Walking through the aged wooden doors of the venue in Andalucía, the first thing that strikes me is the intimacy of the space. The low, arched ceiling created with stones gives the feeling of being in a cave, fitting with the gypsy roots of this Spanish tradition. The space is lined with small tables and even smaller chairs, with a stage in the front and bar in back. The lighting is low and an old-world romantic tone permeates a room that only holds around 40 people.
The music begins with an elongated, haunting note held by the cantaor. Wearing a pressed white shirt and black tie, cufflinks on both wrists, he is looking dashing and well put together. Tonight’s singer begins with his eyes closed and hands clasped together in preparation to clap the rhythm. In times past, flamenco consisted only of vocals, and tonight this is how we begin. The guitarrista is a man with long frizzy hair, pulled back into a low ponytail. His sleeves are rolled right below his elbows, looking stylish, yet more laidback then his companion.
His fingers flick across the strings like a fan flinging open. The other hand begins to dance across the neck of the guitar with tremendous speed, pausing occasionally in time with a high note from the cantaor, making the song radiate with drama. Occasionally, he places his ear to the body of his instrument as if listening to the echoes in a seashell.
Along the side of the small wooden stage is another element of the rhythm, the palmero, a man clapping his hands along with the cantaor. Sometimes in unison, but more often in a way that creates a complementary beat to that of the others. An art in itself, he weaves his claps within the foundation of the song.
A few songs into the evening, the time comes to incorporate the third style of flamenco. As the beat begins, the bailaora rises from her chair and slowly walks to center stage. Her eyes are facing down as she walks methodically in a small circle, while holding up the side of her customary dress. Ruffled from the knees to the floor, the loud pattern is white with sporadic black polka dots. Red lipstick dominates her makeup, and her hair is tightly pulled back with a white flower placed near the top of her head.
When her head rises, the passion in her eyes accompanied with a strong stomp from her high-heeled foot gives me goose bumps. I am immediately entranced by her commanding presence. Her movements are strong and swift. She moves in the Andalucían gypsy style, using the dance as a form of personal expression. When her dark brown eyes look out into the audience, they are full of intensity. You cannot help but be captivated by her.
Her feet move as fast as the fingers of the guitarrista, if not faster. She throws her dress to one side as her head snaps to the opposite. Although her movements are sharp, her body still seems to glide across the stage. In an instant she freezes, as does the guitar, as the cantaor releases a spectacular high note, then both dive back into the song.
As the performance nears its end, the rhythm slows down, as does the dance, yet only for a moment. Then, the music comes to a halt. The bailaora’s feet begin to kick forward and backward—one for a moment, and then the other. Soon her foot is tapping so quickly that it almost becomes a blur and the sound more of a vibration. In a dramatic finish, she locks her eyes into the audience, foot on fire, and slowly raises the arm that is not holding up her dress. One stern stomp, the song ends, and the performance is brought to a close.
The audience applauds enthusiastically and the group I’m sitting with looks at one another in awe. None of us seem to have the adequate words to express the impact of what we have just heard, viewed, and felt. The improvisation of complex rhythms and technical demands of this art is more than we had anticipated. Never was I expecting to have such an emotional reaction from this night, and never will I forget the first time I experienced the passion of flamenco.