An Over View
I have always been somewhat pedantic in my approach to the dance art of Spain. Initially, I was like others attracted to the fascinating form of dance and music which is popularly known as “flamenco”. This is a natural perception experienced by almost everyone. However. there are many facets musically and aesthetically. The reason for this is a blending of native or folk elements in performance as opposed to theater presentations.
I have written in detail before concerning the subject because of my vast experience in my performing life and the many associations I have had with other artists.
It has been the result of lifelong study as well as endless exploration which leads to one revelation after another.
The Spanish dance, which of course, includes flamenco, takes into its embrace the different provinces of the Iberian Peninsula and each one of the special materials peculiar to that region.
Each province uses diverse instrumentation, styles, and songs and is rich in nuance.
The only form which is not written is flamenco because it is handed down from one generation to another as an oral tradition. Each form or “palo” has a special character, but all are “song rhythms” evolving from distant cultures.
The Andalusian gypsies and other natives to that region have an obvious advantage to be born into the flamenco environment that makes it possible for them to learn it in very early childhood as a language of forms. For those of us not from that culture it has to be learned as a second language. With much study, diligent practice, observation and exposure ( and hopefully with some natural gifts!) it can become a part of the life experience.
There have been so many influences over the decades that altered the understanding. New ideas abound and this is not destructive but enriches as these new concepts evolve.
Flamenco is Eastern in character. The tones are closer together than in Western music and therefore present a mournful and mysterious impression. In this way it affects the emotions in a different manner.
I cannot over emphasize the importance of seeing Spanish dance and particularly the structure of Flamenco as embedded in musical form. Compas in the dance and musical is vitally important. Without rhythm there is no music. The organization of time in music and dance is fundamental. In Flamenco, the guitarist follows the dancer who puts down the beats for the guitarist who reads it as a score. Sometimes the melody or falseta begins on a third count or 2nd beat. The entrance of a particular strain rarely commences on the first beat of a bar. This fact can sometimes be confusing to the beginner who may not understand musical structure.
There frequently is controversy over what is flamenco. What categories do the various rhythms fall into?
One view is that flamenco or cante Jondo, ( deep song) can only be performed with guitar as an unwritten form. This is the true nature of the dance, song, and music.
Often, it is asked whether Sevillanas is flamenco. Of course it is. It is accompanied by guitar. However it can be written down. One outstanding feature of the Sevillanas ( actually a form of Seguidillas) is that it is a couple dance and therefore differs from a dance such as Alegrias, Solea, Seguiriyas, Bulerias which is normally of any length. A sevillana is always the same length fitted to the verse. Fandangos( there are a number of versions ) are also measured to the length of the copla and that is the principal difference.
The Spanish dance as I have pointed out so often in many ways can be regional; folk dances of Castille, Aragon, Galicia, and Valencia. These have various instrumental musical accompaniments and are NOT flamenco. The balletic 18th Century style of the Escuela Bolera, and important category as a vocabulary of the Spanish idiom must be included.
Lastly, the theater dance or stylized presentations which contain elements of Flamenco, folk material, and the Escuela Bolera used to be more popular than is today. This kind of performance is considered Impressionistic and must be accompanied by written music as a composition.
It is a complicated subject and I present this as my view after a lifetime of exposure.