Spain’s Jerez Festival is among the most influential flamenco events in the world. This year 1,010 dancers from 38 countries traveled to Jerez de la Frontera to study with renowned flamenco artists, including Antonio El Pipa, Alicia Márquez, Manolete and Manuel Betanzos.
The festival’s objective: to provide students with an atmosphere in which flamenco penetrates every aspect of their everyday life. By day, students work directly with professional dancers who have spent a lifetime onstage; by night, they attend performances at Jerez’s historic Villamarta Theatre.
Flamenco is a complex artform made up of over 40 different palos, music forms classified by rhythm, mode and origin (fandango, bulería, tango and seguiriya are examples of palo categories). There are specific stylistic and rhythmic markers that go along with each palo, and classes at the festival teach techniques specific to these, as well as use of accessories (castanets, fans, trained dresses) that go with each palo.
Some of the most sought-after classes are those led by the festival’s “godmother” Matilde Coral, who trained current flamenco stars María Pagés, Rafaela Carrasco and Isabel Bayón. Although immensely influential, Coral is less imposing than one would imagine. She is very calm and patient with her students, coaxing them gently through the manipulation of their dress trains and footwork in the Alegrías de Cádiz. At 75, her movement is limited, but when she does dance, it’s to highlight the movement’s elegance and style.
The young dancer and winner of the Jerez Festival’s 2009 Newcomer Award, Concha Jareño, returned to the festival this year to teach castanets set to the bulería. Like Coral, she is infinitely patient, but she relates to her students in a friendlier, more informal manner. Jareño admits that teaching at the festival is challenging because student levels are self-assessed, making uniformity in progression impossible. “First I teach them the steps, then we add the castanets on their own, and then we put it all together, which is not easy, and we repeat and repeat and repeat,” she says. “I don’t dedicate much time to the castanet exercises, but I explain them and we do them so that later they can work on them at home.”
Belén Maya, daughter of flamenco legend Mario Maya, has a similar take as Jareño. When teaching how to use the trained dress in a seguiriya choreography, Maya knows that some students will fall behind but says, “They still get a lot out of the class, because even if they can’t follow the choreography, they can continue to practice the technique on their own. That technique can be repeated and repeated like a warm-up or basic exercise.”
Founded by The Centro Andaluz de Flamenco and the Villamarta Theatre Foundation, the festival celebrated its 14th anniversary this year and always runs over 16 days from late February to mid-March. At press time, the 2011 dates have not yet been confirmed. For more, see www.festival
Justine Bayod Espoz is an arts and culture photojournalist based in Madrid, Spain. She regularly writes for dance publications in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Spain.