January. Not as cold as it could be, but finally a night where I can see my breath. On my bicycle, the red taillight matching the taillights of cars and other bikes as I speed down the boulevard, cut across by the library, head over the canals, into the city, toward a room I haven’t seen yet but I know is there. Before the room the feeling of being alone, going by my own power, wearing a short black dress made of silk burnt out in patterns of wisteria that fall from the collar to the hem. The feeling of cold rushing by my ears.
In the room, a hundred people and fewer chairs than that. We stood at the back, from which the stage wasn’t visible but the dancer would be. Tables, small candles, wine glasses, pale blue paint on the walls, the smell of warm food in the restaurant’s front rooms coming in, moisture in the air from all those bodies breathing; in a supply closet or stockroom the guitarist is running his hands over the neck of his instrument, the dancer’s hands are like nervous sparrows that pluck invisible lint from her skirt.
First, song. Because the world and body begin with breath and sound; also because in flamenco another word for dance is music. Song because what is the dancer doing but singing to and with the guitarist and the cantaora? Body becoming more than body, becoming air, movement, mouth, breath, sound, longing, pain, joy, eagerness, desire, tenderness—things for a concert of bodies. Guitar becoming palmas and voice and the presence of the woman in her long dark dress, who is not with us yet but who will be.
Tiri-tran, also le-le-le, other intranscribable things. The two singers. At intermission they will change their clothes, like the dancer does, but we don’t know that yet. We don’t know that they will each dance two coplas of Sevillanas with the dancer later in the evening. We’ve heard a pair of songs, one from the one with the remarkably lively face (her gesture: an index finger raised, elbow out, eyes closed, brows arched, other hand on her sternum), the other from the singer in red who opens her right hand over and over throughout a song, explaining, commanding. The effect of the song in the room is to create desire, although the object is diffuse.
She steps out from the door that hides cans of tomatoes and plastic jars of oregano and steps onstage and in her first movements she is almost not-there but as soon as she begins to percuss with her feet and the guitarist leans over his instrument to urge her on with his shoulders—she is there. Her turns somehow without the gravity they ask for. Sometimes the hand is less than sharp. The dancer is skilled at the surprise of lightness, sharpness, shortness. Especially after intensity. Also her shoulders. Her hands are particularly fluid without losing their angularity and sharpness. Only very occasionally a lack of decisiveness about them, usually during very fast footwork. Her pale fingers individual as knives against her ribs. Her hands lifting her skirts.
The pleasure of hearing a low murmur of activity from the restaurant behind us: life goes on, in fact. Two hours after we arrive someone shouts “Te queremos, hermana”. Two girls on the side of the room are whispering to one another. Flamenco is a lesson in taking up time and space, with no apology; not even a thought of apology. Fin de fiesta, a private photograph we wander into, and magic: it’s alive. It’s real. We are here. The preposition for this time is definitely among. Or with. The dancer’s flat, raised hand gesturing to each palmera, guitarist, singer. The procession off stage, close kin to certain old reasons for festivals and their processions.
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El Jaleo // Peña Flamenca de Gante
a non-profit organization bringing flamenco tablao
to Ghent on a regular basis
First performance, 11 January 2014, El Hogar Español, Ghent.
Professional photos by Karim Hamid.
Anna ‘La Lila’
Laura Cabello Pérez