It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.
In the deepening twilight, we’d driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours).
Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.
Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame. But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.
From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.
Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.
This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I’ve lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.
This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.
Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.
My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.