Flamenco! in Sevilla

 

Andalusia is the birthplace of flamenco music and dance, and therefore going to see flamenco was a priority for our trip to Sevilla. In advance of our trip, we emailed Pepe to ask him about possible venues, and he suggested we see a show at La Carboniera, where he felt the dancing was excellent and, as he knows the owner, he could reserve us seats up front so that we didn't have to arrive so early. Early by Spanish standards, mind you, the show doesn't start until 10:30. At night. You remember that Gabe is newly 6, so I had some serious doubts about his (or frankly any of our) capacity to stay up quite so late, even if it was just to waltz (or clap, I suppose) into the venue right before it started, rather than sitting and waiting. Particularly on the evening of our first day in Sevilla, when there was significant walking. In fact, that day we accidentally made some giant loops instead of a direct line to our apartment from the Alcazar that we visited in the afternoon. This meant that we were footsore as we trooped into the apartment around 5:00, for a brief siesta before heading out for dinner and flamenco. We were also soaked, as the fifteen minute rainstorm that we experienced daily during our stay in Sevilla occurred as we were walking home (rather than occurring when we were safely indoors, munching on tapas, like it would on subsequent days). It was bad, my friends. Siena was in tears that she didn't think she could make it, and we were all fairly hobbling on those last few blocks.

But we did make it, and warm baths and resting and giggling together on the giant couch in the living room brightened us up more than we expected. Enough to head out for tapas and flamenco. Olé!

The door to La Carboniera opens into a small room with stone floors and a crackling fire in a humble corner fireplace. I was concerned when realizing that the room was empty—would we be the only audience? I needn't have worried, the room led to a larger room that was packed with people. We found our seats, marked with stickers that read, "Pepe" and sagged gratefully into place. In lieu of tickets, the entrance fee is €5,00, for which you get a ticket redeemable for a drink. It's by far the cheapest flamenco in town, for those people who are not lucky enough to experience spontaneous flamenco—which sometimes happens when devotees gather. We got substandard mojitos and waited for the show.

I had asked Pepe the night before why he liked Carboniera so much; he said it was much more authentic than the other venues, there was more atmosphere. It's a place where he still goes to spend time with his friends, and though it gets its share of tourists, it is not a place designed for tourists, and thus feels considerably more real. What he said clicked for me as I looked around the room. Long tables with benches filled the space and there were people talking and laughing and shouting across the room at each other. It felt lively, with a buzz of raucous energy. The room erupted into applause when a guitarist, a singer, and a dancer walked onto the small square stage at the front of the room. No introduction, no spiel, they just began. First the music, with the guitarist playing and the singer singing, and both he and the dancer clapping. Energetic, vibrant music. During the second song, the dancer slowly rose and began dancing. When she finished, we all looked at each other and said, "Wow…."

I asked Siena if it was what she had thought it would be, and she looked at me starry eyed and said, "How could I ever have imagined such a thing?" The show lasted a half-hour and then there was a break. Keith had read that the acts sometimes changed, and I hoped that if it did, it would change to having a male dancer, too, rather than the cast shrinking and just having music. Though when we were debating whether or not to stay, as the time inched past 11:15, the boys all said they really wanted to hear more guitar music. Siena and I wanted more dancing.

At 11:30, the same cast took the stage again. But the dancing was different. A little more upright, a little more intense, with arms moving slowly while the dancer's feet were a blur of motion. And we were so glad we stayed, even though both the boys were blinking slowly by the time the dancer finished. At which point we left. It was 11:45 and we still had a 20-minute walk back to the apartment, during which we tried to move any part of our body as fast as the guitar player played or the dancer stepped. No dice. We agreed, those performers were completely unbelievable.

It was so great, we decided to see another show before we left, and looked for one that started earlier to guarantee us more alertness. Only the tourist spots had earlier shows, but they were well reviewed, so we decided to see flamenco in a different venue. Unfortunately, there were no more seats available at the flamenco museum (which had universally positive reviews), so we raced to Casa de la Guitarra to see if we could make it to the 7:30 show and if they still had tickets. We were thrilled when we arrived under the wire to Casa de la Guitarra, and there were still seats available.

The show began. It was fine. The guitarist was excellent, though not as astounding as the one at La Carboniera (Keith and Nicolas tell me). The singer seemed like he was trying to be something, rather than just being something. And the dancer was plenty skilled, but I was sort of bored. I think Pepe is right. Atmosphere matters. Sitting in a small room on a folding chair surrounded by silent people makes for a different experience that feeling a buzz of energy and smelling woodsmoke. Plus the stage was elevated at Casa de la Guitarra, which made the dancing sound more "racket" and less "percussion."

But what I appreciated about it was it gave me more of a sense of flamenco. Seeing the two shows helped clarify the patterns and nuances of flamenco. And seeing one performance that fell a bit flat helped us realize just how special the show at La Carboniera was. How evocative, intense, and moving. At La Carboniera, the time flew by, even at that late hour. At Casa de la Guitarra, I appreciated the flamenco dancer's costume change because it livened up the performance.

Gabe enjoyed both shows, and has been clapping ever since. Pepe taught him a few flamenco claps, and now he wants me to play music on my computer so he can clap along. And he is only sorry he didn't bring his guitar, because he wanted to join in.