Unlike the typical Paseos por Madrid which take place during the day on Fridays, this week’s class took place at 9:30 on Wednesday night and didn’t finish until 11:30. Being out so late (though, honestly, midnight is not late in Spain) on a school night was definitely worth it, because we were able to see a flamenco show! It was very cool to follow up the flamenco class after last week’s paseo with a real, authentic performance by professionals.
As always, the ultimate destination was a surprise until the night itself. All we were given was a small clue and that we were supposed to meet at the exit of the Ventas metro station, which is right next to a famous bullring and not too far from Goya, where Ben and I live. Our clue told us we would experience Dionysian dances and rituals after we tracked down a duende den. Realizing these were pretty unclear clues, he also included the Phrygian scale that is very distinctive of flamenco music. Of course, despite these clues, we still were not really sure where we were going, which made the adventure all the more fun. Keke, our professor, just led us through a zigzag of streets until we eventually made it to Cafetín La Quimera, a bar and restaurant that focuses on portraying a very authentic, no-frills flamenco show.
The flamenco is a folk dance that comes from the Andalucía region that makes up the southern coast of Spain. Flamenco is hundreds of years old and has become known all over the world for its very distinctive combination of loud stomping and hard claps often accompanied by song and guitar and done at very fast speeds — and yes, they did use castanets for one of the dances! Something I did not really realize was that the dance actually comes from mix Romani and Andalusian Spanish origins, so this is another example of the mix of cultures that we learned is common all around Spain just like the mudéjar art from Toledo and Segovia. (On a side note: It’s a little ironic that one of the symbols of Spain, the flamenco, has origins in a culture that many Europeans continue to discriminate against: the nomadic gypsies. This reminded me of Brazil’s samba that, though is a common symbol of the country now, was originally rejected by Brazilian elites because it came from the black Brazilian tradition and plantation culture that they wanted to distance themselves from… but I digress.) The artists we watched perform were amazing and I think all of them came from Andalucía, so they grew up with the music, and it definitely showed. It seemed as though the flamenco was part of their lives and they had to do it, so much so that one of the performers revealed that she had a fever and still came out because it was such an important part of her life.
One thing that really stood out was the purity and authenticity of the ritual. Though the dancers and performers had very beautiful costumes and were very attractive, they did not seem concerned with making the dance look beautiful and actually made some pretty strange, almost ugly, faces while dancing. As they said during the introduction, their show was not about el flamenco comercial, it was the true one of el corazón, la alegría y sus abuelas. They were not concerned about forcing a pretty face; their movements were full of passion and they put their soul into it, allowing the fact that they actually felt the dance to speak for itself. Keke did not have time to explain the duendes part of his clue, but this definitely seems to be part of that idea. The duendes represent the spirit of the flamenco and the dancers’ job is to gain a connection with the audience and convey this “soul” of the flamenco through emotion, feeling, and improvisation. This is something we want to learn more about, and hopefully Keke will touch on it the next time we meet with him.
It’s very hard to describe the cool experience of watching professional perform the flamenco with so much passion and authenticity, though my friend Sarah took a small video that should hopefully help a little. As the dancers crossed the floor, they seemed to move so fluidly, yet when you looked down at their feet you so they were stomping and kicking the entire time. They were also accompanied by someone singing a story the entire time, which is supposed to be one of the key parts of the performance. It was very difficult for us to understand the songs, something that the singer actually thought was hilarious. We took up almost half of the restaurant and she knew our big group was from the United States, so she kept pausing a few times at the end to ask if we understood and laughed when she realized that we didn’t understand most of her jokes at all! Hopefully next time we go we’ll speak Spanish better and will be able to understand more and get the whole experience.