Festival de Jerez 2015, Week One: The Aussies Arrive!

2 Mar

The wise Greek, Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475BC), said we cannot step into the same river twice. He meant of course that change is the one constant and I agree. The flamenco river varies from a thin trickle to a roaring torrent depending where in the world you find yourself. This week at the 19th Festival de Jerez, Andalusia, Spain, the waters flooded. We lucky festival goers bathed and exalted in them, each in our own way.


I say ‘we’ because I was in the company of ten classmates from Simone Pope’s Brisbane flamenco studio. Eight women dancers travelled for the first week of the two-week event, one came for a long weekend from Girona where she lives, while guitarist David H who has played for our classes over the years, has returned to Jerez for another long stint of flamenco guitar study, playing and also teaching English.

With roomy Merryl and David for our personal sherry tasting at Tabanco El Pasaje.

Much of the pleasure of watching flamenco or participating in dance workshops is the animated discussion afterwards over a glass of sherry/beer/wine. With David, Merryl, Nat, Nadya, Eva, Jocelyn, Cat, Afra and Rachael we shared a range of emotional responses to the art and to our professors. We also adopted Natalia, a Russian girl in our class who’d come for her first FdJ and was on her own. She became an honorary Australian for the week. There were no dull moments with this group.

I’ve written before of the attractions of Jerez de la Frontera (search in my blog site, I’ve posted lots of photos and travel tips). It’s a charming town that comes alive in the sunshine and parties hard every night but Sunday. This time round I’ll focus on what life lessons the Festival de Jerez gifted us.

The first came when talking about what flamenco means to us personally and why we’d come to Jerez. The general consensus was that fundamentally flamenco feeds our soul. It nurtures a place deep inside ourselves we never knew existed until we heard and saw the magic of flamenco. With Spanish speaker Afra’s help we now had our flamenco mantra, ‘Alimentando mi alma’, we were feeding our souls. And after this week of intensive flamenco our souls are well nourished!

The second lesson came towards the end of Maria Pages and Company’s wonderful Villamarta Theatre production, ‘Yo, Carmen’. Maria and the other female dancers in the company sang about the pressures that modern life, and especially the media, put on women to conform to certain female norms. The women danced with abandon and sang at full force. At the end of the song they shouted, ‘¡Vivir la verdad!’ (Live the truth/be true to yourself). Yes, absolutely, why don’t we?!

A third was presented by legendary guitarist Paco de Lucia in a snippet of a past TV interview screened during the wonderful six guitarist tribute performance in the Villamarta Theatre to mark exactly one year since Paco’s sudden death in Mexico aged 66. Paco was reflecting on his mode of composition. He said he often laboured to create a new piece to record and was excited each time to have done something he felt was good. However the very next day when he listened back to the recording he always thought ‘It’s shit’, and wondered how he ever thought it was any good. He said that confused him for a while. Was the new work good or shit? After a pause he looks straight at the camera and says, ‘Always go with the first impression’. Good advice – trust your gut instinct.

The fourth lesson came on our final day at a very crowded Peña Tio Jose de Paula (where we’d danced the Romera class with Rafaela Carrasco all week). We were watching the free afternoon show put together by the peña committee. All the young artists were excellent. A bonus was that the guitarist was our accompanist from class, Miguel Salado. The crowd was loving it more and more as the flamencos worked towards the climax – the fin de fiesta. Artists’ families were crowding the stage. We watched children gaze adoringly at their parents on stage, accompanying them with their own version of palmas (clapping). A matriarch with her craggy face, grey hair pulled back in a bun and black dress appeared to be related to the Peña’s namesake. When the artists finished their bulerias letres she and another female octagenarian stepped up on stage to bust out their bulerias dance moves, cheeky skirt flicks and all, to an ecstatic reception. The respect shown to those women was wondrous to behold. It made me realise Australians should honour our elderly more for the cultural heritage they embody but we should also be free to grow old disgracefully and sieze every opportunity to dance for joy.

As for the dance classes I speak only of my personal experience with Rafaela Carrasco. We had late notice that we’d have a substitute teacher for the first two classes as Rafaela was still in London performing at the Sadlers Wells flamenco week. To compensate, instead of starting at 10am and finishing at 12:20pm daily for seven days, from the third day class would start half an hour earlier and finish at the regular time. We suddenly went from a two hour twenty minute class to an almost three hour class daily with a couple of brief water breaks…. 


