Over the years that Paco and I have worked together I have become familiar with the way our shows get created. They begin with Paco phoning me to say he has the kernel of an idea. I always respond with utter attentiveness; I’ve learnt that Paco’s "smallish ideas" are really huge projects masquerading as modest early musings.
We then have a series of suppers at his London home-his wife Karin supplying food and understated but essential advice. We listen to bits of music as we try to get to the centre of the idea that is swirling about in an unformed state. It’s a process that brings me immense rewards. I get a crash course in Spanish -and in this show’s case- Venezuelan musicology and history, and also a strengthening of my conviction that cultural expression is at the root of so many aspects of personal and national identity. What Paco gets I will leave him to say at some future date--whatever it is we’ve been a team for nearly 8 years.
Paco is a consummate musician with a great love and respect for the histories and art of the peoples of the world. His understanding and love of flamenco informs all his thinking; but instead of this giving him tunnel vision it has the opposite effect. It allows him to fully appreciate and be curious about how other artistic traditions emerge and are sustained.
When we were exploring the deep rooted relationship between Venezuela and Spain the primary concern was the desire to reveal the richness and variety of the Venezuelan musical palette. We wanted to show the Ares of similarity with flamenco both in music and dance but also to properly observe the differences. Paco has a tremendous troupe of flamenco artists-but where to begin with Venezuela.
It happened that as we were conceiving the show, I was also hosting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at Southbank Centre. Surrounded nightly by young musicians with the celebrated Maestro Abreu and Gustavo Dudamel it became clear that the flamencos shared with the Venezuelans the reality that their music and dance traditions are not the preserve of concert platforms but natural nightly eruption that gives voice to who they are.
Paco and I explore a number of trails to make contact with the team that come to join the collaboration process that will result in Flamenco sin Fronteras.
I’m sitting in a rehearsal room in Cordoba as the company concoct intricate rhythms between flamenco steps and the African drumming that feature so prominently in Latin American. There’s formidable talent in the room, and the concentration that goes with trying to understand and contribute to another’s tradition. Its 46 degrees outside. The ancient walled city of Córdoba traps the heat until it stifles all but the most languid movement. But here inside, the dancers pound the floor and twist and turn their bodies for hours as they respond to the rich range of music and song that Paco has assembled. The show is built around the relationship between Venezuelan and Spanish forms and so it quickly also becomes about the relationship between artists of two nations as they admire and learn from each other. Friendships are formed and jokes are told-sweat is a great leveller.
Its lunchtime and Paco’s sister arrives with huge bowls of food for 15 ravenous artists. It makes me think about older times when workers in the field would be brought bread, cheese and wine by sisters, wives and daughters. In fact Paco is now on the phone to his daughters; Elvira, his manager and Elena, his sound technician. It’s a family affair as flamenco has always been, and I reflect that one of the many reasons why Paco is such an extraordinary musician may be because he remains rooted in his community and family life .