’ my entire body was overtaken by a sensation of unbridled joy in much the same way as when I saw Farruquito. A taste of ‘duende’ ?
My Seville residence, the Hotel Inglaterra, ideally located in the heart of the historic quarter, faces leafy Plaza Nueva, the city’s picturesque central square. Rooms and suites with marble fireplaces are beautifully decorated with plush furnishings and antiques. Head to the chic rooftop terrace for cocktails with spectacular Seville vistas.
My next stop Lebrija, located south of the city of Seville, offers panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards. This quaint Andalusian town, is known for its gypsy heritage and flamenco. The Caracolá, one of the major flamenco festivals in Spain, is held here every July.
An elder resident with deep, dark eyes and a big smile showed me her living quarters: a house with adjoining structures shared by other families built around a communal courtyard with a lemon tree. Flamenco was created many years ago in outdoor spaces just like this throughout Andalusia. People returning from work in the vineyards relaxed in the evenings telling stories about their lives as they sang and danced around the tree. Young children learned the art of flamenco from their families, just as they do today.
I was eager to visit Pena Flamenca Pepe Montaraz, a flamenco club tucked away on one of the town’s cobbled streets. Here, dashing Antonio Jesus Romero, ‘El Popo,’ delivered a strikingly, impassioned performance, both singing and dancing while Benito Velasquez played the guitar. Many flamenco artists hail from Lebrija, the most famous Juan Peña known as El Lebrijano, is regarded as one of the greatest singers ever of this art form.
I continued on to Arahal, just southeast of Seville. This jewel box of a town houses the Museum of Women in Flamenco dedicated to native daughter, renowned singer Pastora Pavon, and the other legendary ladies of this fantastic art. Visual displays including dazzling photos and stunning outfits adorn this high temple of fabulous flamenco females along with compelling movies and audio tapes of their gorgeous voices, dance movements and guitar virtuosity. The celebrated Arahal Flamenco Festival which attracts top artists, takes place in this charming city every June.
A lunch at lively Bodega la Mazaroca was a culinary feast with tapas and mouth watering slow roasted pork, prawns, shrimp and a knockout seafood curry. The pièce de résistance turned out to be the flamenco group from the Pena Cultura Flamenca Pastora Pavon who performed during the meal.
Rosario Munoz Casado, David Rodriguez, Paco Esquivel, Pepe el de Los Cabales Photo – Maxine Albert
I sat, enraptured by the soulful singing of lovely Rosario Munoz Casado accompanied by young, talented David Rodriguez on guitar, along with the more seasoned Paco Esquivel and Pepe el de Los Cabales. After each hauntingly beautiful song, the smiling locals clapped and shouted ‘ole’ as they ate lunch and drank wine. I found myself shouting and clapping with them on this typical day in Andalusia. This is the magic of flamenco.