These days I feel like I just come here to apologise for my radio silence. Sincere apologies! I have been offline for what seems like ages. If I am away from the blogosphere for any extended period of time it is generally because my life gets taken over by flamenco and this has been one of them.
I have been preparing my students for two shows and it has been weeks of hours upon hours of gruelling rehearsals in the evenings and often late into the night. There has been frantic organising of timetables, of costumes, and pulling every spare bit of energy I have in my bones to coach some fledgling flamenco dancers in this rich and complex dance form and perfect their routine to performance standard.
As a dance form flamenco demands as much blood, sweat and tears as any other and these photos are of a group of ladies who have taken on the challenge of learning to dance with the bata de cola, this magnificent, long trailing skirt. The spectacular cascade of frills is breathtaking to behold in full flight, but its beauty belies an instrument of torture!
It requires quite a large degree of physical strength to dance with the bata. These skirts can weigh up to five kilos and the dancer has to lift them in a ballet-like arabesque using the ballet technique of plié in order to do so. The weight is provided not just by the frills on top of the skirt, but also by layers and layers of frills which are stitched underneath the skirt and made out of a stiff, paper-like fabric (a bit like very stiff interfacing). Some also have a metal wire or stiff cord stitched into the hem of the skirt to give it shape and weight.
The dancer needs to develop enough skill to avoid treading on the frills which can trip her up, or to flip it over so that the underlying paper is visible - a cardinal sin! Then she needs to learn to make it fly through the air, open on landing, control it to make it stop where she needs it to and be able to pick it up - all in time and all while making it look like it is the easiest and most graceful thing in the world!
In many respects, the bata de cola is to flamenco what the symbolic red shoes are to ballet, an object of desire and obsession, because frankly, if you weren't obsessive about flamenco you would never persist with such masochism. A flamenco dancer who had studied bata for years swore to me that the sensation was like that of dancing with another person. One of my students refers to her bata as the beast she is always trying to tame. Another has even branded herself with a beautiful half body tattoo of a flamenco dancer in a scarlet bata de cola.
These are the photos from the rehearsal and performance a couple of weeks ago. It took place in the splendour of a listed ballroom in London that looks like something straight out of a film set. Apparently it is London's last remaining ballroom from the fifties, and despite a grotty exterior, inside it is extravagantly decorated in red velvet, flock wallpaper, and lit with large crystal chandeliers, gilt candelabras and sconces, glitter balls and large red Chinese lanterns. It is in fact often used as a film set. It was used in Tina Turner's Private Dancer video - fitting I think! Some years ago I was also an extra on a film set here filming an initial storyboard for a San Miguel advertisement featuring flamenco dancers.
The making of this dance has been quite a journey and a really lovely camaraderie has developed amongst the class - a sisterhood of sorts has formed, borne out of a fascination with frills, strengthened after hours of frustration have turned to fruition, and united in a passion for and love of flamenco. It has been very exciting for me to finally realise the vision of a choreography for a larger group and have it performed and received well by an audience. I was thrilled at how it turned out and very proud of how the girls danced on the day.
I think the photos speak for themselves as to how much work they put into preparing for this. More importantly, they put a lot of heart and soul on top of their technique into their performance. I couldn't have asked for a nicer or more dedicated group of women to teach and I can honestly say that through teaching them, I've also learnt a lot from them in return about teaching and dance and what it means to be flamenco. So thank you girls.
I was also fortunate enough that one of my students works as a bridal courturier by day and she is starting a bespoke flamenco costume design business on the side. She sourced material in matching red lace and made us all matching crossover tops to tie us all together visually. It worked a treat!
The photos were, as always, taken by the talented Mr V - who is becoming quite the flamenco dance photographer! Since this performance we have been preparing for another - which is today at the (gulp!) Royal Festival Hall! Wish us luck! I expect we will have some photos to share with you of that too in the near future.
I got this red bata de cola dress while I was out in Spain a couple of months ago. I bought it specifically because most of my students had red batas, but I had a cream one. I figured if I was going to dance with them in a group I had better match some of them! There is quite an interesting story about this red bata de cola I ended up buying, but that will have to be for another post...
Will be linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead Style to say an overdue hello!