Lola Flores, the Spanish dancer, singer, actress and film star, was born in the barrio of San Miguel in Jerez de la Frontera in January 1923. As a child she danced in many private houses and penas, but her theatrical debut was at the Teatro Villamarta. Thereafter she left for Madrid and for one of the most lucrative contracts of the 1950s, to tour South America.
She was nick-named ‘La Faraona’ – the Pharoah – for her ‘Egyptian’ or ‘gypsy’ appearance, though she wasn’t a Romany. She is still revered in Jerez, where her statue stands.
On the middle Saturday of the Festival we were to attend a promenade performance by another dancer, Rafaela Carrasco, in the Bodega Gonzales Byass, which was to celebrate Lola Flores’ life. Exactly what this performance comprised, or where it was to take place, we were unsure of, though we assumed it would happen in several places within the large bodega’s grounds .
The night before it began to rain.
Not just a shower and not milk-sop English drizzle, no, this was rain straight off the Atlantic with wild winds driving it horizontally. All across Spain there were massive storms, trees blown down, building roofs lost, with snow on the mountains (even here in the southern-most tip of the Peninsular).
In the morning, as we walked to the venue, the cafes and streets emptied and we rushed into a nearby bar to avoid the latest deluge, not risking the walk across the wide-open space of Plaza Arenal. Suitably fortified by strong coffee and convincing ourselves that the downpour had abated slightly we set off to Gonzales Byass.
This, one of the largest bodegas still in the centre of the city and one of the oldest, sits on the rising ground to one side and beneath the Alcazar. So its gates are fully exposed to the driving wind and rain from the direction of the sea. We huddled there, along with a growing snake of others and conversation was futile as we fought with our umbrellas and tried to keep as dry as possible.
In the event, the promenade element of the performance was scrapped by the organisers, everyone was too wet already. So when we were finally admitted we were taken to Los Gigantes, a magnificent hall of chandeliers ( see Sherry Wine, Dancing and Song at last year’s Festival ) where a fine gentleman gave everyone a large glass of Tio Pepe straight from the barrel. That warmed us up somewhat.
There was a little delay – to be expected, after all, the entire performance would have to be recast – then Rafaela Carrasco emerged and led us all deep into the hall, where a stage had been assembled, together with piano and double bass. Our party filtered around the back of the stage and took raised seats next to what seemed to be a walkway as the performance began.
Carrasco isn’t tall and she has the physique of a dancer, all sinew and muscle. The temperature precluded the wearing of the usual flounced flamenco dress, instead she wore a long trailing skirt under a Lola Flores T-shirt. The skirt she exchanged later in the performance for a wrap-around shawl worn over her leggings. She danced, accompanied first by the powerful singer Carmen Linares and then by the soft and silvery voice of Silvia Perez Cruz. Pianist Pablo Suarez and double bassist Josemi Garzon were moonlighting from the Camerata Flamenco Project .
Her feet rattled rhythmically on the makeshift stage, as she described angular arabesques in the air. I never saw Lola Flores in real life, only in old films, so I can’t really say with any certainty how similar or otherwise Carrasco’s dancing was. It was certainly as impassioned. She made dramatic use of the impromptu space, including dancing atop one of the barrels. We also discovered what the walkway was for as she danced along it, right next to where we were sitting. The man in the row in front of us began filming her feet, which were just a blur from afar, but somewhat clearer close to.
Throughout the piano trilled above the depth of the double bass and the ever-present clapping. Then the performance was done and the crowd, still slightly steaming, but much happier, applauded and cheered. After an encore Carrasco lead all the performers along the walkway dancing away from the performance area
Outside the rain had abated a little, though it looked like there was more to come, We were directed onto a miniature train to be driven back to the gates where we had waited, unhappily, in driving rain, only a couple of hours before.