Do(n’t) try this at home – Flamenco will have you hooked forever

FLAMENCO BIËNNALE NL – A personal observation on the importance to experience what you haven’t experienced before. On the love-hate relationship all flamenco aficionados share. And the chance to become addicted from the comfort of your own home thanks to the (a)live and streaming edition of this year’s Dutch flamenco festival.

As I hurry home for the 21 o’clock Covid-curfew through my empty city, a thought crosses my mind. The desolate streets mirror our imagination-starved lives in these locked-down times. When is the last time I experienced someone else’s take on existence? When did I last hear live performed tones that moved my soul?
Last year around this time I was planning my yearly trip to the Flamenco Festival de Jerez. Almost like an obligation (“You can’t miss ‘Jerez’…”). How was I to know that shortly after returning, the world would change forever? These last months my horizon has not stretched beyond my own neighborhood. And not only my movement has been restricted. My view of other people’s perspectives through live art has been impaired. It’s been ages since I got to enjoy a performance on stage. Contemplating all those trips to Andalucia these last years that I took for granted, all the live shows I got to see and hear and all this flamenco that has filled the last two decades of my life, I see an image of myself in Granada.

“I don’t like flamenco”

1992. I had just finished high school and traveled to Spain with a friend to enjoy a holiday after our exams. As we were not the beach loving types, we enrolled at Carmen de las Cuevas in the Albaicin quarter. A charming little language school, offering Spanish courses.
It was lovely, although the flamenco dance classes in the studios situated at the ground floor of the school building bothered me. I had no interest in this ‘folkloric’ music. “I don’t like all that acoustic guitar stuff” I told my friend while having a beer in our favorite tapas bar. Mind you, I had only just said goodbye to my mohawk, studs and combat boots having sported the punk style most of the 1980’s. ‘Lunares’ may have been a bridge too far at that point.
Fast forward 10 years on and I find my self all alone at the very same location. But this time not on the sunny terraces taking in the gerundio’s, imperfecto’s and other delicacies of Spanish grammar, but in the dark studio’s below practicing my llamadas and contratiempos. Yes, I had come back to learn flamenco.
Little did I know that flamenco is not to be learnt. At least, not as in something you can master after a certain time of study. After 20 years I can tell you that flamenco can either leave you cold or crawl up your skin and become part of you. If the latter is the case, it hooks you and will never let go of you. Even if you would want it to. If this happens and flamenco does become part of you, prepare for a complicated relationship. It can provide the comfort of a mother’s smile as much as the pain of a lover’s broken promise.

Grief and comfort

Just over 10 years ago I suffered a great loss. The grief was engraved in my body and in my soul. Intuitively I knew to be careful not venture into the realm of flamenco too soon. It took me over half a year to take up my dancing class again. And I almost did not make it past the warming-up.
The minute the first rasgueado sounded from the accompanying guitar, it felt like my heart was grated ‘a compas’. With every stretch of arm or leg, my muscles released their sadness into my veins. But blood pumped, circulation increased and my healing had started.
I am happy to report that the joy of listening to flamenco and taking my classes has come back to me. Time did its healing work and life went on, as it does.
And now we have this global silence, this world-wide empty stage, this lack of the artistic angle. I had the great fortune to meet many artists these last years and see their development. I even got to interview and photograph them. It is always such a great privilege to be granted a view into somebody’s world of thought and imagination, especially with creative people like dancers, singers and guitar players. It’s been a wild ride, this relationship of mine with flamenco. And I know this is the case for everybody that I share this addiction with.

New perspectives from our locked-down lives

This weekend marks the start of the 8th Flamenco Biënnale Nederland. A formidable festival, concepted by the ever energetic and flamboyant Ernestina van de Noort. She and her team had turbulent times these last months. With new Covid-restrictions followed by new scenarios only to be cut off by fresh impossibilities. But she will not be stopped.
The festival is offering two weekends with the best of avant-garde flamenco streamed live from Madrid and Sevilla. And no, it is not the same as enjoying this addictive art in a theater. But it is performance. It is this alternative view of the world. This other perspective needed so much in a time when the world stops at the threshold of our locked-down homes.
The program of the festival is not easy to the eye and ear. Breaking with tradition has become a habit with the Flamenco Biënnale Nederland. You can expect: flamenco cross-over with jazz and alternative instruments, modern dance filling flamenco shoes and performances in an olive yard by the man that fought wind mills in one of his last shows.

My advice to you: go and watch the live streaming shows. Even if you don’t like flamenco, are not happy with jazz or can’t be bothered with modern dance. Flip your pre-set channels, get out of you comfort zone and try out this versatile art at home.
Your movements may be restricted, but your mind is free. Let it wander uncharted territory. But beware: before you know it, you’ll be hooked. Once you’re in, you can never check out. Flamenco will accompany all your sweet moments and heart aches for the rest of your life.

Text: Ginette Lavell
The images in this article are stills from this video by Felix Vazquez, featuring Rocio Molina one of the dancers programmed at this festival.

Read the interview with Pablo Martín Caminero, who will open the live shows this Saturday.

Flamenco Biënnale Nederland: check out the online festival program streamed live from Madrid and Sevilla to any home across the globe. All the shows are free, but you do have to register first. Donations are much appreciated (and needed!).