Music and Dance
If you've never seen a Flamenco show, then you're missing one of the most emotional exhibitions of grace and passion in the world of dance. It's not simply that the music possesses a hypnotic, captivating rhythm. The fascination lies not within the traditional costumes or guitars. The secret to Flamenco is the fury in the eyes and the hint of heartbreak in every angry stamp of the feet. It is quite simply a spectacle of love. Love gained, love lost, and love never to be.
Although the history of Flamenco is shrouded in much mystery, it is generally purported to have originated in Andalucia, in southern Spain. The music and dance of this art form are thought to have been influenced by more than one of the many cultures that abounded in Spain many hundreds of years ago. At that time Andalucian, Gypsy, Sephardic and Arabic peoples were in proliferation. In these early years, Flamenco may have been a very different animal to the one we know now, and it wasn't until the late nineteenth century that the modern forms became recognised and defined. It is known that Flamenco existed for hundreds of years before this but, as its existence was kept alive in the main by gypsies and by the mostly illiterate working class of southern Spain in those ages, its history, form and expression were handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, which has helped lead to modern Flamenco incorporating more than fifty different Palos, or musical styles.
Although Flamenco was cradled in Andalucia, other areas such as Murcia and Extremadura have played a part in its development, again presumably introducing new elements which have helped to promote the diversity of this art.
Later on, in the early to middle part of the twentieth century, the Flamenco scene was influenced yet again, this time with a Latin-American feel, giving rise to forms such as the Fandango.
Nowadays, such softening influences are frowned upon by the Flamenco elitists, although Flamenco has long been influenced by outside rhythm, including such divers sounds as Salsa and even Jazz.
The origins of the word Flamenco itself are as cloaked in mystery as the rest of the form. It has been claimed to mean Flemish (Flemenc), Flamingo and even Fellahmengu (expelled peasant).There are three elements to Flamenco. The guitar playing, known as guitarra, is played on specialised Flamenco guitars, which are traditionally made from Spanish spruce or cypress wood. They are also a little smaller than the classic guitar, which helps to give them a sharper sound. During a performance, the Flamenco guitarist will use the instrument as a sort of miniature drum as well as a guitar, plucking the strings and tapping the body of the guitar rhythmically.
The castanets appear to be a more recent innovation, comparatively. Originally the dancing and singing was accompanied only by the snapping of fingers and the clapping of hands (toque de palmas).
Some later artists experimented with the traditions of Flamenco, a few with some success. The introductions of other instruments such as the flute, saxophone, keyboards and electric guitars have a small yet strong cult following to this day.The second element is the song, which to the Spanish constitutes the heart of Flamenco. It is a poetic form, rigidly structured but again open to the interpretations of the performers. Whether a light, or a more serious mood, the Flamenco song is something unforgettable. Many Flamenco songs, like poetry, tell stories of love and betrayal, of family plight or love lost to war or distant lands. Translated, these songs would be the Spanish equivalent of our Shelley, or perhaps a Keats. It's not all sob story, however. One of the beauties of Flamenco is that an element of frivolity and fun is not just accepted, but welcomed. It's not exactly comedy, mind you, more the kind of exuberant freshness one finds in a first love.
The final part of the art of Flamenco is the dance itself, which comes in many forms, as we've mentioned. There are many moods that are expressed through the Flamenco form, and each has a specific role to play. Passion is primarily the central theme, yet this can be broken down into, for example, fun, bereavement and consolation, and family love and betrayal. Interpretation of movement and emotion is key to a polished Flamenco performance. Whether light or dark in mood, the secret of success is believability. When the performers believe fully in their various roles, then the audience cannot help but believe right along with them.
The majority of small, intimate Flamenco shows you'll find may consist of one female singer and dancer and one male guitarist/singer. Shows of more than two people, however, are common, and the role of the male dancers comes into its own here. Seemingly influenced by the Toreadors of the Spanish bull-fighting ring, and often the movements of the dance seem to synchronise with the movements of that stern, fearless showman in the bullring. In this instance, however, it is not the bull he is attempting to tame and conquer, but a full-blooded Spanish Senora. The Toreador's job seems to pale in comparison!
For a country with as much a love of Fiestas and celebration of life as Spain, the rise of Flamenco is less of a surprise than an inevitability.
There are big Flamenco shows, with many colourful dancers and musicians, to be had at venues across the island, most notably at the Can Ventosa cultural centre in Ibiza Town. But if you get the chance to watch Flamenco in a small venue, grab it. The island is full of bars and restaurants and hotels that host smaller shows. In these shows the musicians and dancers are up close and personal. Take my advice, the last thing you want to do is catch the eye of a Flamenco dancer, for if you do, your heart will race, your temperature rise, and you will be drawn through a magical door into a world of percussive, ecstatic passion. Good luck to you!