Festival De Jerez, Spain: Taming the tail

26 Feb

I’ve exhausted the fingers on one hand counting the times I’ve visited Jerez and this is my third festival. For those who have escaped the flamenco virus the annual two-week flamenco festival in Jerez De La Frontera, in southwest Andalusia, Spain, is in its 16th year and is a major focus of the annual international flamenco event calendar.

When I say international I mean the punters, not so much the artists. Great store is placed in how close to the cradle of Andalusian flamenco you were born and Jerez and its flamenco barrios is regarded as the forge of many of the most revered artists. That’s why it was so pleasing to see how well Mexican Karime Amaya was received in her first solo show here. Admittedly she has the bloodline but sometimes not even that will get you a gig.

With a full festival program of shows (usually three a day) and the off festival competing flamenco program, plus a punishing schedule of two-hour dance and compas workshops, the event attracts a mix of tourists, enthusiasts (like me) and aspiring and established professionals plus all the ancilliary services. Local bars and restaurants do a roaring trade feeding and watering Russians, Canadians, Brazilians, Peruvians, Panamanians, Japanese, Taiwanese, Brits, French, Dutch, Germans and Aussies to name just a few nationalities.

This year it was touch and go whether government funding needed to float the festival would be forthcoming as budgets nation-wide have been guillotined and arts as usual was the first to go. Hats off to them for sustaining the festival but with five million long term unemployed citizens nationwide and civil servants camped outside council offices demanding their overdue entitlements it’s no wonder protesters (off duty police officers) used opening night at the Villamarta Theatre to attract media coverage to their plight (see photo).

The only obvious change in the Festival was the lack of the usual giant street banners and the program book included in the registration package. It cost an extra three euros. The quality is as good as ever but around town it’s obvious Spain’s recession is hurting with many more empty shops and liquidation sales.

As Tuesday is a provincial holiday they held a food fair, art and flea market today in the Alcazar grounds and surrounding park. Looking at the mobile phones, remote controls, CDs and assorted paraphenalia including VHS tapes and tatty old clothes displayed I doubt they made many sales. The only things to draw my interest were a 1967 book of 500 black and white photographs of bull fights gone wrong and huge wheels of goat cheese that would keep me content for a year.

Five shows and two classes in my first 48 hours makes for a very happy festival goer. I couldn’t be more pleased with my Alegrias class with Bata De Cola (long-tailed, frilled skirt) with the gorgeous, ever smiling, tall and graceful Alicia Marquez. Her face seems fixed in a permanent wink and I am delighted to be in on the gag. I received a death stare when I stepped on a classmate’s skirt yesterday but today I only tortured my own rental skirt (30 euro for the week from the festival organisers). Luckily I have scissors, needle and thread handy to do rough repairs. The basic moves look simple enough but it’s the 300 repetitions to get it to ‘float like a parachute’, as Alicia says, that has me chowing down the Ibuprofen.

Our dance studio is deep in the bowels of the Gonzales Byass Sherry complex. We’re admitted one by one through the security checkpoint and navigate the tasting room, sitting room presided over by oil portraits of prosperous gentlemen, and an ancient barrel storage room to reach the rehearsal room. I breath in extra deeply as I pass the huge barrels of Jerez (sherry).

Live music is provided by singer Anabel Rosado (who was at pains to tell me she is from Jerez) and guitarist Jozdi Flores Albazzan (who did not volunteer any information).

Tomorrow I start morning practice sessions with a classmate in her rented a studio so I can drill the one minute and 36 seconds of choreography I’ve merely staggered through up until now. I will tame that damn tail if it kills me!

(Photos were taken around town and in class during the break. I included one of my bata de cola skirt spread out so you can see it’s size. It weighs about four kilos.)





























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