Dancing to the Music of Time

Simone Witney

Going to see ‘Flamenco sin Fronteros’ at the Kino-teatr in Norman Rd is rather like meeting a jaguar in the high street. For as long as it has you in its thrall, any sense of the ordinary is in suspense: you are caught in a paralysis of admiration, elation and a feeling of electrification which only the presence of such a concentration of grace and beauty prevents you from recognising as terror. We all know the frisson that we experience when encountering an art form which treads the fissure between the pagan and a highly developed sophistication, and with this flamenco company, the adrenaline rush is relentless.

Alvaro Guarnido, from Granada, who has been dancing since he was three, showed absolute mastery of the forms, and of the changes of expression from defiant, through imperious to deep melancholy. Black suited and suede red booted, (such a pure, exquisite red) he seemed to glide across the stage on a belt of firecrackers, his heels faster than automatic rifle. His partner, Irene La Serranilla, from Madrid, but who trained in Granada,  was breathtakingly perfect in her elisions from sensual to haughty and resolute.

The performance begins with a short film, beautifully edited, which encapsulates the qualities and the harsh origins of this dance. Alvaro, with all the steely verticality of a sword, dances on a narrow wall in the midst of a stony landscape, while the fringes of a shawl sweep along in the dust. The image of the landscape remains as a backdrop and at times it sounded as if the wild, dissonant tones of the singer, Alejandro ‘El Gambimbas’, was the voice of the stones themselves. At other times his voice was imbued with sensuality. Just as impressive was the drummer, guitarist, saxophonist and violinist who, rather than simply accompanying, were inextricably engaged with the performance.

This tension between the unfettered and the highly controlled informs the work of many artists, from painters such as Francis Bacon, to film directors such as Matt Ross in his latest ‘Captain Fantastic’. In flamenco the tension is at such a pitch that it is like a huge act of defiance of all that is unknown, that is beyond our control, of death.  This comes of course out of the history of suffering which has followed it through out the centuries, but it is also fascinating that a form which has such a rich history of influences, retains such an instantly recognisable identity. This is part of the ‘duende’ of flamenco.

Flamenco’s extraordinarily rich history seems to begin in Visigoth Spain before the Moorish invasion in 711. From that time it has survived, intertwined with influences from Andalusian folk song, Perso-Arab traditions, the Islamic Empire, Jewish Synagaogue, West African and South American.  It has absorbed jazz, rumba, tango, salsa, bossa nova, Latin, blues, Cuban swing, rock, and yet remains unmistakable as itself with its characteristic microtonal singing and its 12 beat rhythms both of which are used as in jazz or blues, with a very subtle sense of intuition developed over long time and practice by the performer. It is this fluidity and freedom which is conveyed with such dedication to precision which makes it such an exciting art form.

Flamenco singing is technically restricted to a tight range of four and a half tones, yet

Alejandro’s voice had so many colours he could mirror the dancers’ shifts from warm sensuality to harsh melancholy with a passionate intensity which never palled.  The technique depends upon a gliding descent through the interstices of the western scale giving a subtle atonality which recalls ancient primitivism and is at the same time highly nuanced.

The Spanish have a concept called ‘duende’ which translates as the soul or essence of flamenco. It requires complete commitment on the part of the performers to the feeling of the piece, and it is generally considered to be something only older, experienced dancers can convey.  It involves feeling the connection through history to all the experience of repression and oppression suffered by the peoples who have contributed to the survival of flamenco: the persecution of the Moriscos by the Christians in 1499, the oppression of the Gypsies by the Spanish nobility, the slavery of Africans, the oppression of the Jews.

If you were inspired by the performance to learn flamenco, there is a school, the Flamenco Dance Academy, in Brighton which offers lessons to people of all ages from three to ninety three where you can be taught by Alvaro himself.

As you might expect there is a very strong tradition of dance in Hastings too, from ballet, through contemporary dance, hip-hop, street dance, free-style, five rhythms, (even freer)and the retro lindy hop and jive.

There are no doubt many people in the community far more qualified than I to write about dance. If you would like to, please contact the paper at: features@hastingsindependentpress.co.uk

Here is a selection:

Ark Helenswood Academy.

Hastings School of Contemporary Dance-Croft Rd.

Stagecoach Theatre Arts at the William Parker Academy.

Diana Freedman School of Dance and Performing Arts in Bexhill.

Theatre Workshop-St Richard’s Catholic School, Bexhill.

The Ballet/Pilates workshop run by Imogen Stooke Wheeler.

Charlotte Burt School of Dance St Leonards on sea-Ballet and contemporary.

Tonbridge Performing Arts in Kent.

Hastings Tango Club- Baldslow Memorial Hall.

Argentine Tango- Centre Stage Bexhill

Ridgeway Dance and Fitness Centre  Clyde Rd-ballet and contemporary.

Phoinix Pole Dancing- Ironlatch Avenue.

Alexandra Dance School-Latin, ballroom, samba at various venues.

Cinque Ports Lindy Hoppers taught by Gypsy John.

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