When I write a novel, I immerse myself in the culture of the setting. For Indiscretion, set in Andalusia, Spain, that was an absolute pleasure, for it meant many hours enjoying one of my favourite art forms: the flamenco.
The flamenco originated in Andalusia in the eighteenth century, and it is the dance of the gitanos (Romani people of Spain). It has two main facets:
- The movement: This includes the baile (dance),the palmas(handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping).
- The music: The cante (singing) and toque (guitar playing).
What is striking about flamenco is how it draws in both performer and spectator – indeed, there is no such thing as an onlooker; when you are close to a flamenco performance, you are in that performance: you cannot stay still and silent. See, for example, how collaborative the artists are in this flamenco sung by Estrella Morente:
In addition to the music and movement elements of the pure flamenco, a whole culture exists around it:
- Gatherings like the juergas – informal, spontaneous meetings such as the gypsies hold in my book Indiscretion – through to professional performances. Even abroad flamenco has its place. The famous Sadler’s Wells in London, for example, teaches its students the flamenco and holds a world-renowned Flamenco Festival.
- Poetry inspired by the movement and music. In Houston, for example, there exists the Flamenco Poets Society that is ‘dedicated to promoting an appreciation and understanding of Latin American & Spanish poets and the Flamenco Arts’.
- And, of course, the most beautiful costumes. Did you know that fashion designers in the 1950s were particularly inspired by the flamenco? Here’s an example of a dress designed by Michael Sherard that I once saw at an exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/17260.
Flamenco has become not only a symbol of the Spanish passion but also a very popular dance worldwide. In Japan there are more flamenco academies than there are in Spain! What is the draw? It comes down to the emotion that is incarnate in the art form, I believe. Flamenco is about love, and it is about loss, about death. ‘Why couple these two most important experiences of life?’ my heroine Alexandra asks in Indiscretion. Salvador’s response is as follows:
‘Spanish flamenco is the embodiment of passion. Some people say that music is at its best when wild and unleashed. Flamenco is often like that, heels stamping, castanets clicking, skirts of the dancers whirling. But a singer may sing a sad love song. Flamenco, and especially Andalucian flamenco, is a force of nature … like love. The singer reaches deep down into his soul and that is what makes the notes so, as you say, poignant.’
I will leave you with a beautiful example of a flamenco dance by Celina Zambon. Oh, to dance like that!