I have been coming to the Flamenco Festival each year in February/March in Jerez since about 2009. The first year I decided to drive up from Marbella where I was staying and just happened to get a ticket for the very last seat in the Teatro Villamarta for the big star, Farruquito. This year the Farruquito show was sold out months in advance. The other strange thing that happened then was that I parked the car, walked to Plaza Plateros – what I thought was the centre of Jerez – well it is and who should I bump into, but my really good friend from the Bristol and South West flamenco scene, Philip Kinsman. Very strange. That year they were renting an apartment in one of the old buildings in the square.
Last year was the first year that I attended the whole two weeks and hadn’t long been here. This year again I did the two weeks and had a different experience yet again. We have to sign up for the workshops that we want to do through the official festival organisation, on the 1st September, It is a bit of a guessing game as to how you will feel and what you want to do. Last year I did classes in the second week with Javier Latorre and decided that I loved his choreography so much that I wanted to do classes with him again. I am not up to his professional class in the first week, at the moment. I would love to be and could probably manage it, but might not enjoy the experience. I notice that the professionals can see the steps demonstrated and immediately do them. Whilst I catch them, then lose them and so on. I have to work harder. So to do a professional class would mean I would probably get quite lost and frustrated. However I remember feeling like that in Medio classes in London at first and a medio level in London is lower than here and I was quite surprised at how I managed in my first medio class here in Jerez.
For the first week I chose primarily by palos – the type of song/dance. I have been researching about the tarantos and am considering doing a doctoral thesis on it based upon something I heard some gypsies tell me in a talk in Bath a long time ago and then discussed with some controversy with someone called Robin Totton who also used to live here. I have never learned a tarantos so decided to do that and with a teacher I love – Ángel Muñoz, who often comes to London and is one of the lead dancers with Paco Peña. The class was at básico level and so would be probably relatively easy for me – although you can never be sure. I remember doing my first medio class having bought the place from a friend who couldn’t come. It was with Andrés Peña who has his studio not far from where I live now in Barrio San Mateo, near to the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco which has a wonderful library and resource centre of flamenco materials. I was terrified but actually did OK in it.
If we do the classes with the festival then we get 5 days of festival shows at the Teatro Villamarta included in the price. This is a big attraction for me – we get to see the shows of the top dancers and singers of the moment. Generally the up and comings perform at the more intimate smaller stage of the Sala Compania and there are other venues which show more edgier shows – the Sala Paúl and then smaller concert spaces for the singers. This time Maria del Mar Moreno (and one of my regular teachers) who can easily fill a large theatre was performing in the more intimate Sala Compañia and Marco Flores – who comes from Arcos de la Frontera and whose brother Titi performs with my singing teacher there performed in the Sala Paúl this year with a dazzling show. So it depends what the artist wants.
I remember feeling the anticipation before the festival started – there was a buzz as the international participants started to arrive. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and former dance class mates from Bournemouth and London.
Last year I felt half in and half out of the festival. This year I felt different yet again. It was like walking to work to the studio in the gimnasio in Juana de Dios very near to where I live. I was part of a Whats App group chat of students from the Escuela de Baile in London where I have done classes regularly for the last 15 years on and off. However I don’t eat out so much and I can use my own washing machine which is a distinct advantage when you are doing 2 hours 20 minutes of class a day. I felt more like a resident going to work – a rather strange feeling.
There are also some really good off festival classes with various teachers and schools around Jerez. This year the Centro de Baile, where I do regular classes had arranged a really good two weeks of classes and at the weekend they had Ana Morales doing a Saturday and Sunday of 3 hour professional level technique classes. Now I wasn’t sure whether I could manage that but Vicki my teacher suggested it would be really good for me – and she was right. I loved it. We worked hard on our turns, food work, arms and line. I was really pleased with the result. I didn’t know who she was and then found out she was the lead dancer in the Villamarta the Monday afterwards. She’s a lead dancer with the Compania Andaluza de Baile in Seville and teaches there as well. Top top level and fabulous experience. I actually managed a professional level class along with teachers that I know. Scary!
Meanwhile the tarantos was lovely and Ángel as generous as ever and great fun and then Javier was wonderful. This time we had loads of space to do the Tientos/Tangos we learned since we were in the studio in the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe bodega. Javier choreographs dances with a lot of movement (as does Ángel actually). Javier also demonstrates what we have learned that day and we video it and then are expected to practise so that we can move on through the choreography quickly. That’s 7 days of 2 hours 20 minutes so that’s 15 hours in a very intense concentrated manner and we do 2 hours a week over about 20 weeks over a year in regular classes.
With Ángel Muñoz With Javier Latorre on the stage of Sala Companía
To put this into context we are learning a whole 6 or 7 minute dance which in my weekly classes take about a year to learn and work up to performance standard.
You have to have a fair amount of stamina for this. There are other performances as well – so sometimes I would be doing a class from 4pm to 6.20pm and then rushing to a performance at 7pm and then another at 9pm and another at midnight! I think I might select a morning class in the future it spreads the day a bit more!