Flamenco Festival London

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As we are approaching the end of October, I find myself checking the website of Sadler’s Wells every other day. Even though I am signed up to their newsletter, and I would receive an email when the new program is announced, I am too excited to lose even a few hours when the announcement is made.

This is the time of the year Sadler’s Wells, THE dance theatre of London, announces the line up for next year’s Flamenco Festival, and tickets go on sale. The festival always takes place in February*, over the course of a week, with the majority of the shows on the main stage of Sadler’s Wells, and some of the smallest shows in the Lilian Baylis studio, right next to Sadler’s Wells.

Since 2013 I have been to the festival every single year to see all of the shows I was interested in and could afford. The two are never the same…

But what is the Flamenco Festival?

The Flamenco Festival is the initiative of a gentleman called Miguel Marín, who realised -while studying in New York around 2000 – that there was a lack of flamenco in town, when there would actually be interest. I heard him tell the story in one of the radio interviews he gave, when presenting that year’s program and the destinations where they bring the festival. Throughout the years, this initiative has expanded, and the festival got to several locations, on different continents even.

The very first Flamenco Festival was in New York, then it came to London in 2003, which means that this year, in 2018, they celebrated the 15-year-anniversary of the festival in the British capital. Then Japan and Brazil was added to the destinations for a few years, but on the long run, the US and UK festivals continue only. They incorporated in the tour different cities within these countries though: Miami in the US and Manchester in the UK.

I found it interesting listening to Miguel talk about the beginnings of something so big and established now, when it was just an idea of a flamenco aficionado roughly 20 years ago. How he started planning to bring the artists from Spain, to create a program, to get funding, to organise and manage logistics, accommodation, venues, fees etc. With the overall and long term objective in mind to bring flamenco – represented by contemporary artists – to different parts of the world.

Funnily, I also looked into the options of bringing flamenco artists to London, when I quit my job in the city (and was in the process of re-inventing myself), but I found it extremely difficult and complex. My idea was to bring less known and established artists, within the frame of something much smaller and rather intimate, possibly combining the shows with dance and clapping courses, Spanish lessons…

Although I am a big fan of the Flamenco Festival, I do think that it is a platform for rather established artists, who can fill up an entire theatre with the ticket sales. The organisers must have their reasons behind this, which I am not here to argue. It was nice to see that this year they already had their own production too (I believe for the very first time) : Carmen Linares, Arcángel and María Heredia singing together (and individually) in the The Tempo of Light. This was specifically created for the Flamenco Festival, and was most certainly an interesting idea. I like all three artists individually, but this collaboration was not quite my cup of tea.

In the past 5 years, I have enjoyed many concerts of the festival and I am grateful to the festival for bringing all these people to the February cold of London*. I have enjoyed the concerts of so many people! I have seen dance Eva, La Yerbabuena, Mercedes Ruiz, Farruquito, Manuel Liñán, Rocío Molina, Israel Galván, Isabel Bayón, Patricia Guerrero, Belén Maya and last, but not least, La Chana! I was lucky to hear El Lebrijano sing the year he died, I heard sing Miguel Poveda, Arcángel, Antonio Reyes, Estrella Morente, Esperanza Fernandez and I heard play Tomatito and Gerardo Núñez. This is just the list of artists I have seen, the list of artists performing at the festival is so much longer! Just to mention some: Olga Pericet, Jesús Carmona, Vicente Amigo, Ana Morales, Leonor Leal, Alba Molina, Marco Flores, Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, Rafaela Carrasco, Rocío Márquez, Ángel Muñoz, the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía and so on.

The 2019 program is not published yet. I wish I could already share the shows that I will go to (and at the same time, give a shout out to all available baby sitters for those nights), but for now, I can only encourage all Londoners, to keep an eye out for the new program and the tickets!

*Correction of this article – published on the 30th of October 2018 – is required. I found out on the 11th of November 2018 that the date of the Flamenco Festival in London has been moved to the month of July as of 2019. This means that the program won’t be published and the tickets won’t go on sale until the spring of the same year. Flamencos, a bit more patience… We will get through winter somehow, and then bring on the hot summer London nights packed with flamenco! Olé!

