Flamenco dolls in a tourist shop in Granada

Flamenco. The word is a familiar part of Spain’s image, like paella and bull-fighting. And like these 2 others, flamenco has often been corrupted for the purposes of tourism, but at the same time continues to be a source of Spanish pride and a part of its modern culture. The little shops around the Cathedral near our apartment are crammed with flamenco dolls, flamenco dress aprons and mugs, caps, postcards and you-name-it bearing images of flamenco dancers. Yet, at school, when I asked several of my high school students if they were interested in flamenco, the response was a resounding “Yes!” UNESCO (a special branch of the UN dedicated to culture, science and education) fanned the flames of flamenco’s popularity since it just added flamenco to their World Non-material Cultural Heritage list this month, a decision seen here in Spain as a purely official recognition of something already widely valued.

I think flamenco is a difficult art form to appreciate at first view, kind of like modern art for many. In the performances I’ve seen (which, mind you, belong to the tourist category above) the singer’s voice sounded whiny and the dancer maintained a sorrowful grimace through most of the performance. The timing and flow were a mystery as a majority of the show seemed to evolve completely spontaneously. Flamenco is the opposite of ballet. In place of rigid spines, slender and young girls, classical music and delicate tutus there are rather guttural-sounding plaintive utterances, brightly-colored, polka-dotted, tight-fitting dresses on women who are not necessarily young or slim, loud clapping, and riotous cheers. The effect on an uninformed first-time viewer can produce bafflement about its popularity.

Flamenco performance at a cultural center in Sevilla

Flamenco, Flamenco is a recently-released film that showcases flamenco’s ample variety and beauty. It was entered in the Seville Film Fest which we attended in early November, but unfortunately the tickets were sold out to this movie when we went. Now that it’s in theaters here, we had another opportunity to see it. The film artistically presents one flamenco performance after another, with no voice-over, just dancing, singing and guitar-playing. It unites many talented performers that a typical spectator of flamenco would never get the opportunity to see.

The conviviality among the performers that flamenco’s room for improvisation creates was so clear. They seemed to challenge, inspire and energize each other during a performance. At the same time, some of the dances had been clearly choreographed to a breath-taking effect. The synchronicity between the dancers and musicians produced different results depending on the combination of players, such as tension-fraught love, admiring colleagues or raucous family gatherings. I would definitely recommend it as a means to have a look into this oft-adulterated art form and to understand Spain, and its people that love this thing called flamenco, just a little bit more.

Here is the Youtube link to Flamenco, Flamenco’s trailer…I don’t think it’s scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters, but if you get a chance to Netflix it, you’re in for a special visual and auditory experience!