The Flamenco Spirit
Last night we relived our recent visit to Spain by spending the evening in the old Avignon Opera House, which was filled for a few hours with the heart and soul of Antonio Gades. He was a formidable flamenco presence, and although I never got to see him in person, if you’ve ever seen the flamenco film of Carmen, his collaboration with Carlos Saura, you’ll know what I mean. And if you haven’t seen it, put it on your list of things to do in this new year.
After his death in 2004, some of his dancers formed a company dedicated to keeping his choreography alive, and last night it was so alive that at the end of the show the curtain finally closed while the audience was still clapping for more. We saw the riveting Noces de Sang, based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, and Flamenco Suites, a display of flamenco variety and virtuosity that highlights thrilling guitar playing and singing, as well as the flash, precision and strength of the dancers.
Getting to Avignon late, we’d eaten boeuf tartare in a mad rush and with no forethought before the show, which put us right in tune with the bloody theme of the first ballet, albeit accidentally. But there’s nothing that could have prepared me for the sheer, raw power of sixteen pairs of high-heeled boots stamping in quick unison, the sharp, biting clack of the castanets in the right hands, the extravagantly flounced beauty of the dancers’ skirts in stark contrast to the steadfast ferocity on their faces.
Male flamenco dancers are a study in masculinity, brothers in spirit to the toreros. But it’s the women that fascinate me. Their haughty suppleness displays a kind of pride that women seldom reveal. No will-o-the-wisp ballerinas they, but rather tiger women, lynx girls, teeth and claws hidden behind brightly painted lips and beneath swirling skirts. They dance as if they drink a little blood with their breakfast, clap and stamp as if rhythm were the exclusive province of women. They own the ground on which they stand, and the air through which their hands flutter like doves. A flamenco dancer circling her hips reminds us that we are of woman born. When she lifts her skirts it’s not an invitation, but a warning. They put me in mind of blood, those dancers, and it’s nothing to do with having eaten raw meat for supper.