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Flamenco Two Ways in Sevilla

Fantastic, not to be forgotten night.

It begin with a drink outside on the river bank watching the sun set on the city. This viewpoint was afforded across from the Teatro Maestranza, the site if the night’s entertainment.

We attended a performance choreographed and danced by the Flamenco great María Pagés. This performance, Dunas or ‘Dunes’, was a part of Sevilla’s Bienal del Flamenco. At the risk of using hyperbole her performance was one of the most beautiful expressions of the human condition that I’ve seen in my life. Her arms are elegant in their length and all the more expressive when applied to the sinuously complex arm and hand movements of Flamenco. She collaborated and was accompanied by a Belgian ballerina, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. This man was a dynamo with complete control of his body.

The pair easily pushed the boundaries of my emotions, but I expect they were expanding the boundaries of flamenco, and perhaps dance, as well. They seamlessly incorporated floor to ceiling bolts of silk, multiple and interacting shadows, sand, and video projection as extensions of their bodies. With so many technical auxiliary I was impressed that the performance was flawless with no unforeseen glitches.

The performance opened with Sidi and Maria approaching one another from opposite, lateral sides of the stage. Each attempted to walk through one of the floor to ceiling sheets of silk suspended from the ceiling. This created several sensations – the silk was a train or cape accentuating their bodies’ motion a reference to the use of fans or long dresses traditionally used in Flamenco to accentuate a woman’s form – the silk was a trail through time, a historic record of each dancer’s path in life – finally the silk was a membrane preventing the two from true knowing and connection in their interaction.

The next dance allowed for a clearer view of both dancers as they emerged from the silk shrouds and was performed as a more conventional Flamenco. Muy caliente! When the dance ended I felt as if j just had a third- hand encounter with a one night stand.

Sidi took a seared position on the left front of stage and began clapping in rhythm with the band. He was lit in a way that his shadow towered over Maria. She performed solo but his shadow was an ever present reminder of their encounter.

Maria continued to slowly giraffe her torso and limbs on stage. Eventually her movements slowed and as she extended her limbs, lines extended beyond her arms so that a tree was created on the backdrop behind her. It took a while for me to notice that Sidi was creating the drawings in sync with Maria from a station stage left. They danced in this way for some time with Sidi etching figures in the sand, the dunes, and interacting with Maria who danced with him in front of the surreal screen projecting his image. The interaction felt a mortal was interacting with a god.

The next dance involved Maria dancing in triple silhouette as she was backlit with her image projected onto three successive silk screens suspended between her and the audience. The effect created three beautiful dancers of increasing height in perfect synchonization. Sidi joined Maria one screen closer to the crowd, again his form towered over hers. His shadow proceeded to beat her shadow until she fled from the stage.

Now alone, Sidi was lit by two intersecting backlights. He projected two equally and adjacent images. This next bit is difficult to credibly describe. Sidi manipulated his body in dance in such away that the two shadows began to combat each other Kung Fu style. This was an astonishing feat of shadow puppetry for a single man.

The silk screens were withdrawn. Maria returned to the stage. She used castanets to seduce Sidi and bring him close-in. She attached the castanets to a hanging tether and they were withdrawn. This time Maria took a dominant role and browbeat her lover to the point of exhaustion and his collapse. He lay sprawled on the stage, presumably dead. As a rhythmic sorceress, Mariam stamped her feat Flamenco plancha style and to slowly breathe artificial life back in. Sidi now moved in a totally new, clumsy style of the recently reanimated. What control it must have taken for him to turn his body into Maria’s zombie puppet.

The next dance involved a new layer of puppetry as Sidi grabbed a silk sheet and bundled into the form of a baby and then a child that he handed off to Maria who was pleased with the offspring.

The child was transformed back into a silk sheet and the two dancers entertained themselves in two furled silk sheets to perform the final dance wound tightly together.

Whew! Such beauty! Special thanks to Maria our hotel concierge who suggested we attend this one of four different performances performed simultaneously that night.

Our appreciation for this performance was enhanced by a visit earlier in the day to Crisina Hoyos’ Flamenco Museum. There in a brief but highly interactive set of exhibits we learned about the primay styles of Flamenco music and dance and how they relate to emotions of joy, sadness, solitude, death, and passion. We learned about the polymath influences shrouded in mist that bore the child of Flamenco, and we learned about it’s journey from folk art, to cabaret performance, film entertainment, to high art that occurred in the 20th century.

Awestruck by Dunas we advanced to dinner at 10:30pm. We had a recommendation and reservations for Vineteria de San Telmo courtesy of our knowledgable concierge Maria. The food was scrumptious and one of the server’s selected a great red from Cadiz. It was one of dozens of wines on the menu, most if not all, were priced less than €20 a bottle. We ordered a lot and it was all delicious: black pasta with scallop, sauteed mushrooms, a portion of grilled Argentinian steak, a mushroom terrrine with creamy black truffle potatoes, and a stewed oxtail wrapped in a crispy filo dough. We ordered second helpings of the three (3) latter dishes! We even ordered dessert. A flan and a superbly sweet dulce de leche tart.

The perfecto meal was to be outdone and the night was not yet over. A group of 8 Spaniards in their mid 20s were amused when Erin took a photo if them laughing uproariously paparazzi style with her iPhone. They asked to see the photo and were amused as they passed it around the table.

This must have endeared Erin to their party. When they finished their meal, it was now past 1am, they asked us to cone with them into an outlying district for ‘real’ flamenco. They only had room for one of us on their caravan of scooters so they hailed a taxi for us and instructed him to follow them (as a back up they provided the address).

It was near 2am by the time we all arrived at the bar. However all seats were filled with Sevillans from their 20s into their 50s drinking and enjoying impromptu performances, primarily songs but occasionally dances accompanied by guitar and tablao (for percussion). The owner of the bar, a blond woman in her 50s and three of her friends rotated as singers. Our new friends performed twice in dance. Even Erin took the floor led by a partner. They were amused that I took my Cuban rum, Havana 7, straight without limon. Perhaps because of the long pours 5x the shot meted out in the U.S. The few that spoke English enjoyed conversing with us and translating occasionally for their friends. One new friend, Antonio knew French better than English and I enjoyed speaking with him in each of our second languages. I received an email from him the next day and discovered he was a PhD and university professor.

Yes, an unforgettable night that didn’t get us back to our hotel until 5am. We had an abridged Flamenco education with our 2 hour visit to the Flamenco Museum. In addition we experienced the full spectrum of Flamenco alive in Sevilla in 2010 – from the high, progressive and experimental performance of a dance genius to the authentic heartfelt and private performance of enthusiastic amateurs.

Thanks to Maria, Antonio, and our other nocturnal friends for such a memorable night in Sevilla!

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  1. Sarah
    October 5, 2010 at 4:19 am

    Breathtaking account.

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