Rein­vent­ing Spain’s ‘age­less art’ of fla­menco


Stamp­ing her heels to the brisk strum­ming of a guitar, Merche Es­mer­alda, 68, twirls her black shawl in the sun­shine as the Madrid traf­fic streams by a round­about be­hind her.

At an age when most top bal­let and con­tem­po­rary dancers would long ago have hung up their pumps, this fla­menco star still shines — and now a gen­er­a­tion of new artists is ris­ing to fol­low.

“This is a great time for fla­menco. There is an im­pres­sive new gen­er­a­tion, ex­tremely tech­ni­cally ac­com­plished in singing, gui­tarplay­ing and danc­ing,” said David Calzado, a spe­cial­ist fla­menco blog­ger who writes for ABC news­pa­per.

Es­mer­alda was the poster girl at June’s Fla­menco Madrid fes­ti­val, for which her open-air dance was a pro­mo­tion.

Now two other ma­jor fes­ti­vals are com­ing up, where the old guard will dance, strum and sing their tragic laments along­side the new blood that must drive for­ward this tra­di­tional art form.

From Aug. 6- 22, the small south­east­ern town of La Union hosts the Cante de las Minas In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val — the most im­por­tant date on the fla­menco cal­en­dar, said Rafael Man­java­cas, di­rec­tor of the spe­cial­ist web­site de­fla­

Then a new fes­ti­val, Fla­menco on Fire, will draw some of the big­gest names away from their south­ern home­land to the north­ern city of Pam­plona from Aug. 22-30.

Adapt­ing the dance

Born cen­turies ago among the poor gyp­sies of south­ern An­dalu­sia, fla­menco has been shaken lately by re­ces­sion and by the death of its most revered fig­ure of mod­ern times: the gui­tarist Paco de Lu­cia.

“Ev­ery­one was sad about Paco de Lu­cia,” said Calzado. “Now we have to move on.”

Spain was plunged into mourn­ing when De Lu­cia died in Fe­bru­ary last year at 63. The new King Felipe VI bowed his head at De Lu­cia’s cof­fin.

“He was the in­ter­na­tional fig­ure­head of fla­menco. Now there is no fig­ure­head that we know of,” said Man­java­cas.

Nev­er­the­less, “there are lots of good gui­tarists who are help­ing fla­menco evolve greatly,” in the spirit of De Lu­cia him­self, who shocked purists by flirt­ing with jazz and rock.

“There is also a very good gen­er­a­tion of dancers who are adapt­ing to new ways” and fus­ing their art with con­tem­po­rary styles they en­counter on their trav­els, he said.

Fla­menco’s Com­ing Home

Four years af­ter the pass­ing of another gi­ant fla­menco fig­ure, the singer En­rique Morente, De Lu­cia’s death cast a shadow over a fla­menco world al­ready suf­fer­ing from an eco­nomic cri­sis.

Among younger fla­menco artists, “many, par­tic­u­larly dancers, live off what they earn out­side Spain,” Calzado said.

Ris­ing stars will be bring­ing fla­menco home in Au­gust, how­ever.

Acts at Fla­menco on Fire, a fes­ti­val in just its sec­ond year, in­clude Far­ruquito, a long-haired dancer of 33 hailed by crit­ics for his en­tranc­ing, rapid foot-tap­ping turns, dressed all in black.

At Las Minas, crit­ics point to dancer Sara Baras, 44, and singer David La­gos, 42. They are known to au­di­ences as far as field as Ja­pan and the United States.

Else­where, count­less “tablaos” — dark, in­ti­mate fla­menco bars — re­sound with rhyth­mic clap­ping and shouts of “Ole” through­out the sum­mer in Madrid and across swel­ter­ing An­dalu­sia.

“There has been a ma­jor come­back of tablaos” in the past three or four years, led by the leg­endary Cor­ral de la More­ria in Madrid, said Calzado.

“Some artists who were not danc­ing in tablaos be­fore the cri­sis be­cause there was no short­age of work else­where, have now come back to them.”

Age and Wis­dom

A big name in Pam­plona and La Union will be the 34-year-old singer Estrella Morente — daugh­ter of the late En­rique — who will share the stage with dancer Is­rael Gal­van, 42.

They are rel­a­tive young­sters in an art form in which even dancers ma­ture late.

“They say fla­menco is an age­less art,” said Man­java­cas. “It is hard for them be­fore the age of 30. But there are artists who con­tinue tri­umph­ing on stage in their 70s.”

Artists like Es­mer­alda, whose fla­menco “duende,” or spirit, is still strong.

“In life you have to know your lim­its and I am older now,” she told El Pais news­pa­per last month.

“But all these years have given me wis­dom. I can do other things now,” she said. “I still have lots of strength to get on stage.”

(Right) Span­ish Fla­menco dancer Claudia Cruz per­forms dur­ing the Suma Fla­menca, at “El Cor­ral de la More­ria” on June 5.


(Above) Span­ish Fla­menco dancer Jose Manuel Alvarez per­forms as part of the Suma Fla­menca, the 10th Fla­menco Fes­ti­val of the com­mu­nity of Madrid, at “El Cor­ral de la More­ria” in Madrid on June 5.

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