A Flamenco of One's Own
by Rosanna Terracciano
But what I understand by purity is each person's authenticity. Let's just say that the audience doesn't need prior information about whether you're more avant-garde or more flamenco...Purity is what comes out from within...Each person, each artist creates his own flamenco.
(Israel Galván interview, 2005, www.flamenco-world.com)
I first had the chance to watch Israel Galván perform in 2005, when La Edad de Oro premiered at the Festival de Jerez in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. I suppose my experience was as clichéd as it could get for a Canadian travelling to Spain in pursuit of her flamenco dreams: a late-night show in the intimate setting of an old church-turned-theatre set against a backdrop of the narrow, windy streets of this magical Andalusian town. But, Israels performance was anything but clichéd that night. I remember being captivated by his attention to detail, commitment to movement and unexpected energy shifts and choreographic choices. He has since had a profound impact on me as an artist, triggering an ongoing interest in questioning the boundaries of flamenco dance.
I had several other chances to watch Israel perform and even study with him at the festival in subsequent years. I remember standing at a bar next to the theatre after seeing one of his shows, with a manchego cheese sandwich drenched in anchovies and olive oil in one hand and a glass of sherry in the other, overhearing an old mans conversation next to me. The old man - whom I had earlier watched angrily walk out of Israels show - voiced his disgust over the evenings performance, describing it as too intellectual and rigid and lacking in emotion. He was clearly offended. And thats not the last time I would experience someone take offense to Israels work.
For flamencos purists, Israels work can be a hot topic of discussion, raising questions about definitions of flamenco and creative freedom within a structured form so rooted in tradition. Based on what Ive learned about Israel, his intention is not to purposely be different or innovative, but instead to create sincerely based on his deep devotion to the flamenco tradition. The idea of authenticity is central to Israels work. As authenticity is critical to any art practice, his approach inadvertently opens the doors to the possibilities of flamenco dance as an art form, beyond just folklore or cultural representation. His work becomes a sort of necessary demonstration of how authenticity can find space within a traditional art form.
I was excited to learn that Israel was returning to Canada, this time adding stops in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa, in addition to a return to Montreal. I believe there is room for growth for flamenco dance in Canada, and I think audiences here have much to gain from exposure to approaches to flamenco dance like Israels. This type of work raises questions and challenges expectations, which eventually leads to an audience that begins to ask more questions and place less emphasis on expectations. These are the steps towards an improved critical dialogue regarding flamenco dance in Canada, which is absolutely necessary for the art form and the practicing artists here to have space to grow, and for flamenco to gain an increasingly informed recognition within the Canadian dance landscape.
La Edad de Oro is a seemingly simple show which honours the trinity of song, guitar and dance which is at the root of the flamenco tradition, while propelling the audience into the complexity of Israels approach to flamenco dance. Yes, as a performer, Israel deserves to be hailed for his technical mastery, musicality and precision in movement, and his work can justifiably be described as innovative, avant-garde and genius. Whether or not an audience likes Israels work I dont think matters. What do I think is most important to take away from Israels performances? His courage. His courage to work comfortably among risk and boldly carve his own unique artistic path. I wish more flamenco artists did the same.
I remember Israel as the seemingly quiet, unassuming man with a slight stutter and air of shyness and humility about him, who walked into class one day at the Festival de Jerez, appearing uneasy as his students applauded his performance from the previous night. I saw an artist then that showed traces of vulnerability matched with a strong artistic voice and necessity for personal expression. In that moment, I began to uncover my flamenco. And everything changed.