Carmen Romero dances with Flamenco Jaleo at Expo 2022, Calgary, Canada. © J. Ashley Nixon
You can tell when Flamenco dancers are about to come on stage. They bring their own; a stage, that is. Four feet-tapping plywood sheets snapped together. A base to receive and respond to percussive heels and toes as they step out a Spanish cultural icon, performed at Expo Latino 2022 by Flamenco Jaleo.
Baile, cante y toque
Dance, or baile, is one of the three elements that fuse in Flamenco: performance and culture that emanates from the cities and communities of Andalucia, Murcia and Extremadura in the hot south of Spain. Add singing (cante) and guitar playing (toque) to the mix, and the product reaches the soul with its emotionally charged, rhythmically exciting combination of movement and sound.
Flamenco Jaleo performed as a trio at Expo Latino: Gareth Owen playing fire-brand acoustic guitar to accompany the fervent singing of Silvia Temis and the fomenting dancing of Carmen Romero. They take their name from the jaleos, or shouts of encouragement that, together with hand-clapping (palmas), castanets and finger clicking (pitos), punctuate and boost the dancer’s performance.
Intrinsic cultural heritage
Flamenco was recognized by UNESCO for its intrinsic cultural heritage in 2010. Coincidentally, this happened at the same meeting that decided to include the Huaconada, a cultural dance from Peru that has featured in some of my previous writing and filmmaking about cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage is often thought of as tangible objects-ancient monuments and artifacts. But it is far more than that, including rituals, artistic performances, traditional knowledge, and crafts. These “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants” were recognized by the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2003.
UNESCO inscribed Flamenco into its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, saying “It is strongly rooted in its community, strengthening its cultural identity and continuing to be passed down from one generation to the next.”
All you will get is a goblin from Google if you try to translate “duende” from the Spanish language. Look further, in the Oxford dictionary, and you will find more pertaining to the spirit of a place, or the feeling, even magic, associated with performance.
Better still, to me, it’s about the soul of an artist and their ability to transfer their energy, and emotion to their audience. Flamenco Jaleo had that feeling at Expo Latino. Ellas tenían duende.
More photographs from Expo Latino
Here is a gallery of photos from Expo Latino 2022.