XV BIENAL DE FLAMENCO DE SEVILLA
‘DE LA MAR AL FUEGO’
Text: Estela Zatania
Suddenly, it was like all the flamenco we’ve been searching for over the past three weeks at the Bienal de Flamenco, was on stage at the Teatro de la Maestranza, and there was a packed house! Who says flamenco can’t fill theaters?
It was an elegantly simple premise: follow the flamenco route of the lower Guadalquivir river, the neuralgic points of Cádiz, Jerez, Lebrija, Utrera and Seville, each one represented by a group of cante, dance, guitar and palmas, to interpret the most characteristic forms of each place, a mini anthology of the prodigious area of western Andalusia which has developed its own repertoire and way of expressing flamenco.
A lot of flamenco fans have a football mentality about the different flamenco towns: they choose a team/town, and root for it. The message of this show is not in the differences between one place and another, but the similarity, the shared flamenco code common to all, forms and rhythms learned over and over by each new generation.
Then there’s the one-man show called Tomasito. He’s from Jerez, yes, but he belongs to the world, flamencos without borders, to act as master of ceremonies, and more or less explain, confuse and especially entertain, an authentic twenty-first century jester.
The calm before the storm of compás and duende is the nana delivered in the timeless voice of Pepa de Benito which serves as prologue, a moment for meditation to prepare some one thousand seven-hundred people for a journey to a kind of flamenco we can no longer call “pure”, because times have changed, or so they tell us…and yet it exists. Who could resist Mariana Cornejo with her “impure” tanguillo rap that flaunts Cádiz-ness, and the perfect aplomb and elegant serenity of dancer el Junco with the delightful singing of David Palomar? Then Jerez bursts onto the stage in the person of Luis el Zambo with siguiriyas, and the dark intensity and compact force of Andrés Peña, wall-to-wall duende with Luis Moneo providing the singing.
Lebrija has always been the melting pot and the hub of the wheel where influences come together in the fields, and a special flavor is cultivated. Inés Bacán interprets her soleá with the characteristic bulería por soleá feeling, then the no-holds-barred dancing of Concha Vargas with José Valencia singing, and the guitar of Antonio Malena who has the occasional nod for Morón…lots of talent on stage, although veteran singer Juan Peña ‘Lebrijano’ is missing due to health reasons.
And Pepe de Benito takes us to Utrera where fandango por soleá, laidback bulerías and clippy soleá identify a town not interested in making stars, but in practicing their traditional music for, and by the locals, and Jesús de la Frasquita sings soleá for flamenco goddess Carmen Ledesma with Antonio Moya putting just the right feel.
Finally we arrive in Seville for the crude tonás of José de la Tomasa, the Seville school of dance as represented by Milagros Mengíbar with bata de cola and the personal sound of Rafael Rodríguez on guitar.
Tomasito keeps the compás and prepares us for the banquet’s dessert, all thirty-some performers on stage, with all their art, and the specific weight of a genre that day after day struggles to find its rightful place and demostrate its worth.