Seville’s flamenco Renaissance

By | Category: Travel destinations

Spain’s most powerful art form originated here in Andalucia’s capital, and it’s still the best place in the country to feel the emotive force and intangible spirit of live performance

Coloured by Roma legends, Spanish folklore, word-of-mouth stories and an intriguing air of mystery, flamenco is a culture unto itself; a complicated melange of music, song, dance, art and lifestyle with antecedents going back to the 15th century. Without a doubt, the best place to see it is in Andalucia, the region of its genesis, where three cities — Seville, Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera — all profess to be the cradle of the art.

If you only have time to visit one of them, proceed directly to Seville, the jovial, passionate, grandiose capital of Andalucia, where not only can you see topdrawer flamenco any night of the week, you can also visit a flamenco museum, attend a festival and partake in an intensive course studying any of the three main disciplines: song, dance and guitar. Seville is a fascinating place to hang out whatever your excuse. Little sullied by modern interferences, here lies the world’s finest Gothic cathedral, the best spring festival in Spain, and an encyclopedic collection of baroque art.

Flamenco in Seville has deep historical roots. Mixing Jewish, Moorish, Nomadic and folkloric elements, the music originated in the former Roma neighbourhood of Triana before slowly evolving and branching out. In the mid-19th century, the city played a key role in introducing flamenco to the general populace through its cafe cantantes — stylised music halls that sold drinks and organised regular flamenco shows.

Despite the march towards modernity, flamenco remains a largely live phenomenon. Relying heavily on spontaneity and improvisation, the music doesn’t transpose well in recordings. Its power lies in the moment, and the unexpected spark of a live recital. The goal for all performers is to inspire duende — an intangible spirit felt at the emotional climax of a near-perfect performance. It’s a precious and elusive force, but Seville is full of it.

Flamenco in Seville, ©dlj668/Budget Travel

Need to know
Set aside three days — more if you sign up to a flamenco course. Seville is mostly walkable, with the occasional taxi.

1. Casa de la Guitarra
There has been a flamenco renaissance taking place in Seville over the past five years, spearheaded by small, clamorous clubs such as this one where seating room is limited to 60 and the music is close-up and explosive.
Owned by ex-flamenco guitarist Jose Luis Postigo, who has hung most of his impressive guitar collection on the walls, the club comes with few other embellishments (no food or drink is served), preferring instead to direct the audience’s attention 100% towards the stage.
Like a Roma juerga (party) of old, the Casa de la Guitarra packs them in so tight that spectators in the front row are likely to feel the swish of the dancer’s dress on their faces and the gravel in the singer’s voice in their ears. Enjoy the proximity while it lasts. This is what flamenco is all about: a full-on sensory experience where you are gradually sucked in and — if you’re lucky — visited by that strange, elusive flamenco spirit known as duende.
www.flamencoensevilla.com; tel +34 954 22 40 93; Calle Meson del Morro 12; 11am-10pm

2. Museo del Baile Flamenco
Spread over three floors of a reconfigured 18th-century palace a five-minute stroll from the Casa de la Guitarra, this important archive of flamenco memorabilia is more than just a museum. It’s a de facto cultural centre that also runs flamenco courses and hosts highly lauded evening performances in a specially designed patio.
The project is the brainchild of local flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos and was set up in 2008. Making full use of modern technology, the museum takes visitors on an interactive journey through flamenco’s history using film projections, original sketches and paintings, photos of erstwhile (and contemporary) flamenco greats, and an extensive collection of dresses and shawls.
For an all-encompassing flamenco evening, arrive around 6pm, give yourself an hour to look around the museum, and then stay for the electrifying 7pm concert.
www.museoflamenco.com; tel +34 954 34 03 11; Calle de Manuel Rojas Marcos 3; 10am-7pm

3. Casa de la Memoria
Neither a manufactured dinner show, nor an intimate peña (private club), this attractive cultural institution accommodated in the old stables of the Palacio de la Lebrija is a kind of halfway house between full-on flamenco theatre and the hell-bent Roma get-togethers of yore.
Stylistically, it strikes a good balance between professionalism and passion offering what are, without doubt, some of the most authentic nightly shows in Seville. The centre, a 10-minute walk through central Seville from the Museo del Baile Flamenco, is perennially popular and space is limited to 100. Reserve tickets at least a day in advance.
www.casadelamemoria.es; tel +34 954 56 06 70; Calle Cuna 6; concerts 7.30pm & 9pm

