25 November, 1997
World Dance Forms
two pages/four paragraphs on flamenco and gender
In Flamenco films, including those of Carlos Saura, gender roles appear articulated as archetypes; at times exaggerated, those roles appear absurd.
In his Flamenco, one excited, well built, bare-chested young man shook his naked torso and stamped his legs furiously. The effect was that of a proud horse, or rather, in this case, a stallion. The open structure of the dance provided him with a means of ebb and flow that neatly parallelled the kind of excitement and hesitation of sexual play. The youth, the virility, the frenzied pace of his most extreme moments of movement; his chest-puffed, more proud, thrusting, slowly-paced stomping; between him and the director, I didn't know whether to laugh or simply admire the puppet masculinity. Was this entire scene concocted by the director (and dancer?) to emphasize gender transgression by following this man acting extreme to the point of silliness, or was this a camera trained on a spanish celebration of male movement? Compared with female flamenco, this dance simply appeared more erect. The leg movements had a distinct punching quality. One thing that this young man shared with female dancers I have witnessed was his stern expression. But coupled with his head-tossing prancing, his sterness seemed all the more absurd.
This stern tone was matched in Carlos Saura's Flamenco film, Blood Wedding, based on the play by Frederico Garcia Lorca, where the filmmaker depicts a slow-motion duel between a lover and a fiance, with the bride-to-be looking on. The participants softly step-slide the motion of horses as they ease gracefully across a ballroom until their paths cross, and macho violence erupts. But in this case, the macho violence is slowed to an excruciating, exquisitely choreographed dance of wielded knives. Taken as a whole one is left to wonder whether, by forcing the viewer to engage the combat in such a drawn-out fashion, the filmmaker is again calling masculine archetypes into question. This type of violence is today, here, seen largely as pitiable and stupid. Granted this film being watched outside of Spain in a Swarthmore context, I am left wondering whether Mr. Saura is siding with postmodern ironic interpretations of cultural traditions, or is simply celebrating Spanish sexual history.
On the other hand, watching some other flamenco, I witnessed similar sternness, but I was less inclined to question its straight-forwardness, as the dancer, in this case a woman, seemed to be dancing sternly in order to prove herself. I'm thinking particularly of one section where this dancer put her head down and concentrated as her feet flew in a fantastic, tapping fury. Perhaps for women flamenco dancers, this one of a larger, older variety, there is a sternness coming from the need to comport one's self as a serious defier of gender-assigned passivity. (I believe this was a scene from another Carlos Saura film; I was shown it in class: a robust-looking woman in a green and pink outfit danced around a circle of light.) When she had finished her dizzyingly rapid dance, she flung out her arms in a gesture demanding recognition, and held them that way as she forcibly stamped about the stage. The music celebrated her strength, and she was taking orders from no one. Both gestures; the head down, and the arms flung out, were done proudly, but neither was so over the top as the men depicted above.
Perhaps Carlos Saura's percieved sexuality subversion is simply his lens on a dance that plays with gender roles; flamenco defying traditional strictures on the mobility of both men and women outside of movement associated with their particular procreative role.