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Flamenco Inesita

Inesita

Summation of a long career

Finale scene with Inesita in Bulerias “Chufla” 2017

Summation of a long career.

 

Having been a performer since age fifteen in Spanish dance and flamenco, I offer another viewpoint on this esoteric and arcane art.

I was always presented as a soloist from day one. Unless I was engaged as part of a show or concert; or film, television, or some performance featuring other artists, I presented as a one woman show.

Only rarely did I become a dance partner, but this was never part of my experience as a whole. The essence of the Spanish dance and particular case of Flamenco demands a soloist to express the music and dynamics in the work.

Except in the special case of couple dances, the import which it conveys comes over as an individual entity.

As I have written in great detail of my beginnings, I entered the professional as a solo artist albeit not yet seasoned, but with considerable potential.

Entering the profession as a very young person I was fortunate enough to attract much attention due to my youth and appearance and ability. One thing led to another and I was engaged soon in a Civic Light Opera which led to a showcase in a night club. This afforded me visibility to many professionals and opened doors to the film industry and other venues where I could perform to advantage.

In this era, Spanish dance and particularly flamenco was an exotic specialty mostly misunderstood by the public but admired for its flamboyance and excitement. For this reason, I was able to succeed quickly and opportunities poured in. There were so many varied situations in which I could sell my talents.

It is notable that I received so much attention at this time. I had little competition.

Over time and much study, and experience and exposure I developed my own style. However everything evolves and nothing stays the same but moves inexorably on to new ideas. New artists in flamenco arrived on the horizon and influenced one another and allowed more to germinate and grow.  

I did not stay in the same mind set but took on new challenges of presentation to avoid stagnation.  Because flamenco is unwritten and becomes flexible and open to revision, the enormous evolution of the form was inevitable. I made innovations of my own to encompass other approaches in my Themes from Goya suite which was presented nine times and then moved on to concentrate on making dances to the Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti which enhanced my repertoire. These new versions of the same elements in the music were not always as popular or commercial enough to succeed and prosper as the more popular presentations did, but I believe it is wiser to try other methods than mark time. Even taking on the task of doing lecture-performances expanded the vision to those who would listen! And then I returned to concentrate on pure flamenco! By analyzing the form and structure it was possible to offer more insight into the music, and methods of this art. Flamenco is made up of fragments pieced together and can be altered and rearranged. 

In today’s world where footage of shows can be quickly transferred to the Web, the visual becomes an interpretation which can grab attention in a way that a live performance may not.

Video and film is actually another medium and the impact is distinct from a live performance in a theater or tablao setting. The perception changes. Having had footage of film or video within the past sixty years or thereabouts showing my work the progression of altered structure becomes very obvious.

It is said that “one picture is worth a thousand words “and so I have included much of what has been recorded over this period. It is almost tragic that so much of the great dancing of the distant past has been lost due to lack of the technology.  In short, this has been a boon; or perhaps there is a downside as well. Nevertheless, there is still nothing like a live performance and its immediacy to the spectator.

So I leave these musings with the public and let them decide.

 

 

 

Fandango de Huelva March 18, 2017 Inesita . Clarita, singer, dancers La Nubia and Jani Quintero, Stamen Wetzel, Benjamin, guitarists. Filmed by Tina Love

Inesita in Solea with Clarita, cantaora, Stamen Wetzel, Benjamin, guitarists. March 18, 2017. Videotaped by Tina Love.

Zapateado del Estampio

 

Filmed by Tina Love March 18, 2017

Inesita in Alegrias de Cadiz March 18, 2017 Videotaped by Tina Love

What is Flamenco?

Inesita dancing on a 3 by 3 oak floor in a lecture-demo 2002

What is Flamenco?

Having spent decades as a performer in this unique dance form, I offer a perspective on its essence. The word flamenco is an odd choice to designate an art which is distinctly Spanish and more specifically of Andalucía . There have been a number of explanations why a word which means Flemish in Spanish is associated with the form of dance, music, and song recognized as the exciting, flamboyant, mysterious display of technical skill it is.

One example given is the elaborate dress of Flemish courtiers during the reign of Carlos I. It was adopted and connected with the Andalusian Gypsies during this era. However this came about, it is now ingrained in the public perception.

The true name of flamenco art is: Cante Jondo: Deep or profound song. I have often heard “En España el cante viene primero”. “In Spain the song comes first” It is a truth that the dancer does not interpret the words or letras of the song; again the performance is not literal but non-verbal. in a musical sense, the guitarist’s chords which are used to accompany singing are the basis for the tunes or melodies (falsetas) which develop from the chord structure. The rhythms or compas which are attached to the melodies drive the work. Moreover, flamenco is not Western music but Eastern in origin. As such, Eastern scales tend to have a falling cadence. The tones are close together creating  dissonance and ambiguity.  This presents a mournful and melancholy feeling, whereas Western musical tones have a tendency to rise and has a different impression.  