4. Casa Anselma
The Anselma is an old-school watering hole in Triana decked out like a Roma dive bar, where hordes of locals come to witness (and sometimes partake in) mad jamming sessions enlivened with outbreak of spontaneous dancing. To call the music here ‘pure’ flamenco would be stretching it. Suffice to say, there are guitars, yodeling voices and plenty of pounding on tables.
As far as tourists are concerned, the Anselma is off the radar probably because finding it isn’t easy – it’s a 20-minute walk from the Casa de la Memoria across the Isabel II Bridge. Make a note: there’s no sign outside, it’s elbow-in the-face busy, and the place never opens until after midnight. While fluent Spanish is not a prerequisite, a few key phrases such as ‘dos cervezas, por favor’ (‘two beers, please’) will smooth the landing.
Shows, once they start, are overseen by a formidable ex-flamenco dancer named Anselma and are loud and boisterous. Unless you’re extremely pushy, or a local flamenco celebrity, it’s unlikely you’ll get a seat, although you will be expected to buy a drink at the bar (entry is free).
Performances go on for as long as the musicians keep playing. Most of it is pretty improvised, and don’t expect choreographed dancing — just members of the audience having a go, drunk or otherwise. The biggest lure: there’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else in Seville… nay Spain… nay the world.
Should you wish to explore the neighbourhood further, you’ll find Triana awash with old-school tapas bars, musty churches and a museum that investigates the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
Tel +34 606 16 25 02; Calle Pages del Corro 49; midnight-late Mon-Sat

5. Palacio Andaluz
Flamenco purists like to quietly dismiss the Palacio Andaluz as a place for tourists. But while the bulk of the audience might be flamenco outsiders keen to log everything on their camera-phones, the criticisms aren’t strictly fair. The Palacio’s popularity doesn’t cheapen the talent of its performers, most of whom are absolute masters of their art.
Occupying the space of an old warehouse on the cusp of the Macarena district, a short taxi ride northeast of Triana, the Palacio is one of Seville’s largest flamenco venues — a 500-seat theatre that hosts highly choreographed nightly shows starring up to 20 singers and dancers.
Intimacy isn’t the deal here. Think of these skilled if slightly contrived performances as more of a spectacle than an interactive experience; a ‘greatest hits’ of flamenco. You’ll hear sad soleares, manic bulerias and jaunty alegrias. What you probably won’t hear is seasoned aficionados yelling ‘óle!’ from the sidelines.
After the show, head west to the Alameda de Hercules, the hub of Seville’s youthful nightlife and gay scene.
www.elflamencoensevilla.com; tel +34 954 53 47 20; Calle de Maria Auxiliadora 18A; 7-11pm

6. Fundación Cristina Heeren de Arte
Flamenco is a complex art. Mastering it is not something that can be ticked off in a weekend — it takes a bit of time and commitment. Aspiring flamencologists in search of some cultural immersion need look no further than the highly respected Cristina Heeren school in the Heliopolis neighbourhood of southern Seville.
Set up by an expat American in 1996, the Heeren has more than 20 years of experience instructing students in all three of the flamenco arts — dance, song and guitar. Its intensive four-week-long summer courses in July are particularly popular.
www.flamencoheeren.com; tel +34 954 21 70 58; Av de Jerez 2

By Brendan Sainsbury

Triana is
where flamenco
first originated, ©heybear00/Budget Travel

Where to stay

HOTEL ADRIANO
This friendly little nook in the riverside Arenal quarter couldn’t be anywhere else but Seville. Economical and understated, none of its rooms are the same; there’s an arty cafe out front.
www.adrianohotel.com; tel +34 954 29 38 00; Calle Adriano 12

HOTEL AMADEUS
Striking a musical note in the higgledy-piggledy, historic Santa Cruz quarter, this hotel is run by an engaging local family. Harps, violins and pianos furnish the common areas (you can play some of them) plus there’s a Jacuzzi on a relaxing rooftop sundeck.
www.hotelamadeussevilla.com; +34 954 50 14 43; Calle Farnesio 6

Where to Eat & Drink

LA BRUNILDA
A new-school fusion tapas bar in an inconspicuous backstreet in the Arenal quarter where everything — including the food, decor, staff and clientele — is pretty. The menu is full of intriguing experimentation.
Tel +34 954 22 04 81; Calle Galera 5

CASA CUESTA
Get into Triana’s true flamenco spirit in this old-school bar, where ornate mirrors reflect framed bull-fighting posters, gleaming gold beer pumps and wine bottles that look older than most of the clientele. The fish tapas are as good as the atmosphere.
www.casacuesta.net; tel +34 954 33 33 35; Calle de Castilla 1

Celebrations

BIENAL DE FLAMENCO SEVILLA
Seville’s biannual flamenco festival celebrated in September of even-number years is, not surprisingly, one of the world’s most prestigious, attracting the cream of international performers.
(www.labienal.com)

FERIA DE ABRIL
Seville’s spring festival is legendary; a perfect manifestation of what the city is all about, with music and dance playing a big role. Drink tents and a fairground are set up in a special area in the district of Los Remedios where people dance a traditional folkloric form of flamenco called sevillanas.

Reproduced with permission from Culture Trails, © 2017 Lonely Planet

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