Certamen Consorcio Artist Q&A
Anna Librada Georges
Q: Has Covid-19 affected the Flamenco community, dance/arts scene, industry, programming etc? And how might this influence the future of Flamenco?
A: Dance as a live performance art has been greatly affected by Covid-19. Flamenco has felt an even greater impact as most regular work for flamenco artists is performing tablao style in restaurants and bars. I think the future of flamenco is going to change, irrevocably. Hopefully, the dining industry will be able to recover enough to continue to support live performances. The decline in the economy is expected to last for years to come and historically, the arts is the first place funding is cut. I am sure that the most robust arts organizations and established artists will be able to weather the slump, but I imagine that many artists and smaller festivals, and organizations might not be able to recover. Artists who were once able to sustain a living performing and teaching might have to find different means of employment to support themselves and might not be able to return to their art.
At this time I am taking advantage of being able to stream live classes with my favorite artists in Spain and hope they continue to offer them.
There has been a shift to virtual performances and classes, but any performing artist will contest that there is no way to replicate the energy of a live performance–of dance, of theatre, of song or spoken word. As Lorca tells us in his, Play and Theory of Duende, duende can only be summoned during live performance art.
In my idealistic heart, I see that the arts will be taken outside; into wide open spaces where people can see them with the sky as our backdrop. Onto the street where artists go to perform art for art’s sake, but how can you monetize that as an artist? Maybe the government will acknowledge that the arts are necessary to our survival and will pay all artists a stipend to take to the streets and create until theatres can open again.
Q: On the topic of social justice, particularly, relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation, how may or may not Flamenco support inclusivity and social change?
A: In my experience flamenco is a very receptive art form. I like to think that as long as one is honoring the form, the compas, the arte and the search for duende and connection- there is room in flamenco for an individual’s interpretation and in turn growth. The nature of flamenco’s constant search for duende–for connection through the universal expression of the human experience allows room for inclusivity and social change.
Flamenco has changed and grown over the past twenty years that I have been immersed in the form. I think that people are free to explore where the boundaries are and the magic of flamenco is that when it works, it works. I think of Andres Martin dancing with a chicken on his head at the Bienal, to the year Rocio Molina stripped naked and was rolling around the stage. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, but the permission for exploration is there.
Remember when Rafaela Carrasco (was it her?) put her male dancers in batas, now Manuel Linan has an entire show in drag… that has to speak to pushing boundaries in a positive direction.
Flamenco has survived through so many cultural and social upheavals in Spain’s history. I think that its focus on connection, listening and being part of a group and supporting the performer as they express the universal human experience is how it has survived. Flamenco isn’t just an art form. It is a cultural art, a cultural expression. I could go on and on about the benefits flamenco has on a community from a social and psychological standpoint and why I think it has survived and has benefited the flamenco community and greater community as a cultural art form supporting mental health, social justice and community inclusivity. That is the topic for the dissertation I want to write one day :). In short, I think flamenco is group therapy and it has an important part of pushing the boundaries of the Andalucian and gitano cultures.
When La Nina de los Peines sang the letra, “cuando pone en el puente, la bandera Republicana” it was a good example of how art can affect social reform, just look at Woody Gutherie and Pete Seeger.
Q: Beyond understanding history, how does one learn and become a part of flamenco culture? Is Flamenco accessible to everyone? Is appropriation an issue to the flamenco industry?
A: The argument over who owns flamenco must be as old as time. I think a lot about Meira’s work discussing how flamenco has been a livelihood for gitantos since recorded history. The power differential between the artist and the patron, the haves and havenots still infiltrates the conversation today.
My experience learning flamenco in Granada was rife with people telling me I was only allowed to advance to a certain level and after that I was not entitled to it. I had to fight to get into Carmen de las Cuevas’ advanced ongoing classes even though the teacher personally invited me. I still carry around the complex that I formed during my three years living and studying there. My most recent teacher in Cadiz yelled at me one day, “Anna, you and I have the same feet, the same elbows, the same hands…the idea that you aren’t able to dance as well as me because I was born here and you weren’t is crap.”
One thing that I have to say about the amount of “foreigners” dancing flamenco is that in the last ten- twenty years since I was studying in Spain, the level of skill in what used to be an intermediate/advanced class has skyrocketed. I think the globalization of flamenco is responsible for that.