Masterclass on how to combine education with tradition

There are people in the world, whose work makes a difference in other people’s lives. Today I want to talk about one of these people.

Ángeles Acedo López.

Ángeles is a psychologist in Marchena, Andalusia. 25 years ago she created ‘El Roete, Asociación Cultural’, a cultural association called “The Bun”. This non-profit organisation has two functions: 1) promoting flamenco 2) by using it as a tool in the social & emotional education of children aged between nursery and secondary school. The aim is to bring flamenco closer to children by showing them that it is not only an art form from the past, but it is vivid and alive! Through day to day examples, they bring flamenco to the children’s territory, and help them realise that flamenco is around them in all shape and form, even if they don’t know about it. A good example is Rosalía, who is popular among the youth, but they wouldn’t necessarily know that her songs from the album ‘Los Ángeles’ are versions of old flamenco songs. Through someone they know and like, they are introduced to flamenco artists and they learn about the art itself. Collaboration with local artists, like Dani de Morón, brings live music to the sessions, and at the same time, by simply discussing the places Dani goes on tour, children discover new countries and cities. The learning process is through someone who is familiar and close to them, without the constraints of a school class.

Teaching is done in various forms: in workshops, in the El Roete centre in Marchena, and on visits around Andalusia, where El Roete bring their different projects. Local artists often collaborate in these projects. The use of social media, like Facebook and Youtube is part of the communication channels, and exchange of ideas through them is encouraged between the participating children.

Besides the promotion of flamenco, they also use flamenco as a tool in the emotional education of children. Handling emotions is difficult, a map of emotions contains more than 300 types of different emotions. But when at the beginning of their sessions, children are asked how many emotion types they can identify, they mostly say two: happiness and sorrow. This can be greatly improved with these sessions and they can successfully name many more afterwards. Methods include recognising emotion types heard in the different songs or trying to associate feelings with the different ‘palos’ or song forms. However, the opposite direction is also used in teaching. With which ‘palo’ would you express this feeling? El Roete teach the younger generations about the different flamenco forms and what they are about. Children from bigger towns, like Seville, may find more familiar the urban song forms like alegrías or rumbas, and children from the countryside, may understand and enjoy better the abandolaos and fandangos originated in the villages. Sessions are always practical, never theoretical. Ángeles explains that rather than flamenco becoming a school subject, they prefer having flamenco as an extracurricular activity, so that it doesn’t become an obligation for the kids, something they have to prepare and study for.

Ángeles and her colleagues have also created a small competition around every fifth anniversary of the association, whereby people are asked to design a poster for El Roete, and winners are rewarded with small prizes.

I find absolutely fascinating what Ángeles and El Roete do. Education is key in the upbringing of children, but there is actually little or no time spent on social and emotional education. Doing this through their local tradition is extraordinary! They teach children about emotions and expressions via their local customs and traditions. Flamenco is present in Andalusia. Not everyone is interested or actually likes it, but everyone hears it in the radio, on concerts and festivals, on local events, parties and weddings, and possibly even listens to it at home. Children have a general idea about flamenco, and this is enhanced, further trained and used in their emotional education. There are many ways of promoting art, but there is nothing more future proof than introducing it to the younger generations and help them create their identity through their local history and traditions.

Combining education with tradition seems to me exceptionally brilliant.

I raise my hat to Ángeles and her crew.

Rocío Molina

Rocío Molina  deserves a post without any further explication.

Contemporary flamenco dancer, who “reinvented flamenco” – according to 1843 (the magazine of The Economist). I only decided to write about her now, when I heard her big news: she is expecting! Why is this relevant on a flamenco blog? Oh, for so many reasons. Before I explain, let’s talk a bit about who she is.

