Flamenco songs or cante flamenca the most typical of which is called the "jondo", a kind of "deep song" most often come directly from the heart and soul of the singers. It's a kind of song in which the singers sing of the joys, the sadness, the hardships of daily life, the blows of fate they have to endure: their desperation, their impotent anger, their disappointment, their dreams, their hopes and their longings for a better life but above all their deep sense of the powerlessness they feel against the transitoriness of their ephemeral loves, their fugitive joys and the unpredictability and impermanence of life itself, in short of the seeming ineluctability of their destiny. Yet despite everything, their songs also express a kind of undying faith in and an almost primeval and instinctual love of life, a choice which is, in a way forced upon them, in which they appear to have no choice but to choose to affirm their life no matter how miserable, a life punctuated by only a few brief episodes of happiness because the alternative would be even more unpalatable: desolation, agony, grief, sorrow and death, the last of which is never really that far away. That's why whenever they got the chance, they sing with all their might, all their heart, all their soul. That gives their songs a kind of intensity which you seldom find in any other kind of songs. It almost feels as if their need to celebrate is so urgent, perhaps because they feel in their bones that happiness can be so precarious and fragile and it could so easily have slipped through their fingers that they simply haven't got time to polish every words, every nuance and the texture of the sound into the kind of grace and elegance that they could have before they pour out from the deepest part of their soul, not from just their abdomen or even from their lungs.To me, flamenco is the highest expression of the tension of life between love and passion and inevitable separation, between life and death, an art, like bull fighting, in which the Spanish soul manages to snatch between the teeth of death and mortality, an impossible art combining ice and fire, rigidity and grace, sound and motion in the ever changing twists, turns and unexpected reversals of the always rhythmic flow of the music and the movements of the dance, just as in life. It's the dance of life itself that we see, we hear, we feel, we experience, we celebrate.
The moods evoked by the singing is always accompanied and enhanced by the sound of the guitar with their jerky and often fiery rhythms as the fingers of the guitarists explode over the strings in flicking rasquedos or plucking tirandos punctuated by emphatic "golpes" (hitting") on the special board on the lower edge of the opening of the guitar's sound box, with the softer passages decorated by almost continuous upward plucking of the successive strings from the lower to the upper in different chords in the arpeggios or in the rapid rolls of tremolos, with the four fingers playing the same single note one after the other and often with rhythmic "palmas" (hand clapping in 4 (2 + 2) /3 rhythms) with different clappers each clapping one of the two rhythms, sometimes in synchrony and sometimes deliberately out of sync, when they are not singing and occasionally with clacking of the wooden castanets and pitos (finger snapping). The overall result is emotionally very very powerful indeed. It's a real joy to hear the cantaor and the guitarist waiting their turns attentively to join forces in an apparently effortless musical flow as their emotions jog up and down. Then of course, you got to see the very graceful and sensuous movement of the otherwise taut bodies of the flamenco dancers and their sudden changes of posture as they switch their head 180 degrees and the arc formed by their arms shoot up or down as abruptly and all in perfect synchronization with the foot tapping in accordance with the fast and slower rhythms of the dances in a wealth of rhythmic combination depending on whether they are dancing the buleria, the soleas, the tarántulas or the sevillanas etc.
The traditional Flamenco singing, guitar and dancing is usually passed on from generation to generation and is very much a family affair as in the video above, as gitano grandfather, sons and grandsons play the guitar or the men and women sing the jondo and the rest of the family join in with their palmas, urging the singers or dancers to do even better with cries of "olés" and "arribas" at the climaxes. But the day before yesterday, I saw a different kind of flamenco from a very talented threesome of guitarist, cantaor and bailarina from France called Compagnie 111, with I suppose, each "1" representing one of the three pillars of the troupe: Stéphanie Fuster, dancer, José Sanchez, guitarist and Alberto Garcia, singer. The production is called "Quest-ce que tu deviens ?" (What becomes of you") according to the choreography and stage setting designed by its French director Aurélian Bory.
