As Spain’s most popular and emblematic art form, it’s no surprise that flamenco ranks so high on every visitor’s bucket list.
And what better place to witness its magic and soul than in the city where experts believe it all began: Seville!
But with so many shows to choose from throughout the city—most of them designed with travelers in mind—finding a genuine, high-quality show can sometimes be a little tricky.
To help you stay away from the tourist traps, we’ve consulted two flamenco professionals to find out what they look for in an authentic flamenco performance in Seville. We spoke to acclaimed dancer, or bailaora, Patricia Ibáñez and to Carmen Gálvez, the artistic programmer at La Casa del Flamenco in Seville. Keep reading for their expert insight!
1. Favor simplicity
First, flamenco professional Carmen Gálvez reminds us that flamenco is so much more than elegant, emoji-like ladies in red dresses. And while ruffles, polka dots, fans, and castanets might make for a visually-attractive performance, shows that are a little too extravagant are usually aimed at a more novice crowd.
Born out of oppression and suffering, flamenco should above all be fierce, moving, and profound.
To get a more authentic experience, forget about over-the-top frilly wardrobes, excessive use of microphones, fancy light effects, or the distraction of a mediocre dinner. Instead, opt for a more simplistic setting that puts the emphasis on the emotion of the art itself.
2. Search for the duende in an intimate setting
One of the hardest words to translate from Spanish, duende refers to the true soul of flamenco. It’s a dark, mysterious force that puts both artists and audience in a state of trance.
While large theaters may put on spectacular shows, this magical spirit is more likely to rear its elusive head in an intimate setting. Dancer Patricia Ibáñez tells us that she most enjoys performing in modest-sized venues, or tablaos. Their cozy format puts artists at ease and creates an inspiring, energizing atmosphere.
In order to get a sense of what flamenco really is about, look for a small-scale venue where you will be able to sit close to the action and feel the raw emotion through the artists’ expressive faces and mesmerizing foot-stomping.
3. It’s not just about the dancing
Traditional flamenco consists of three parts: singing, guitar, and dance. The complex moves of a bailaor or bailaora would be lost without the intricate finger-picked melodies of a talented guitarrista and the heart-wrenching wails of a cantaor(a).
For this reason, if you want to see the real thing, try to find a space that puts equal focus on all of their performers. As a tip, Carmen recommends looking for show formats that respect the importance of each artist by incorporating guitar and singing solos in between the dancing.
4. Spontaneity is key!
Originally, flamenco is thought to have taken place in small circles among the Roma community. As a result, flamenco puro is mainly based on improvisation.
While you can sometimes find renowned artists rehearsing for choreographed theater productions, it is during spontaneous performances that their personality and creative flair really shine through. As a professional dancer, Patricia Ibáñez appreciates how having a reduced number of people on stage at any one time really encourages them to work closely together and, as she said, “become one.”
To enjoy the impromptu nature of the art, stay away from choreographed shows with sets of dancers executing routines in unison. Instead, choose a show that better captures the impulsive essence of flamenco. According to Carmen, good indicators of an unscripted performance include an ever-changing line-up, lack of set program, and no mention of the word “choreography.”
5. Go off the beaten path and head to the bar!
For a truly local experience, don’t be scared to leave the more formal settings of tablaos and follow the sevillanos into their neighborhood bar.
While you’re less likely to see professional dancing—if any dancing at all—and things may run late into the night, the laid-back and spontaneous atmosphere is sure to make for a memorable evening. So, buy yourself a drink and get ready to olé along.
It doesn’t get much more authentic than that!
For more information on how to spot an authentic flamenco show from a tourist trap, check out the video below!