My first exposure to the most famous dance form of Spain must have been through Carlos Saura’s film trilogy on Flamenco. Of the three, I may have seen Carmen first, because I spent a while immersed in Paco de Lucia’s music, and he acted in the movie. Soon after that I encountered the dance in a live street performance in Tokyo around the "Eiffel Tower". It took me a lifetime to get to the world’s capital of the dance and music known as Flamenco.
Before starting our trip I asked The Family about the three must-dos of Spain: Flamenco, bullfights and soccer. She agreed to Flamenco. Then there was the difficult choice of whether to watch a performance in Madrid or Andalucia. We decided that the birthplace of Flamenco should be good enough for us, so Seville was what we settled on. It is clear that Seville takes its Flamenco seriously. The city hall was plastered with posters of performances and competitions. We had come to the right place.
Flamenco developed as a popular entertainment about a century ago in music bars called cafes cantantes. It has become very professional now, and shows are held today in tablaos. The Spanish word means stage, but it seems to imply something like the gharana of Indian music, with each tablao playing a larger role as a training ground and keeper of a style. The Tablao Los Gallos was highly recommended, and we found tickets for a show which lasted a little longer than an hour. The music which accompanies the dance is clearly descended from the middle eastern tradition, with large borrowings from other sources. Apart from the dance, there were interludes of flamenco guitar. The guitar tradition is about sixty years old, and, taken out of the context of the dance, sounds quite different.
Later I encountered Flamenco again in Granada. In southern Spain, this music and dance is never too far away.