Flamenco In Valencia
He was a young man, in his mid-twenties, with curling black hair about his shoulders, and a belly built on beer.
His arrival on stage had been the subject of rhythmic anticipation, heard in the guitarist’s single-digit strums, and in the rumble of two percussive men, each sitting on their box of sound, leaning forward and down, to create rolling suspense.
With purposeful elegance, leg after angled leg, he slowly emerged from the wings. The crowd erupted in recognition. Ole!, shouted a child, echoed by some gravely-voiced women on the balcony. Ole!
A hero has many mothers.
The man with the white shirt, black pants and no socks channeled his energy towards his shoes. The musicians joined in his gaze, and so too we. They were curious shoes for a modern man with a beer belly. Narrow, black leather taps, with height in the arch and heel, and a tapered narrow toe; echoes of the court of Louis XIV.
He slowly raised both arms, the universal signal that something was about to begin.
Flamenco, the Andalusian music, song and dance variously believed to have Gitano, Roma, Arab and Indian origins is, most of all, an expression of Spain itself. Just as España offers a radiant life of informal topsy-turvy, Flamenco serves a brittle story of passion and pain. It is a story disinterested in its own beauty.
I had arrived to Teatre Talia in the centre of Valencia, already bulging with locals there to support their own. Daniel de Francisco is part of the new wave of Flamenco artists, and tonight, in a performance entitled ‘My Truth’, he will perform with Rosario Montoya (aka ‘La Farruca’), an icon of the art-form, and a generation-and-a-half his senior.
The five musicians on stage cut a curious look. They whisper to each other to coordinate what was next, pass water along to each other, and hardly acknowledge the audience is present. Nothing in their manner suggests performance. They are, I conclude, here to make music, and nothing more. Such a radical approach satisfied me well.
The two singers had been first to stage, without amplification or accompaniment. They delivered the mournful airs at the heart of Flamenco, achieved by annunciating notes high on the mouth’s roof, and high in their own registers. They uttered the language of longing.
Quiero. Pienso. Busco.
Flamenco is unified by its clapping underbelly, a rhythm served by the soft palms coming together, which produces a fleshy sound like the bounce off a baby’s tummy.
Tonight’s guitarist, playing a six-string, creates a sort of musical marvel by merging this rhythm with cords and plucked melody. His music is utterly spellbinding, and all the more because of his humility.
‘Your guitar is sounding real good!’ a woman in the crowd pipes up to a murmur of amusement and agreement. He looks up from his wood and wires, smiles, and continues.
But we all were here for dance, and Daniel’s dance was ferocious.
As his steps intensified, dust rose from the boards, suspended in the light. The stories were told principally through his dance, but he often exchanged ideas with singers and instrumentalists in a manner that seemed very close to improvisation.
He held the helm, and the crowd knew it. Bit by bit, they hollered and cheered. They appreciated the sweat which now poured, turning his white shirt sheer.
Quiero. Quiero tanto.
30 minutes into the performance, and the stage was crying out for a woman. The lights lowered, and along she came.
Dressed in monochrome sequins, it was the dancer’s silhouette that made the biggest impression. This was the body of a regular woman in her 60s; her physique had a familiar, rounded aspect; her upper arms their natural hang. Lifting her skirts, before her dance began, she revealed a support-strap around her right knee.
The theatre’s gaze turned to her ankles. Slowly, and with majesty, her taps began. Her wrists swivelled in that beautiful flamenco way; her eyes narrowed in concentration, and La Farruca became airborne.
Only it wasn’t La Farruca.
Daniel de Francisco took the mic at the end of the whole performance, explaining that things had changed last minute. Blood had come to the rescue. His mother had been substituted at the last moment, due to La Farruca’s illness. His mother!
This at least is what I could cobble together. Being ropey with Castellano and nowhere in Valenciano, there is a possibility I got the plot twisted.
Therefore, I believe I experienced the unrehearsed performance, given on instinct, of a mother who, three hours previous, had been checking groceries at the local Lidl.
His Mum, too, had indeed grabbed the mic and explained that work prevented her from rehearsing that afternoon. She thanked the musicians for matching her groove.
After paying homage to the musicians as well, Daniel joined his Mum centre-stage, and hugged her with intense love and appreciation, as well as sharing perspiration and joy.
He turned out to the audience. ‘Thank you for seeing my truth’, he said, dropping his hair and eyes towards the floor. ‘The truth in these feet’.