Dancing and Singing in the Dark: La Bienal Sevilla

25 Sep

He’s dancing in the dark. Socks on his feet muffle the sound but the martinete beat is unmistakeable. 

When he sees me watching he stops, steps out of the dance studio, and gives me a hug as big as a tiny man can. Never shy about checking out both women and men for any excess avoirdupois he runs a hand from my ribs to my left hip. ‘Muy bien.’ I have passed Manuel’s fat test.

I return the compliment and he jumps in front of the mirror to check himself out, pronouncing himself satisfied with his reflection.

I’m the first student to arrive, we have time to exchange news. I tell him I have blackened my right toe trekking and will have to see how I go dancing in flamenco shoes. I promise to do as much as I can, in bare feet if necessary. I’ve missed two weeks worth of choreography for both the Bamberas and the Seguiriya-Martinete, but I don’t intend to make my toe worse by thrashing it.

It’s good to be back in Seville for La Bienal (flamenco) and two weeks at Academia Manuel Betanzos in Triana. Returning to a place you love and know well allows for layering experiences with less effort. I know the streets by heart, see lots of familiar faces, and feel the shorthand language of flamenco wrap me in its warm blanket.


Case in point: I see guitarist Miguel Perez in class on day three and exchange a smile with the eyes and a squeeze of the hand. In that moment all is well in his world and mine.

Jose Luis Perez-Vera Gutierrez sings in class with such heart – over and over again.


More concerning was the absence of Senor Vargas from his eponymous bar. My heart sank. I was afraid to ask the young man behind the counter where he was. Thankfully after class I spotted Senor Vargas in the street with a large bandage on his right eye. Just a cataract op! Whew.

Prices don’t seem to have changed since in five years, the taxi from the airport is still 25 euro, a glass of beer one euro, a menu del dia for less than 10 euros and breakfast less than three euros. Locals seem more prosperous this year, certainly La Bienal has sold out many shows. The big main theatre names, Arcangel, Farruquito et al, went months ago.

Aussies are here in force which makes for a lively social scene. I’m in awe of the Adelaide flamenca sisters, Susi and Emma who manage multiple high level classes a day plus shows plus child care. And Cathy, also from Adelaide, who is back for another term at Cristina Heeren’s flamenco foundation. I am positively lazy by comparison.

I have put in the hours to see shows though, including gorgeous La Chica (Francesca Grima) in tablao on fine form.

Ezequial Benitez was divine as always, singing amidst the baroque opulence of the Iglesia San Luis de Los Francesas.

Late nights at the Alacazar and Teatro Central (tribute to Paco de Lucia and Olga Pericet’s ‘Pisadas’)

 plus Aracangel’s midnight tablao ‘Direct’ took commitment. I was rewarded with what I judge to be one of the most personal, authentic performances I have ever experienced. Indulge me a moment.

Tablaos have a formula. Arcangel turned it inside out. Entering unobserved he sang in darkness unaccompanied from the back of the room. Notes so clear and pure my floodgates opened. Two more male voices joined in harmony from the balcony. When the lights came up it was clear I was not the only audience member moved to tears.

For the next two hours we were treated to at least an hour of  pure Arcangel. At times he stood no more than two metres from me and I could swear at one point he sang directly to me. I felt such a privilege I could not bring myself to take a photo, let alone record (unlike many around me) lest it break the spell. His co-performers were picaresque singer, Vicente Redondo “El Pecas”, the twins, Antonio Montes Saavedra and Manuel Montes Saavedra, “Los Mellis”, providing backing vocals and on guitar, Salvador Gutiérrez and Dani de Morón. 

And for the first time I was riveted by the brilliant dancer, Patricia Guerrero. 


She is perfection; beautiful lines, speed, precision and oodles of positive energy. When in the final piece (before the encore) Arcangel accompanied Patricia singing a verse of Alegrias my heart melted but I did reach for my phone camera.

This week I have a similar  show schedule. Thankfully the head cold Manuel shared with me so generously is lifting and with a forecast of sol, sol and more sol it’s going to be a wonderful week with Stuart joining me Friday night.

Triana bridge was closed today for demos by the emergency services, a chess club and a motley crew who customise bicycles.I revisited the tree in San Lorenzo Plaza that contains my first flamenco shoes. The pigeons nest there.

I practiced my solea compas with hopscotch and window shopped.And lusted after ceramic tiles.

One Response to “Dancing and Singing in the Dark: La Bienal Sevilla”

  1. Rev Dunlop September 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    Loved Seville. Fell for it the first time, shared it with E the second time. It’s a magical place and we are enjoying your experiences from NZ.
    Love from us both, Reg

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