Mi Flamenco and the Peña Flamenca de Londres

I have missed my flamenco here in the UK until last night. I have been madly dashing round the country – first to a 60th birthday party in West Wales – St David’s. Then to stay with a friend in Bristol and then back to London to do lots of admin type things not to mention celebrate family birthdays. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about flamenco – except to confirm the courses that I am doing back in Jerez during the next few weeks.

So last night I went to see Mi Flamenco perform at the Peña Flamenca de Londres. Mi Flamenco consist of flamenco dancer, Ester Tal and her guitarist husband, Uri Tal, together with visiting professionals – singer, Luis Vargas Monje and dancer Kelián Jímenez who is from Madrid and I saw performing in February at the Tablao Cardamomo there. I am closely connected to all of them. I have known Ester and Uri for about 15 years I suppose when I started to do flamenco regularly. I was working in Bournemouth and met with a couple who found out I was keen on flamenco and recommended me to learn with Ester. Since I lived in Bournemouth during the week and my residence was in Bristol I used to call by the dance studio they were looking after on the edge of Southampton. It broke up my journey and I could catch up with a private lesson. I attended general classes during the week. Ester was in the process of moving back to the UK from Jerez where she had been living for about 7 years. During the next years I have first attended regular classes with Ester until I found that after moving back to Bristol I just could not continue travelling the 2 1/2 hours each way and I had to suffice with the workshops she ran from time to time in Bristol. Luis Vargas would also come across and perform with the group and occasionally give singing lessons. Kelián as well came over to the UK and gave the occasional weekend workshop. So over 10 years or so I have got to know the members of the group well.

It was through Ester that I came to live in Jerez. She was giving a workshop for the Peña Flamenca de Bristol members near Bristol and I was saying, ‘I really think it’s time I put my money where my mouth is and go and live and dance in Jerez’. Ester looked at me and said ‘why don’t you rent our flat then?’ I knew their flat well, and had stayed there a number of summers to do the Curso de Verano with VIcki Ramos at her Centro de Baile in Jerez. So I investigated renting out my relatively new house in Bristol and discovered that it was a ‘no brainer’. That with the money from my house rental and the difference with the Spanish flat I could live comfortably and pay for classes. So I made it happen and here I am (well not right now since I am in London as I write).

I only saw Ester and Uri a few weeks back in Jerez when they were running a 3 day intensive workshop. I see Luis twice a week though for singing lessons and through him have learned a massive amount about flamenco and the various palos’ since the time I have lived there since October.

It’s different seeing them perform though. However the difference this time is that I know the words and music to many of the songs and could sing them with Luis if invited. I recognised some of the choreographies that I have learned with both Ester and Kelián and have a confidence with Jaleo – the calls that the audience and musicians make to encourage each other on. I am an active participant in the show and much much more knowledgable. In my recent shows I have seen my weaknesses in my upper body and whilst not being quite right still – both Ester and Irène (my teacher at the Flamenco Puro school or Maria del Mar Moreno) – it has finally dawned on what I need to do now. I thought I was doing it, but after having seen photographs and a video I now see at last where I am going wrong. I think it’s a touch of arrogance and also a touch of perception blindness but I couldn’t ‘get’ what they were talking about when they criticised me for limp arms. In fact as a former dance teacher it’s more that my whole upper torso isn’t strong enough and the turn doesn’t come round enough from the centre back. I know what to do now to correct this rather horrible failing. It has been a frustration for years. Basically my ballet training has led me to a weak insipid set of movements. I think and trust that this realisation will enable me to make a dramatic change. I could also ‘see’ Ester’s movements in a different way.

So I felt that I had gone from outsider to inner circle in this country then now to outsider in Jerez and I suspect that when I go back insider in Jerez. I will I suspect look and feel very different. I knew the steps – I remember in Javier Latorre’s class this year in the flamenco festival noticing that although we were virtually at his professional level that the difference between me and the professional level assistant students was that they could see a series of steps and just be able to do them, whereas I have to have them broken down and if not for me by the teacher then I have to do it myself from the video.

So it was lovely to see my friends again and support their lovely performance. Uri played the guitar wonderfully and I love Luis’ rough powerful flamenco voice. Kelían and Ester dance together with a palpable sexual tension. All are consummate performers – I know their choreographies and styles well and am trying to emulate them.

Tomorrow night I go to see Paco Peña here at Sadlers Wells and on Thursday I see the theatrical show given by Mi Flamenco in a theatre in Trowbridge. I am gearing to go back to Jerez on Sunday and start my summer workshops and back to class again in September. This time with new awareness and hopefully a stronger style and technique.

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