Without question much has evolved over many decades. The incorporation of different chords such as jazz and other musical influences have changed the texture of performance and the entire presentation of what is seen today. Some are displeased with this but as in everything else in culture, whether language, fashion, life styles or advances in all manifestations of art, new ideas are presented.  Forward thinking is inevitable. I personally have altered my material as the years pass to bring it into the present.

Flamenco has always possessed a strong tradition and a rich vocabulary. Out of this material, develop interpretation and much variation. The dance has a character  not duplicated in any other dance style. Unlike other techniques the dance turns in upon itself and is held taut to the body. A kind of stillness which can be eloquent is part of the language of forms.  This explains why one can perform movements in a very small space and still convey feeling. The tensions, kinetic urgency, and focus, are central to the form. Articulation, attack and nuance, all attributes one expects in a musical performance. Each performer colors this with his or her own personality.

Above all, flamenco is a musical art. Because of the methodology in the system and the reality that it is an unwritten, open-ended form, the dancer functions as a musician to conduct and ring the changes from one variation to the next. We know the guitarists gaze never leaves the dancer. The feet making intricate patterns, arms accenting movement, all is rhythm which dominates throughout a performance. The cantaor (singer) too, must obey the force of the compás. And the guitarist is watchful throughout. The collaboration and interplay of the elements of song, guitar and dance is demanding, not to mention the addition of hand clapping or palmas and other percussion added to the score. Since all is non-verbal and without notation, it creates the power we see and accounts for its popularity today as never before.

Without rhythm there is no music, therefore it is mathematical.  Flamenco is organic. The end of one variation opens the door on the next into infinitude.

 

 

Castanets

Inesita with castanets c.1948
Dwarf Dancing with castanets Ancient Greece First Century BC
Inesita demonstrating dancing with castanets 2002
An image of Inesita in a castanet pose c 1947
A later photo from a shoot in London, England in a theater costume. c. 1960
Another more recent image of Inesita from 2000.

Castanets

Those four little pieces of wood! How mysterious and secret they are to anyone who has never held them in their hands! At the first sound of their sonorous peal, there is a fascination not felt with any other percussive instrument. It is difficult to fathom how they convey such power!

At first, the uninitiated places them on the middle finger of the hand and rattles them to try to understand how they can achieve that special quality.

Very often, someone will try to learn in a very short time. It can’t be done.

The minute movements of the fingers have a special action which requires concentrated study and fierce focus to learn.

There are dances in  Northern Spain in which  dancers of Aragon, Castile, and Navarre and other provinces of the Iberian Peninsula use the castanets on the middle finger and a resounding clap is produced in a quite different technique. And it is surprisingly effective for the demands of this kind of vocabulary and music.

But the Andalusian , the virtuoso, attaches the cords of the castanets on the thumb where it is anchored in a double loop freeing  the four fingers of the right hand to operate and slide over In succession from the small finger to each in turn to make a roll.The right hand performs the roll and the left maintains the beat with only the middle finger. This has to be reversed in the case of a left-handed player! I should mention that the instruments are tuned so the bass, macho (left hand) is one third of a tone lower.  The right hand (hembra) has the higher voice. Coordination between the two hands is achieved with much practice.

Herein lies  difficulty to train ligaments and tendons of the hand to play upon the open castanet. But this is function and not yet art.

I began the study of these small miracles at age 14. These were the first lessons. The effort of beginning to manipulate them  took several weeks. Gradually, the ability to play a rhythm in a simple 4/4  or 3/4  count becomes a part of the brain and one proceeds to the next stage.

Now the arms must move with the music and in time and castanets become an accompaniment.

Castanets (palillos) have a well known history extending back to Ancient Greece and Egypt. So I won’t elaborate on the subject. There is a fascinating bronze from this early period of a buffoon dwarf dancing with castanets! 

In a previous post, I related my early experience and study with a teacher who had a fine castanet technique and I learned a great deal. After time I was able to handle their role with confidence. Learning to dance, move the arms and master the complicated and sophisticated vocabulary of  Spanish dance was not easy, but being young it was possible and after a year of using plastic castanets I acquired a fine pair of professional castanets and moved to  the next level. When I was offered a chance to study with José Fernandez at no cost, I was overjoyed to be given this opportunity to learn an approach that I had not anticipated before. Castanets must be scored as an instrument to function as another voice in the musical matrix. It is more than underlining the rhythm but carving out a part of their own as an element of the whole.

My castanets playing made such an impression, that a friend and mentor, Raquel Rojas, the dancer, actress and writer who encouraged me in my earliest endeavors wanted to borrow my palillos to use in an engagement!! I was flattered and stunned that my  castanets would now perform in effect on their own in another’s hands!  The rich history of the castanets in the career of Antonia Mercé, La Argentina, and her superb mastery of the castanets as a real musical instrument is well known. I was honored to have the opportunity to record my castanet playing with piano accompaniment on Period Records in 1954 when I was concertizing on the East Coast.  I dedicated the disk to Antonia Mercé’s memory. The music I selected for the assignment was based on some compositions by Albeniz, Turina, Malats, and Valverde. These dances were specialties of Antonia Mercé. I had learned these works from my first teachers and had perfected them to the point of performing them in earlier appearances. Essentially they were theater or stylized dances which lent themselves well to a castanet score. The Escuela Bolera  (School Dance) always featured castanets. They were the true “classic” fundamentals of the Spanish dance.  The vinyl disk was advertised as INESITA and distributed all over the world. It was prominently displayed in  Sam Goody’s, a well known music store on Broadway!

