Spanish flamenco company Mercedes Ruiz will give a show in Bucharest this Friday. Titled ‘Baile de palabras’, the show won in 2013 the National Critics Award in Spain.

mercedes ruiz

The show takes place May 16, starting 20.00, at the Bucharest National Theater.

A landmark name of contemporary flamenco dance, Mercedes Ruiz made her debut at age 7. Throughout her career she worked with such artists as Miguel Morao, Antonio El Pipa, Eva Yerbabuena or Miguel Poveda. In 2003 she set up her own dance company, with which she won important awards at festival in Spain and worldwide.

What’s flamenco?

Flamenco means cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps).

Palos are flamenco styles, classified by criteria such as rhythmic pattern, mode, chord progression, stanza form and geographic origin. There are over 50 different palos although some are rarely performed; only about a dozen of these palos are commonly played. Some forms are danced while others are not. Some are reserved for men and others for women while some may be performed by either, though these traditional distinctions are breaking down: the Farruca, for example, once a male dance, is now commonly performed by women too.

Palos traditionally fall into three classes: the most serious is known as cante jondo (or cante grande), while lighter, frivolous forms are called cante chico. Forms that do not fit either category are classed as cante intermedio.

A typical flamenco recital with voice and guitar accompaniment, comprises a series of pieces (not exactly “songs”) in different palos. Each song of a set of verses (called copla, tercio, or letras), which are punctuated by guitar interludes called falsetas. The guitarist also provides a short introduction which sets the tonality, compás and tempo of the cante.

El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms and rhythmic stamping of the feet (cf. tap dance). As with any dance form, many different styles of flamenco have developed.

In the twentieth century, flamenco danced informally at gitano (Roma) weddings and celebrations in Spain was considered the most “authentic” form of flamenco.

“Flamenco puro” is considered the form of performance flamenco closest to its gitano influences. In this style, the dance is always performed solo, and is improvised rather than choreographed. Some purists frown on castanets (even though they can be seen in many early 20th century photos of flamenco dancers).

“Classical flamenco” is the style most frequently performed by Spanish flamenco dance companies, tending to exhibit more clearly the characteristics derived from the Seguidilla, a traditional Spanish dance. It is danced largely in a proud and upright way.

Modern flamenco is a highly technical dance style requiring years of study. The emphasis for both male and female performers is on lightning-fast footwork performed with absolute precision. In addition, the dancer may have to dance while using props such as castanets, shawls and fans.

“Flamenco nuevo” is a recent style in flamenco, characterized by pared-down costumes (the men often dance bare-chested, and the women in plain jersey dresses). Props such as castanets, fans and shawls are rarely used. Dances are choreographed and include influences from other dance styles.

The flamenco most foreigners are familiar with is a style that was developed as a spectacle for tourists. To add variety, group dances are included and even solos are more likely to be choreographed. The frilly, voluminous spotted dresses are derived from a style of dress worn for the Sevillanas at the annual Feria in Seville. In traditional flamenco, young people are not considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the duende (soul) of the genre. Therefore unlike other dance forms, where dancers turn professional early to take advantage of youth and strength, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond.

Photo courtesy of Cervantes Institute