Rocío is a flamenco dancer from Málaga, born in 1984 to a former ballet dancer mom and a chef dad. At 17, she graduated with Honours at the Royal Dance Conservatory in Madrid and danced in professional flamenco companies for a while, including the one of María Pages, but soon started her solo career. She presented her first work “Among the walls”  (Entre paredes) at the age of 22, which was strongly criticised by the traditional flamenco world. This was followed by many more self-creations such as “Turquoise as a lemon” (Turquesa como el limón, 2006), “Old Gold” (Oro Viejo, 2008), “When stones fly” (Cuando las piedras vuelen, 2009), “Affections” (Afectos, 2012), “Ardora’s forest” (Bosque ardora, 2014), and “Fallen from Heaven” (Caida del Cielo, 2016). I was lucky to see a few of them in Spain and in London, in the Barbican; my absolute favourite being “Affections” with Rosario, La Tremendita (the favourite flamenco artist of my friend X.).

The first official recognition came in 2006 with the “Dancer of revelation” title from the critic “Flamenco Today” (Flamenco Hoy), and many other awards followed. Just to mention a couple: in 2008, she received the Giraldillo Award for Best Choreography and Best Dancer Award in the Seville Bienal, and in 2010, she received the Spanish National Award for Dance from the Ministry of Culture. More interestingly, after her performance of Old Gold in the New York City Center, Mikhail Baryshnikov kneeled before her at the door of her dressing room! And if this wasn’t enough, in 2017, the Spanish newspaper ‘El Mundo’ included her in their list of 50 most influential homosexuals in Spain.

My personal preference has always been the more traditional flamenco dance, but I have always said that the talent, innovation and courage of people like Rocío Molina and Israel Galván, have to be acknowledged and respected. They are geniuses of our times in a way, whether they are understood, accepted or liked…

If it’s possible to top all this,  she has done it with her latest creation, ‘Grito Pelao‘. This production is about maternity, becoming a mother – in this case, a single mother – with all the fears and excitement that this entails; it is also a tribute to women giving birth every single day, and an homage to life itself. People ask all sorts of questions: But isn’t she lesbian? And isn’t she single? Yes and yes, but does that really matter? Without going into her personal choices in life, I want to talk about this. We can talk about this, because she talks about it in her show, in her performance. Artists always say that their way of expressing themselves is in their art, therefore their creations will always be personal and unique(!). This latest show of Rocío is special, even exceptional. Not only because she dances while being pregnant. Obviously, you cannot compare, but I have also danced when I was expecting my daughter K. When one’s body is used to regular dancing, then dancing can be continued, having taken the obvious precautionary steps. It is not necessary to stop right away: the intensity can be lowered, the steps can be changed, the moves can be softened. In Rocío’s case, the jumps can be eliminated. This is what Rocío has done. She created this show, before actually getting pregnant, when she was dreaming about becoming a mother, and when she got pregnant, she adapted the show, so that she can continue dancing it.

I think it is special, exceptional and fascinating, because as a contemporary art production from a contemporary artist, it places into a contemporary scene the eternal topic of maternity. A gay single woman’s journey towards maternity makes us think about IVF and single parenthood. We may agree or not, we may like it or not, but this exists, now, in our lives, in the XXI. century. There are women who dream about becoming mothers, even if they are single; there are gay men and women, who dream about becoming parents, even if they don’t have a man or woman in their lives. And there is IVF: a solution for them and for many other “traditional” couples, who are having difficulties. But no one talks about this, or not much at least. Not even in modern, open London.

I do believe that the way forward is via communication and transparency in all areas of life. We talk about this at home with my husband, I talk about this on forums at work.

Now, I am not trying to open Pandora’s box and talk about something that I have no idea about. I just want to draw attention to people, like Rocío Molina, who are raising awareness, even if this is not their/her primary intention. Rocío is just expressing her feelings and her fears through the art she knows (and is so good at!), and I like that. Saying that, I have not seen the show (yet). I only read reviews, saw videos, heard flamenco critics and flamenco radio programs talk about it, heard Rocío, Lola and Silvia talk about it. In the production, besides the mother of Rocío, Lola Cruz, the singer Silvia Pérez Cruz and a 4th lady participate (I suppose a guitarist, but there was always a bit of secrecy in the interviews about this 4th person, so I am not 100% sure who she is). Considering the fact that Rocío is 7 months now, I may not see this production in its current shape and form, so I can only wish for one thing:

Long continue the career of Rocío, so we get to enjoy more of her spectacular creations!

Chapeau, mon amie.