112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

The Keys to Flamenco

Catherine Theis, University of Southern California

My intention is to investigate the dynamic relationships between folk song, poetry and community as it relates to suffering and lamentation. I will consider the ways in which the art of flamenco inspires and informs grief, and why such lamentation is a vital and necessary force in the structural integrity of a community. Why are so many modern-day listeners drawn to an art form originally defined by strict ethnic boundaries that excluded them?


By tracking the evolution of flamenco from a private art form to a public one, I’d like to discover the bonds of community that run through the performance itself, taking care to explore how the social commentary meaningfully revises itself into new ways of singing, orchestration, recitation, and dancing through the stylized plea or complaint.  


Remember when Hermes killed a tortoise in order to make a lyre?


How many songs exist in the world?


The Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca defines duende as that authentic spirit of creation that roams the earth with a heightened awareness of death, and adds “…but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die, perpetually, and raise their contours above the precise present.” And so, more questions arise: What are the right conditions to represent or convey sadness? How does the act of performance affect meaning, as well as perhaps defining a community-based poetics?


Remember your grandmother’s sitting room with the two matching flamenco dancer figurines positioned on the second and third shelf on her television stand? “How life-like! How dead, those dolls seem,” remarks a relative, passing through to the kitchen.


By tracking the physical and emotional responses to art, like Lorca, I hope to find how one communicates with God through song, through recitation, through dance. What is the value of ritual, and how is it enacted in a shared space? Some flamenco songs are sung with guitar accompaniment, while others are not. Other songs prescribe the use of male dancers. As a female poet, I’m deeply curious why I envision myself as the cantaor of the long, rough and manly flamenco song. While traditional gender distinctions in flamenco are breaking down, is there a space for me as a woman (and U.S. citizen) in such a revised performance?  


To Lorca:    (loudly, and with spirit) A woman’s country is more open to death than any other country I can think of.

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