Written by

Andrew Millar


October 20, 2008

All Flamenco fiesta and concerts end the same way. It doesn’t matter if I have paid $100 a ticket to see Flamenco Royalty like Paco Peña or a group gathered to celebrate the end of a term’s study… they all end in enthusiastic celebration.

This is not an encore for the audience. It is done for themselves. Perhaps it is a reward for the control and concentration they have contributed for the last few hours… A release… Or perhaps it is the expression of realisation that remorse, sorrow and lament have their place. But one must move on and live…

And tonight’s performance was no different.

According to tradition, the whole company gathered on stage. Guitarists stand together with singers, dancers, Palmas (those who clap the intricate rhythms) and percussionists all stand in a wide half circle facing the audience.

A pounding, frantic beat come from the guitarists. Their sever strums punctuated by golpé; ring finger taps on the soundboards of the guitars. They spill a Bulerias across the stage.

The Flamenco form of Bulerias originated in Jerez during the 19th century. It was originally a fast, upbeat ending to slower soleares or alegrias which share the same rhythm and still often end this way. It is among the most popular and dramatic of the flamenco forms. Flamenco guitarists love it for the chance to show their skills. I suggested to someone that Bulerias was like riding on the roof of a train. And he said a Spanish friend who lives in Sydney described it as akin to surfing. Both analogies fit perfectly. Once you’re in the power of the compas or rhythm, you can just enjoy ride. You are drawn along by it. It is the style which permits the greatest freedom for improvisation. But great speed and agility are required.

But like all Flamenco, it is tight and the freedom comes through you personal energy and exuberance. It must be controlled and precise or it turns to hideous din… which is appropriate because the name Bulerías comes from the Spanish word burlar, meaning “to mock” or bullería, “a racket, shouting, din”.

Once the circle is formed, each participant takes a turn in the centre of the group. This is the dancers chance to show off their signature steps. But everyone has a turn. Even the guitarists are forced to participate, their instruments snatched from their hands by singers or dancers… they dance with a carefully practiced step designed to keep them from embarrassing trouble.

Olé… Olé.. everyone called. (With Flamenco the emphasis is on the ‘O’, as opposed to bull fighting crowds, where they emphasise the ‘lé’.

Usually the elder of the group is last, often feigning modesty to draw more attention. Tonight that honour was bestowed upon the singer. They cheered and called him to the centre while the music churned on like a wave that never broke.

Once in the centre he stood perfectly still, hands by his side. Relaxed but every muscle was tense. It was a powerful pose. He slowly drew himself up as though absorbing the energy of the beat. Shoulders rising as his arms swung slowly to the vertical position. His head tilted forward. And his hands; thumb and little finger outstretched like you would mine a telephone call, though to me they mimicked the horns of a bull.

He stood at full height and suddenly exploded in a torrent of intricate dance steps. A few seconds worth. No more. His body froze, while his hands settled on the edges of his unbuttoned waistcoat.

Then passion gave way to attitude. And he turned on a heel of one foot and the ball of the other, paused for great effect then strode off holding his waistcoat open to reveal a bright red lining. He tossed a look mock distain over his shoulder. His body language shouted, “I could give you more, but you are not worth it.” His tongue was firmly in his Spanish cheek.

His company and the audience laughed and shouted for more.

In one tiny performance he captured the Flamenco spirit of Bulerias.