On how to become part of the flamenco culture:
Every flamenco dancer at some point dreams of falling in love with the puro flamenco artist and being invited into the fold, of being part of the circle at the juergas, of belonging and being gifted with the coveted secrets of compas and understanding how to bailar perfectly al cante. I think that it speaks to the desire of our souls to be fully immersed into this artform that is more powerful than we are. The sacrifices that foreign flamencos have made to fulfill that yearning I believe should be enough to allow them feel ownership of the form. Everyone yearns to belong. Unfortunately, human nature and the scarcity mindset often dictates that if there is a group it will identify the “other.”
There are so many different ‘flamenco cultures’ these days thanks to the interwebs.
On cultural appropriation:
I have a hard time with cultural appropriation when it comes to art. Maybe I just don’t understand what it is, but isn’t most art an extension of some other kind of art? If I heard a rhythm I like from you, or a verse that you sang and I take that verse and play with it and shift it and make it my own… is that an expression of my creativity or cultural appropriation? Do you get to determine what it is?
Google defines cultural appropriation as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Power differential is the determining factor.
Is flamenco cultural appropriation of black art? Of Jewish Liturgical music? Is fusion bad? Where in history does the question of cultural appropriation start? It is a 21st century idea that I believe is reactionary to globalization and the internet.
Am I not entitled to dance flamenco because my Spanish abuelos had enough money to leave Spain in 1936 and raise my dad in the States before they went back once the worst was over? Or am I more entitled to dance flamenco than a Japanese dancer.
My question is, in the not obvious cases, like blackface or dressing as a “sexy Indian” , who gets to decide who is being respectful or disrespectful. Like in Cancel Culture, who is the squeaky, clean, perfect human being who gets to point the finger and say, you are okay you are not? I think that this conversation is a result of our political climate and it is one that needs to be had with great empathy and respect. I am pretty sure that the answer lies in the grey area and most people these days seem too incensed with hurt and pain to even be able to hold a conversation that extends into the grey. The black and white of life are the crises that incite change, but the growth happens in the grey.
Q: How or does Flamenco continue to evolve? What are the arguments for traditional flamenco vs. contemporary flamenco?
A: I think there is room for all in flamenco so long as people are exploring ways to express their experience. I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to art. I believe that technique and a solid dedication to an art form is necessary before one can begin to challenge and push boundaries. Just because you are wearing a long black skirt and a flower in your hair and can stomp your feet and swish your skirt doesn’t mean that you are dancing flamenco…but…once again, who gets to determine what is valid and what isn’t. I think there is a magic in flamenco, that when it is there, it makes itself evident.
I love watching how flamencos have been pushing the boundaries to big theatrical productions that tell a sweeping story, to the traditional tablao, pena style shows. It is all important art and I believe everyone is entitled to search for duende. I am dedicated to honoring the arte behind each palo, and communicating to my students the aire and arte behind what I am teaching them. If we lose touch with the roots, we won’t be able to sustain ourselves. I, personally, believe that traditional flamenco is a practice unto itself and holds a lifetime of mysteries to unravel. Theatrical flamenco can be a personal extension of that journey.
Q: Is flamenco valued everywhere? Are their particular locations or places where flamenco is supported more than others and vice versa? Do Flamenco artists feel limited in where and how they can succeed?
A: I think that there are communities in the States that have well-established flamenco communities such as California, New Mexico, NY, Seattle and Portland. I think a lot of this depends on the musicians.
Most other places, people don’t even know what flamenco is.
I definitely feel limited as a flamenco artist based on my location. Here in DC, I am anxious to make a good impression on the guitarists in the area hoping that one might invite me to work with them, because the other option is producing myself and figuring out how to pay all of us which I can do…but which is easier?
I know that as a dancer the best thing for me to improve would be to work in a tablao. I know many professional dancers look down on dancing in tablaos after they have done it for years. I have never had that opportunity and I think my art suffers as a result-but location, location, location. Dancers who live where there aren’t artists often sacrifice their income to bring in musicians. I have done the same.
Maybe we just need more musicians.
Q: What is it like to be a part of the flamenco community? Who does it, why and what are the intentions for being part of it?
A: I have yet to become part of a professional flamenco community. I know what it is like to be part of the expat community studying in Spain. I dream of becoming part of a supportive and positive group of flamenco artists where we can all grow creatively and build a robust community.
In areas where there aren’t many flamencos I think that the scarcity mindset makes artists become competitive and threatened by the prospect of such a community. Unfortunately, the entire community suffers because our market isn’t limited. I think that more flamenco can generate a larger market for flamenco. Flamenco artists can support and learn from each other and that can interest and engage students and patrons.