What Aurélien does is to present three non-stop acts of song and dance in which we see how a Flamenco dancer evolves from trying her best to fit herself into a traditional Flamenco dress in red, contorting herself into all kinds of possible positions, and then practising repeatedly various mechanical dance movements inside a small confined container-like space, then eventually coming out, dancing in the open and moving not only her body between the air and the floor but in water, not clean clear water but water against a dark background! From time to time, we see her movements frozen, as in a "cinematic freeze" in which all movements suddenly stop, perhaps the better to let us appreciate what is involved in different traditional "flamenco" dance postures or gestures and the stages of her development.
In the end, we see the dancer "liberated" moving freely in her own rhythm according to what she wishes to express instead of following strictly the more or less pre-set dance sequences as the living but somehow uniquely individuated embodiment of the spirit of the flamenco dance but guided nonetheless by the rhythms she evokes in her co-creators, the guitarist and the cantaor. Of course, like jazz musicians, the ordinary Flamenco artists have to improvise but in the traditional type of flamenco, the room for such improvisations are always strictly controlled by its rigid codes and rhythmic structures. However, in the dramatization I saw, the artist is given much much more freedom. That of course requires both the guitarist and the singer to be sensitive to what the dancer is doing or appears to wish to do on the stage and vice versa so that they operate as a unity, and not as just three independent entities. Together, they transformed the art of flamenco from one dictated by rigid blocks of gestures and postures punctuated by movements into a kind of much freer and more flowing structures without however, losing that essential concentrated cycle of concentration and release, a kind display of the very French knack for combining the sensual with the intellectual, the particular with the abstract, the physical emotions and analytic reason. The singing, the guitar music and the dance movement blend into each other seamlessly. It was a really fantastic performance and thoroughly exciting and enjoyable.
The director also uses lighting very cleverly, thus enhancing the visual image we see: the distorted shadows of the dancer being highlighted, increasing thus the tension between the actual movements and the shadows they cast. The dancer agreed with me that the water suggests not only the fluidity of life, as contrasted with the lifeless constraints imposed by the metallic rigidly of the confining container box. Its use also adds to the visual effects as we see the reflected patterns of the ever changing little ripples and wavelets of the "piscine" (swimming pool) create an endless kaleidoscope of reflected web of flickering light streaks on the darkened stage and even on the ceiling of the theatre . The posture of the dancer's body is mirrored on the reflected surface of the water when she engages in one of her periodic "screen-freeze" motions, making it half real and half virtual, something which adds enormously to the esthetic appeal of the performance.
What makes the spectacle more enjoyable is that after the performance, we got a "meet the artists" session in which we were permitted to ask questions directly of the dancer, the guitarist and the singer during which the audience sought clarifications of what the artists were trying to do. They also find it an exciting adventure to explore this innovative alternative form of flamenco creation which tells a very personal tale. The artists appear genuinely happy at what they are doing and seem to enjoy the inter-phase with us. Stéphanie Fuster, from Toulouse , gave up a career in law and went to Sevilla for 8 years to perfect her technique, to immerse herself in the atmosphere, in the heartland of the art of flamenco, its place of origin, in Andalucia where they live and breathe flamenco. As she says, Flamenco is no longer merely an art form, to be learned. Flamenco has become her life. She has now got the spirit of flamenco in her bones and in the deepest part of her soul. The guitarist too, has improvised with elements of minimalist music, a bit like that of Arvo Pärt, with the harmonics of each pure tone note resonating in the air against a pall of pure and complete silence until the sound almost fades off and then suddenly explodes into the raucous sound of the more traditional flamenco style of guitar playing, making it a completely new type of Flamenco and creating a kind of very invigorating feeling which one wouldn't otherwise get from listening to the more traditional style of flamenco, very different even from what is called the new flamenco sound from Latin America with elements of jazz and even rock. I'm sure I would kick myself if I did not attend the performance, had I known what I know and have experienced now.I'm so glad I chose to attend. Bravissimo y muchas gracias, Aurélien, Stéphanie, Sanchez y Garica. C'était magnifique.