The Power of Flamenco
Report from Spain, Part III
If you want to see flamenco in Spain, we are told, you have two choices. You can go to a tablao--a flamenco spectacle organized for tourists--and be guaranteed a polished, professional experience that is likely to be somewhat soulless. Or you can go to a more authentic flamenco bar, and take your chances; you might be there for an off night, or you might see something spectacular. Lauren and I have decided to take our chances with authenticity.
And thus it is that we end up at Casa Patas at midnight. We're lucky that there's such an early show that evening; in many flamenco bars, things apparently don't get started until about 2AM. (Tablaos tend to start earlier, since foreigners have an odd tendency to go to bed before sunrise.) We pass through a crowded, smokey cafe to a long and narrow back room, where tables and chairs have been set up facing a small stage. We're seated towards the back; it seems that most of the locals knew to make reservations.
While we wait for the show to start, we scope out the crowd. Seated next to us are two women--one in her late 20's or early 30's, and the other perhaps in her 40's. They're dressed up for a night on the town, and they've managed to attract the attentions of a young Spanish man in a getup that is, shall we say, striking. The unbuttoning of his black shirt has not quite reached his navel, but it's not for lack of trying. Gold medallions nestle in his chest hair. And to top it all off, he's wearing a long white doctor's coat. He's paying just enough attention to the 40-year-old woman to make it clear that he's really interested in her younger friend, but the two women are responding with polite indifference.
We don't have too much time to watch that show, though, because the official one is about to begin. The singer is fantastic. At first, we think he's blind, because of the ferocity with which he squeezes his eyes shut while we sings, and the wild way his hands wander. But, no; he's merely listening inside, where the song is coming from. Then there's a second singer, the utter stillness of whose body while he sings contrasts so eerily with the intensity of his eyes that it is nearly disturbing. And then a female dancer. She is in her forties, and not at all the stereotypically lithe image of a flamenco dancer--but when she starts to dance, it is with such an angry passion that, for the first time, I understand that younger flamenco dancers don't have anything to dance about yet.
It is difficult to take my eyes off her, and as a result, it takes me a few moments to recognize one of the men standing on stage behind her, clapping out the rhythm: it's the same guy who I saw chatting up the two women next to me before the show. The women seem to reach the same realization at the same time; I hear the younger one gasp, and ask her friend, Eso es? -- "Is that him?" He's not wearing his white doctor's coat, and he's buttoned up his black shirt, but yes, it's him.
The dancer takes her bows, the lights come up, and it's time for an intermission. Mr. Onstage Clapper makes another appearance, and this time, there's a marked difference in how the women react to him. The younger one is by no means ready to go home with him, but she's much more friendly. At the end of the interval, he does her the honor of leaving his white coat with her, and heads back towards the stage.
Now there's a flamenco flautist. I don't find him as impressive as the singers or the dancer, but he's pretty good, and at the end of his set, a friend of his jumps up from the front row and gives him a huge hug. The flautist hugs him back, warmly, and the friend keeps hugging. Then I notice a slightly worried look on the flautist's face, and I realize, This guy has never met this man in his life. One of the ushers reaches the same conclusion at the same time. He hurries to the hugger's chair, picks it up, and carries it off. As the hugger finally leaves the stage, he sees his chair floating over the heads of the crowd, towards the exit. He bows his head and follows it out the door. As far as I can tell, he's not particularly drunk; he just got carried away by the music.
There's one more act before the evening ends: a male flamenco dancer, dressed in tight flamenco pants and a tight flamenco vest. He is proud, and passionate, and a fantastic dancer, and--holy crap. It's the guy who just gave his white doctor's coat to the women sitting next to me.
For the rest of the set, I divide my attention between his performance and the equally entertaining reactions of the young woman next to me. By the time he finishes stomping and clapping, there is only one way to describe the expression on her face: it is pure love.
When the performance ends, and the lights go up, we don't need to stick around to see if the two of them leave together. Having seen the look on her face, I'm pretty sure I know how tonight's story ends.