Festival de Jerez 2014: ‘It’s a wrap!’ and The Men in Black

11 Mar

Proof of life! I am so proud of my feet, as well as my knees, hips, shoulders, back and neck. Any weak link would have been my undoing, but four certificates demonstrate I studied a total of 60 hours flamenco dance over a two-week period at the 18th Festival de Jerez!

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Despite dancing, as well as a couple of hours walking on cobblestones streets each day, my movable body parts are in good working order, in fact better than when I arrived in Spain. Stair climbing and yoga paid off. The masseur at Hammam de Andalucia found some tender spots when she probed my quads and adductors but that’s to be expected.

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I’m so grateful I was able to return to Andalusia for this past month and thank Stuart sincerely for sticking with me the entire time. It’s been well above and beyond his tolerance for flamenco. I’ve achieved the goal I set for myself for this trip to Granada and Jerez – to give flamenco my total attention and committment every minute of every class and to enjoy every second of it.

And oh how I’ve enjoyed it! I look at other dancers in class and see their fixed facial expressions, concentrating on their reflections in the mirror, and how they berate themselves when they get something wrong. Not me. When I hear those first guitar chords strummed, then the voice entering the song, I try to do justice to the choreography to show my respect to my teacher, but fundamentally I’m dancing for my own pleasure. If the music hits me in the guts I cry and if it makes me smile I grin at the singer and guitarist. And when the steps don’t come out right (which happens a lot) or my arms are completely wrong, I still smile because I’m in class dancing with the awesome Olga Pericet or the divine Angel Muñoz, with the mercurial Mercedes Ruiz or the stunning Leonor Leal. Life really doesn’t get much better than that for me.

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Plaza Arenal had these wonderful photographic displays including this one of dearly departed artists.

Muchas gracias to our singer, Luis Monte, and guitarist, Ramon Trujillo, for Angel’s class, and for Olga’s class the singer, Anabel Rosado, and guitarist, Pepe del Morao.

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And special mention for the warm, funny new women friends I met in the workshops. That’s one of the great side benefits of the Festival, making new friends and reuniting with the gorgeous flamenco friends you’ve made over the years.

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Left to right Francesca, Elena, moi, Viv. Check out how Angel photo bombs this group shot.

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Olga created 7 minutes 43 seconds of strong, sensuous tientos-tangos choreography and allowed us to video each other at end of the 6th and 7th classes. Incredibly I can remember nearly every step and keep it flowing. That never happens for me in workshops. My favourite moment came in class 5 when Olga finished the main part of the tangos choreography with just ten minutes to go. She said, ‘OK, now everyone take your hair down and we’ll dance it with our hair too!’ She shook her long locks out and away we went! She’s been working on material for her London show before our class and looks absolutely exhausted when she comes in, but once she puts her dance shoes on and velcros her fabric lumbar support band around her tiny waist she finds another reserve of energy to teach.

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I don’t know why I am posing like this….
Angel too has had a gruelling week, teaching two back to back cantiñas classes and his Villamarta show, ‘Angel, Blanco del Negro’ on Friday night. Through the nifty organisation of a couple of his biggest fans most of his 50 students who were at the show dressed in black and white in his honour. During the ovation we moved quickly to the edge of the stage and threw single flowers up to him. It was a total surprise to him and he looked momentarily dumbstruck as flowers rained down on him.

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The dance he choreographed for us is lyrical with his signature explosive, quirky llamadas. With the addition of a short, fast section of bulerias de Cadiz we have 5 minutes and 46 seconds. He generously allowed us to videotape him dancing the completed choreography (twice) with half the class. It was a pleasure as always to see his wife, the lovely dancer, Charo Delgado, and their two daughters at the final class. Seven-year-old Maria helped Angel present the attendance certificates.

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The theme of the Villamarta Theatre shows this week seemed to be ‘Men in Black’, beginning with Andres Peña’s show and continuing with Marco Flores and his four magnificent compañeros dressed in black and then Manuel Liñan leading his company in a dazzling black outfit. All were outstanding shows.

We finished the Festival with a celebratory beer with Andres Peña and Pilar Ogalla after Joaquin Grilo’s Saturday night show (another man in black). Pilar has just two weeks of her pregnancy to go so she’s huge with baby and radiantly healthy. On the other hand Andres lost 9kg preparing for his solo show and looks positively thin (for him). Both were relaxed and happy.

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I was keen to squeeze the last ounce of flamenco out of the fortnight so went on to the 1am performance at the Peña Tio Jose de Paulo in Barrio Santiago (where I’d taken three of my four classes). It was a real gitano night with hundreds crowded into a space meant for 80 or so. When it finished at 2:45am I walked (in tangos compas) alone down Calle Francos to our hotel for the final time, my head still ringing with flamenco beats and just the tiniest hangover beginning…..

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Fernando Jimenez

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Guitarists play in all public places in Jerez, even as I was leaving….

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