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Flamenco History, Part IV

The decline of the art of flamenco and the theatrical epoch (the end of XIX - beginning of XX century)

author: © Flamenco.ru
translation: M. Kobiakov
updated: 12.06.2010
Pepe Marchena

The transformation of flamenco into a spectator show did not leave its artistic quality and the purity of style unaffected. Every performer’s repertoir was getting contaminated with alien forms and, during the first years of the XX century, café cantante began to decline. Flamenco was looking for new forms of expression and found them on the stages of theaters and improvised stages of bullfight arenas. A new epoch began in the history of flamenco – an epoch, which was most criticized in all the years of its existence.

Regardless of the hights that flamenco has reached at café cantante and the attention bestowed upon flamenco by travelers in the XIX century, still, on the whole, it was not accepted as an independent musical and artistic genre. Particularly, this related to the most traditional and orthodox styles, i.e. the canto hondo. Though it cannot be said that foreign composers and artists were not interested in flamenco. For instance, in 1894 Russian businessman Pavlovskiy concluded a contract with flamenco dancers and introduced them in theaters in Moscow; in 1914 on London stage was presented the show El embrujo de Sevilla (“Sorcery of Seville”), which laid the foundation to the contemporary flamenco ballet.

In the early XX century flamenco acquired new form on the theater stages as shows that were called opera flamenca. These shows included singing, dancing and guitare playing. They were staged across Spain by professional impressarios and were usually performed on the stages of large theaters and in the bullfighting arenas.

Opera flamenca was an interesting new genre, but it affected negatively the purity of style of the traditional music since new shows contained lighter songs called de ida y vuelta that contained elements of flamenco and fandangilios (a simplified version of fandango). Orchestral arrangements were used thus replacing guitar from its traditional leading position. The depth of expression of flamenco was lost, as was its spiritual and historical content.

Flamenco appeared before the broad and heterogeneous spectrum of public and, in order to appeal to all, it had to be adapted to this new audience.

Nevertheless, even though the theatrical epoch was no longer the golden age of flamenco, this period also produced a number of new and significant names as well as those, who glistened at the end of the café cantante epoch, continued to perform having adjusted to the new conditions. Antonio Chacon, Pastora Pavon (Nińa de los Peines), Manuel Torre, Pepe Marchena, La Paquera, Fosforito were some of the most distinguished performers in the whole history of flamenco. Among the guitarist the brightest were Ramón Montoya, Sabias, Nińo Ricardo.

Furthermore, opera flamenco became the basis for a new genre – flamenco ballet, which developed and reached its hights due to the dancers, such as La Argentinita, La Argentina, Pilar Lopez, Antonio, Rosario, and others and whose traditions were passed on to this day by Antonio Gades, Mario Maya, Cristina Hoyos, Joaquin Cortés and others.