Strangely, the management of the  Record Company issued the flamenco repertoire  on side one which I recorded with Juan Martinez as guitarist for the flamenco dances.  Perhaps they perceived the flamenco as more appealing to the general public. I considered the castanets superior to the flamenco work at the time, but had no control over the release of the material.

Juan Martinez was a dancer as well as a competent guitarist who appeared with La Argentina during her tours. This is mostly forgotten history!

Flamenco dance, song and guitar music does not usually  lend itself well to castanet playing as the use of palmas, pitos and the cajon dominate the performances. The rhythms contain  a rich tapestry of off-beating and crossing tempos which are best manifested in complicated hand clapping and heel beats.  Flamenco has a distinct construction  which stems from the song forms and demands an aesthetic contrary to written music. The composers of Spain offered great beauty of harmonies as well as  rhythmic qualities in an impressionistic manner. Flamenco as an earthy form has a tension not found in the formal music of these composers. Nevertheless their scope has attributes lacking in  “cante jondo “.  The complexity of the flamenco idiom is astonishing and the past is swallowed up in new ideas and I regard it as natural. Everything evolves. Originally, the castanets were a feminine aspect and male dancers frequently ignored them. Nevertheless, there are many fine castanet players among male artists today and I applaud this. The gitanos, tended to regard castanets as associated with the aristocracy. So their use was avoided in favor of the more spectacular display of hand clapping and finger snapping at which they excelled.  I also discovered that in the Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas of which I have written, the music is so rich that most of this music needs no percussive addition. 

In my view, castanets are very special. They can shout or whisper; murmur and speak to us in a language all their own. Palillos! Like nothing else!

Inesita in Martinete por Seguiriya March 18, 2017 Flamenco Alhambra

Performance!

Inesita in Alegrias March 19, 2017

Flamenco Alhambra March 18, 2017

All is in readiness.

Practice and planning, rehearsals, lists, the moment is drawing near. Anxiety, anticipation, exhilaration.

Bill Yee is finishing his introductory remarks. He commands the audience to shout Ole three times. They obey. The mind focused. The curtain opens.

I sit straight in the chair, Stamen at my right. I begin the castanet’s dry commentary and the guitars follow. I rise slowly from the chair which has been draped in a black mantilla from some long forgotten past and move into the dance. The music is over-amplified and there is distortion. As the initial falseta resolves into the ending remate, Clarita bursts into the first verse of the song and we dance, the three of us La nubia, Jani, and I. We move together into the heart of the Fandango. It finishes as the curtain slowly closes while the dance goes on.

Back to the dressing room to change quickly as if in a dream and the program goes inexorably on. I wait in the wings and we are thrust into Alegrias as if into another realm. One variation into another interspersed with song piercing the music and finally into the naked pulse of the rhythm. The momentum continues until the wild tempo of Bulerias hits the climax and I exit into the wings. I change and I am another character in the parade of dances.

Interrmission, and a breath of rest.

Half done. I sit at the piano. Calmer now as I play to accompany the guitars. Sevillana, Solea. Clarita joins us and she plays her castanets as the vivid Panaderos de la Flamenca enlivens the music and the percussive chords and arpeggios of this most Spanish of dances.

Time moves and we dwell in the last of this journey. The sober Farruca I dance is a foreshadowing of what is to come. At last, I don the black falda with the cola, the accessories  and the manton, the red corals for my ears, the russet high “peineta” a long ago gift from my friend Margarita Silva, opera star of the 1920’s. I am ready.

The curtain parts again and I begin marking of the Seguiriya compas. Guitars join in and I turn my body to beat an obligato on arms and hips to send the rhythm forward. I signal for the Martinete and the anvil responds to the hypnotic insistent sound of time. Clarita sings Martinete from the depths of her being of endless sorrow. From that comes an answer. The compas is transferred to the feet as they make a dance that repeats the feeling in the song. We are locked into the rhythm and cannot escape. The dance moves into the second verse of the Seguiriya and reaches the heart. I lean back as if in a vise of tension. At last the ending approaches. I beat out with my feet an answer. The rhythm adventures into a labyrinth of conflicting emphasis and finally works through to the steady, ruthless stamps to climax and stops abruptly in stillness. The castanets begin the compas and the anvil strikes. Clarita begins the wail and howl of the “tona”. I rotate in place winding in the dress as it wraps my legs in a tight embrace. The song and  anvil continues in an endless chain. The curtain slowly closes. Done!

All that remains now is to dance and frolic at last to chase the melancholy and tragic mood with the Dionysian wildness of Bulerias!

The Curtain is closed. Over.

Dromena;  the thing done. The ancient Greek word for drama. The action in the dance is drama. Now the world is reborn in the Spring!

The curtain will open again.  I promise.

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