It is early evening in Seville. We are in the atrium of the Flamenco Museum. A raised black stage occupies one side, where it is cozily nestled underneath one of the marble-and-brick arches that support the upper floors. The stage’s well-worn surface holds three black chairs in a row at the rear. A pair of bamboo plants flank the stage, and dim blue, red, and yellow lights provide just enough illumination. Several rows of chairs crowd the stage on all sides, as if seeking warmth. This intimate venue is not an arena or large club; the show will not be a flashy and gaudy affair. Only a few dozen people will share it tonight.
The host comes onstage to welcome us. Perhaps in his late 50’s, he is sprightly. He wears a pale sweater over his button-down shirt, chinos, and loafers. He has the relaxed excitement of someone who has learned what is important to him and is now doing what he loves. His multilingual introduction is brief and witty, and he quickly fades back into the shadows. We are not here to see him.
There will be six performers tonight: two singers, a guitar player, and three dancers. The singers and guitarist occupy the chairs. Their slick black hair pulled back into ponytails, the singers look the part. The guitar player is nondescript. Our impressions of him will come through fingers and frets. Some of tonight’s dances will engage two or even all three dancers. This dance, however, needs only one.
The guitar player begins with a flourish then settles into a minor key. Despite the sharp rasp of the instrument, the notes are tinged with melancholy.
The singers join, their voices quiet and mournful. A palpable sense of loss overcomes the room.
A dancer glides to center stage. She wears a traditional dress, tight across the shoulders and abdomen with a broad, multi-layered skirt that flows out in all directions. The fabric is bold: large polka-dots and broad red stripes on a black and white base. The sleeves sport frills that could be large rose blooms. Her black hair is pulled back into a severe bun, a large comb holding it in place. The most striking thing is her lips. Bright red, they are pulled downward into a harsh scowl.
The musicians continue their lament as she begins the dance. The nails in the heels of her shoes rap sharply and deliberately on the wooden floor as she slowly glides, spins, and twirls her story. Her face is a mask of shock or horror, those fiery lips now crying out in pain.
On and on she moves, desperately searching for respite or release.
The tempo begins to accelerate. The singers start to clap, the staccato rhythm a foil for their drawn-out lyrics.
The tempo increases again. The guitar player’s fingers begin to fly. The clapping grows into a relentless, pulsing syncopation that drives the dance faster and faster. The dancer taps, raps, and spins, gaining momentum with every step. With one hand she holds up a corner of her skirt, exposing her busy, percussive feet.
The intensity continues to build. The singers’ voices rise from a whisper to a wail. The guitarist’s hands are a blur. The clapping gets louder; faster; driving; feeding on its own energy. One arm held aloft, the dancer’s upper body sways gracefully while her feet continue their torrid flight – Rata-tat-tat-Rata-tat-tat-Rata-tat-Rata-tat. Her head seems to float now, disconnected from the cacophony just below. The scowl has disappeared, those scarlet lips softened with – perhaps – a hint of a smile.
The crescendo grows and grows, unstoppable. We are transfixed. Senses overwhelmed. The world has slipped away. There is nothing else around us now. No marble columns, no black chairs, no bamboo growing beside the stage. Only the dancer and the Dance. She is a dervish whirling across the stage. Skirts spin and rise while shoes furiously clatter across the floor. The spectacle builds and builds. It cannot continue to grow but it does. It is too much! Faster and faster! Louder and louder! Her feet are too fast to see, her skirts a blur of black white and red! Now, faster and louder again! Spinning, whirling, rapping, clacking, she must be out of control!
Then – with an authoritative CRASH! she powers her heel into the floor.
No one dares breathe as our stunned senses struggle to synthesize the scene.
Slowly the echoes fade from our ears, and we begin to recover. There she is. Center stage, motionless. Feet and skirts still. Eyes closed, her face turned toward the sky. Those hard red lips now soft. Relaxed. Smiling.