Feel the vibrance and verve of the Flamenco…
Craving for some pure Andalusian vibrance? Pining for the real cultural vibe that defines the heart of Spain? Tell you where to find it? It practically oozes from every inch of the ceramic tiled walls of Seville, Andalusia’s 3000-year old capital. If you are a true heritage lover, you can’t avoid falling in love with this medieval city. It is feisty, flamboyant and fun, with unmistakable Moorish influences that entice from every colourful corner. See this article of Lonely Planet magazine and tell me you’re not itching to go…
Once you are done swooning over the city’s magnificent icons like the Seville Cathedral, the Real Alcazar and the Plaza de España, I strongly recommend an adrenaline shot like no other. This essential experience (I forbid you to miss it) is the Flamenco, the traditional Spanish dance form, native to Seville. Ask around, you will find posters and flyers everywhere. Flamenco is to Seville as Opera is to Italy. I urge you to seek it, sense it. And be reborn, with a new energy.
Travel mantra to live by? When in doubt, always go where the locals do. So, we kept it simple by signing up for the show that our hotel concierge suggested. Plus the venue was just a short walk from our hotel.
We were puzzled to reach the address mentioned on the tickets. Here we were, standing outside the door of a graceful Moorish house down a narrow cobbled street, eyes fixed on a modest printed sheet on the wall, announcing that night’s Flamenco! No auditorium, no theatre, no ticket booth, no big banners, no flashing neon lights?
Besides us, there was only one other couple conversing quietly in a nearby corner. This was where the performance would be? In someone’e home, ummm, living room? Credibility crumbled. Had we been duped? Would it be authentic? Or watchable? We stared at our tickets, rechecked the street name, looked at each other, shrugged. The door was shut. No organiser or usher to be found. Have patience, you’ve only just got here. Thankfully, over the next fifteen minutes, a small group had gathered. We reassured each other…we were not in the wrong place. Oh, maybe this was just a meeting place, and someone would guide our group to another venue in a while?
By the way, no one else even seemed remotely concerned. Anyhow, our curiosity had escalated sky-high by now. Stop the guesswork. Its not helping. And then the door opened. A young man appeared from inside and ushered us into a dark inner courtyard, where 12-15 chairs were laid out facing a tiny wooden stage, barely eight square feet in size, and just about a step higher than floor level. It was the inner courtyard of a traditional Spanish house! We seated ourselves in this mini-theatre, waiting for what we now remember as one of the most soul-stirring experiences of our lives.
In a couple of minutes, the performers walked in…two dancers, a guitarist and a vocalist. The intimacy of the tiny stage at just arm’s length from where we were seated made a world of a difference…it seemed like a special show, for a privileged group, the chosen ones. The next hour was a whirlpool of emotions. Nothing could have distracted us…nothing at all, we sat glued to our metal chairs, immersed, truly, madly, deeply. The universe faded invisibly into music and dance. Nothing existed outside of this dimly-lit stage.
The rhythmic foot-tapping and soulful music built up to a deafening crescendo, and we were swept away by high-voltage energy waves of the dance performance by the mature couple. I read the intensity writ large in the furrows of their brows, studied their firm movements and traced the expressions which hardly disguised the passion of their performance. This was a skill perfected over years and the couple had mastered all the moves. They swayed in complete sync, they emoted with their faces, and I felt my feet tapping…the rhythm was carrying me away.
The world was a blur of swirling flouncy skirts, a melting synchrony of seasoned dancers, a solid beat of sturdy heels on the wooden platform. Her hair in a tight bun, white shirt firmly tucked into a high-waisted black skirt. He sporting a casual hairdo, loose locks of his hair falling onto his forehead, his white bandanna mysteriously in place despite the vigorous moves. The gentle strumming of la guitarra (the guitar), and the heart-wrenching sound of el cante (the song) in the background. The words hit a blank, but we could sense the emotion in his voice…there were songs of celebration, heartache, despair, ecstasy…some light as air, some heavy as lead.
We were witnessing the grace and power of the centuries-old dance form live in the heart of Andalusia and it was an unparalleled cultural fiesta. Minutes flew by. We gazed, we absorbed, we felt, we flowed. It felt like a dream, only I had goosebumps…so this was actually happening! And within the hour, it was over. Impressed is an understatement…because the resounding claps from the audience continued even after the performers had exited the room.
Later, over tapas at a small table of a Spanish restaurant at the end of the street, we talked about the Flamenco and its mysterious roots, (possibly from as far as northwest India) between the 9th and 14th centuries, to the UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. A journey riddled with years of persecution and marginalisation until the first half of the 19th century, when public performances started in cafes and larger venues…to international recognition in the mid-20th century with the onset of professionalism, innovative choreographies and new musical waves.
Street lamps created silvery grey pools on the uneven paved stone floor beside us…couples occupied tables, glasses filled, cutlery clinked and waiters bustled with trays and dishes. It was 9 pm, there was still a blue glow in the sky and the streets were alive with the sounds of friendly chatter. Seville didn’t want to sleep, and neither did we!