A Spanish-born contemporary dance pal once demonstrated how to execute some basic, and classic, flamenco dance steps. "First you pluck the fruit," she said, reaching up with an open palm before twisting the wrist and pulling down her arm. "Then you throw the fruit onto the ground," at which point she flung down the hand holding the imaginary fruit as dramatically as possible. Lastly, "stamp the fruit!" as she stepped down hard and dug in with her foot till that poor, pretend piece of fruit was pulp.
Like sun and Sangria on the country’s southern coast, this short series of actions is a tongue-in-cheek signpost to cultural cliché. Those who know and love flamenco, in whatever capacity and to whatever degree, are aware that the art form can transcend stereotypes and that each generation of artists makes creative advances.
Some of these artists are based in Scotland, where the flamenco scene is smallish but thriving – and incestuous. Among the gifted Edinburgh-based practitioners is guitarist Daniel Martinez. His self-named company returns to the Fringe with the music and dance show Art of Believing. There's also fellow musician Danielo Olivera, originally from Cadiz, and vocalist Inma Montero (who, like Martinez, hails from Cordoba). The latter pair call their young company (and its accompanying school) TuFlamenco, and have two shows on offer in August: Flamenco Tablao, an entertainment that conjures the atmosphere of a typical live flamenco show, and a late-night, music-based fusion of bossa nova, jazz and flamenco called FlamencoNova.
All three of these shows can be seen—and heard—at theSpaceTriplex. But that’s not all they have in common. There’s also a considerable amount of crossover in personnel. In a spirit of creative camaraderie Martinez, Olivera and Montero—plus the dancer Gabriela Pouso—will be performing in each other’s productions.
This closeness, and the trust it engenders, is what Pouso credits with making her a better artist. "I’m hard on myself. I’ll never turn around and say I’m an amazing dancer. It’s the people I perform with who are my inspiration – their musicality, their playing, clapping and singing, and their encouragement.
"It might sound cheesy, but to me they’re family." Born in Galicia, but raised in Edinburgh from age eight, Pouso has been dancing for ten years after friends introduced her to flamenco. Now, like her flamenco family, she’s dedicated to it both professionally and personally. Why? "We know what we’ve got, and we love what we do, so we put our minds, hearts and souls into it. And it takes a lifetime to master. It’s hard work to make everybody shine independently but also work together like an amazing machine."
Olivera, on a pre-Fringe tour in Spain, explains eloquently in an email what flamenco means to him: "It's a way to breathe and walk, and when you get into that there’s no way you can escape. Representing the oppression of the most disadvantaged people of deep Andalusia, it’s a way to express what sometimes can't be said in words. In terms of music it’s full of complex rhythmic patterns. The language between guitar, voice and dance creates a beautiful conversation where all moods can be found."
Pouso, in person, fans the same ardent flames. Flamenco, she enthuses, is about establishing strong, passionate and uplifting connections between performers and spectators. "It’s pure, raw emotion and a way of life. It’s a feeling! it’s spending tireless hours practising, and then having a jam session with your friends. That’s what’s so fun about it. It’s an art form rooted in the human being.
"Die-hard fans will go to anything, and their support is great. But there are newbies who come to one of our shows, and then contact us to tell us they've been blown away. A whole new world is opening up to them. Flamenco makes them feel something."
As a dancer Pouso enjoys inhabiting flamenco’s various palos, or styles. Whether a dance’s dominant tone is joyous or sorrowful, tragic or buoyantly happy, onstage she feels confident, powerful and in control.
But in an art form so conscious of proper physical form, yet so welcoming of improvisatory impulses, does she ever put a foot wrong? Laughing conspiratorially Pouso replies, "If you do make a mistake the art is having no one notice!"