I have just returned to a cold and sleety Clapham after the sunnier skies of southern Spain, where the scent of orange blossom was already in the air and the 27th edition of the Festival de Jerez filled the town with music.
My body still feels the compras, the rhythm, while my head is full of the sound of the guitar and, when I close my eyes, I see exquisite and dramatic stage pictures. Sara Calero dancing, joyously and spikily, to a jaunty Day of the Dead number, while Gema Caballero’s smoky voice sang words which prompted smiles in the audience. Flamenco with humour and wit. The intensity and athleticism of Eduardo Guerrero, in a pose beneath the spotlights with was both Christ-like and evocative of Japan. Maria Jose Franco amid a swirl of motion and fringed silk, a more traditional show, but marked out by the stunning skill of the dancer. Then, the final night, fabulous guitarist Manuel Valencia with long time collaborator, singer David Carpio, two of our favourites so obviously having as wonderful a time on stage as we were in the audience.
Sitting in Plateros we described what we had seen to friends who didn’t go to flamenco. It wasn’t ladies in polka dot dresses with castanets dancing to black clad male guitarists, although you could see that if that was what you wanted. No, something fascinating has been happening for a number of years at this festival and this edition was no exception. Younger practitioners are examining the boundaries of what flamenco means, exploring and expanding their art.
Some of our other favourites weren’t there this year, or our timing meant that we missed them. There was no Manuel Lignan, the man who often dances in a dress and explores gender roles, nor was there Santiago Lara, the Jerezano flamenco guitarist who plays jazz a la Pat Methany and is currently writing a concerto for guitar and orchestra. We missed Rafaella Carrasco and Antonio Rey because of dates, but would have loved to have seen them.
We did see an amazing reflection on life and death in Finitud, the aforementioned Calero Caballero collaboration. We saw the pair ten years ago when their skill and artistry was expressed beautifully through the traditional forms and we’ve looked out for them ever since. Boy, have they developed. The show included an electric base guitar as well as flamenco guitar and, astonishingly, Mozart’s Requiem. A singer, a dancer and two musicians conjured up the vibrancy of the south American Day of the Dead, the solitude of graveyard contemplation and a lot in between. We had a fun 1930s cartoon of skeletons dancing to make us laugh and ended with an auto de fe. Stunning! This show was hugely emotionally engaging and created some stupendous images which will fill my mind for quite some time. It encapsulates what a new generation of flamenco artists are doing, developing themselves and their art.
Valencia and Carpio were less unusual in their set, although I recall a tremendous concert some years ago in which Carpio and the dancer, Lignan, performed a duet, the one singing, a cappella, the other responding in dance and with rhythm (Valencia was the guitarist that day too). But their set lastr3orillas (The Three Shores) on Tuesday was wonderful and the thirteenth century church rang to the sound of shouts and applause. We’ll be back to listen to them again.
All this gave me lots of food for thought. How do artists use the creativity of other artists in developing their own work? In music, in art or, as a writer, on the page? What is creativity? I, for one, will be reflecting on this, with friend and fellow writer, Sunday Times best-selling novelist, Elizabeth Buchan in a talk for The Clapham Society at Omnibus Theatre on 20th March at 8 pm. Come and join us if you’re free.