Maria Carmen Ana Laguna, Rafaela’s regular repetiteur, was the substitute teacher. She did an excellent job getting us started on the Romera choreography (nivel basico) but we were apprehensive about switching to Rafaela and practiced an extra hour in a rented rehearsal studio to try to conquer the zapateado.


We shouldn’t have worried, Rafaela is an extremely methodical teacher and made sure everyone had a chance to master the footwork and marking steps. Ana also stayed on for the week and danced everything cleanly so we could see the correct steps from anywhere in the studio. By the end of the course we had a lyrical llamada, a long escorbilla and plenty of marking options. What Rafaela didn’t actually do was put it all together which disappointed us. We (the four Aussies in that class) have video recordings of all the sections we learnt and I guess it is now up to us individually to weave it into a song and expand on it.

With Miguel Salado, L to R Rachael, me, Natalia, Merryl and Nat.

On the free saturday I dropped into the ‘History of Flamenco’ course in Spanish run by Juan Vergillo in the beautiful architecture of the Andalusian Centre for Flamenco amongst historical artefacts, artworks and costumes. I explained I couldn’t take the entire two hours x seven day course as I was departing next day but was keen to follow what I could. Juan let me sit in on the first session for a fee of 15 euros. Happily I understood 90 per cent of what he was explaining. I’ll definitely take his class next time even though it overlaps with siesta!

Speaking of siesta, I must mention living arrangements. I rented a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in fully renovated 16th century Palacio Torneria, a former Catholic seminary. When flamenco friend Merryl decided to make her first Festival trip we agreed to split the rent. A tall order you might think to share a small twin room with both of us coming and going. In fact we fell into a comfortable daily routine almost immediately. It helps that we are both sound sleepers!

As we’d registered for the same class and had tickets for the same shows we divided the day into two parts. Up at 8am for me to run down the street to buy a copy of El Diario to read the reviews of the previous day and evening’s shows while eating a quick breakfast at home, then speed walk to morning class. Post class drink in the sunshine, nibbles and de-brief with whomever was around, shopping for food, gifts or flamenco gear, then home for bath/shower, lunch (often in the sunshine on our balcony people watching) followed by a two-hour siesta. 


When we surfaced again it was as if the day started anew with a strong coffee/tea and snack before paseo and shopping/windowshopping. Our whole group would gather for a drink at La Reja before the Villamarta show and then usually reconvene afterwards at the Theatre Cafe, the best bar to spot the artists as many came in for a quick drink post show. We saw Israel Galvan there post performance wearing a tracksuit. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his new work. No sense of any huge ego there although he approaches genius in my estimation.

In addition to the Villamarta show with our dedicated seats (happily those of us who registered from Australia were grouped together) we had some tickets to 7pm Sala Paul shows and also a midnight show at Sala Compañia. These venues have general seating so we quickly got into the habit of coordinating our queuing and seat claiming to maximise drinking and socialising time before the performance started. Apart from the midnight show we were usually home and tucked up in bed around 1am. Happy days!

Ana Salazar leaves the stage following her standing ovation.

I’ll write separately later about the performances I saw but finish here on a rant. For some reason that escapes me, far too many audience members at a flamenco show believe they have a god-given right to stamp their feet, clap their hands, click and/or sing along with the artists on stage whenever the spirit moves. News flash: I don’t care if you are Farruquito, that behaviour is appropriate for SOME moments in a peña where enthusiastic audience participation is encouraged, but NOT in a theatre or auditorium ALL THE WAY THROUGH A SHOW! You may have metronomic compás but keep it inside where it belongs and don’t disturb people near you who are trying to experience the art for themselves. As Manuel Betanzos says, ‘…compás es el dentro’. Do it near me and I will be on you like a ton of bricks. I would rather have a crying baby sit next to me than a foot stomper. You have been warned.

The professional level students take a bow after their performance.

‘Chickpeas with bowels’ Yum!

El Faru’s show.

Miguel Salado in class.

Mis amigas bonitas: L to R Cat, Eva & Jocelyn

Villamarta showtime! L to R Nadya, Nat, Rachael and Merryl

The queue for the El Faru show.

2 Responses to “Festival de Jerez 2015, Week One: The Aussies Arrive!”

  1. Deanna March 5, 2015 at 7:30 am #

    How I wish I was there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: