As Malta heads into winter, a troupe of professional flamenco dancers and musicians is bringing Malta some Andalusian fire. The Seville-based Compañia Maria ‘la Serrana’ dances out the themes of struggle, perseverance and attaining excellence through the flamenco performance Los Hombros de Hércules (The Shoulders of Hercules). As part of their international tour to the US, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, Los Hombros de Hércules comes to Malta this month.
With a number of flamenco schools and performances on the island, it is clear that many Maltese are aflame with flamenco. Flamenco is indeed addictive, warns Maria ‘La Serrana’. “It starts out as something you do, and converts itself into something you are.”
The dance is also infectious; flamenco’s reputation of a passion that defies boundaries is not incidental, but traceable through its historical roots.
La Serrana understands flamenco to be deeply tied to southern Spain, saying: “Pure flamenco is and will always be Andalusian. So to study that, you have to live that, experience that. A year or so won’t do really. You can study the technique, the art and be a very decent flamenco performer, but it will only look truly natural if you live and breathe like the people from Spain.”
While geographically and atmospherically bound to Andalusia, flamenco also acknowledges the Roma spirit. La Serrana herself embodies this international peregrination that resulted in flamenco: she is an Arab, adopted and raised in Holland, and then moving to Spain in the mid-1990s, where she has been living ever since.
In flamenco circles, according to ‘la Serrana’, gypsy culture and mentality is revered. Thus among the qualities she praises in her teachers – Farruquito’s all-encompassing vision of flamenco, Manuela Carrasco’s regality, or Carmen Amaya’s vacillating between “being utterly elegant and savage at the same time” – the final laudation is that they are “all gypsies, really”.
La Compañía Maria ‘La Serrana’ is an ensemble of some of Seville’s leading flamenco artists. La Serrana herself will be accompanied by dancer Antonio Moreno ‘Politio’; singers Juan José Amador and Pepe de Pura; and by guitarist Luis Amador.
Maltese flamenco dancer Caroline Caruana will also be joining the company for this performance. Caruana first met La Serrana while she was teaching workshops in Malta, and she was impressed with the dancer’s fidelity to the raw spirit of flamenco, rather than being seduced by speed and flourish.
Like La Serrana, Caruana perceives this spirit of flamenco as permeating all aspects of life in Seville. She recounts a story of seeing women in the market talking and buying fruit and then: “you realise that their gestures are what is used in flamenco dance”. She has also noted the audible similarities between flamenco’s guitar-driven music and sometimes improvised vocalisation with għana spirtu pront.
And, while many dance forms have a quick shelf life and can be unaccommodating to different body types, flamenco is effectively danced from tender childhood, through the passion of adolescence, to the composure of adulthood and well into the reflective wisdom of old age.
According to La Serrana, the inclusivity of flamenco reflects Spanish values. “The whole family goes to everything. Both sleeping babies and sleeping grandmothers are at restaurants, theatres, fairs.... we adapt to their needs. And so it is with flamenco: if you are at the level to perform, it adapts to you.”
The endless points for improvement and the seemingly unattainable greatness of your teachers can be discouraging, leading many dancers to a kind of dark night of the body. However, the thought of giving up flamenco for a more lucrative career never tempted the dancer after she was ignited by flamenco. She muses: “I have had times I made my money with other activities, but quitting flamenco? Not even in a wheelchair! I can’t quit since it doesn’t quit on me.”
The performance takes place today at St Dominic’s Hall, 152, Merchants’ Street, Valletta. Tickets are available online.
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