Sevilla's Firebrand

Maestra Carmen Iniesta is one of Sevilla's finest flamenco dancers and most sought-after teachers. Latinolife talks to her about flamenco's past, future, and how to experience the 'present' when dancing.
by: 
Helena Cicmil

Born in Sevilla, Carmen graduated in Spanish Dance in her home town. She participated in Carlos Saura's acclaimed film 'Flamenco' (1994) and her professional dance career quickly took off after her performance in “Sansueña” in 1998 with dancer José Joaquín at the Lope de Vega theatre.

She has been Curren Guzmán's solo dancer since 2008. In 2009 she set up her own company, who perform at festivals and flamenco cycles around Spain. They took their recent show, 'Concierto de Castañuelas' ('Concert of Castanets') to Moscow's House of Music in Moscow and Marseille's 'Casa de Andalucia', amongst others.

Carmen has won various awards, including 2 consecutive years at the choreography competition of the Conservatorio Profesional de Danza de Sevilla. Recognised from Spain to Scandinavia to Dubai for her captivating dance performances, castanet playing, choreography and direction, Carmen's take on a life with flamenco seems to be life as flamenco.

When did you realise that your life was going to be dedicated to dancing flamenco?

Since I was little I felt like an artist inside. When I went to the Conservatory of Dance it was clear to me that I wanted to be a dancer, and I settled on flamenco without really realising it; I think that being from Seville helped, because here there are many options to dance flamenco and also because of the way I am – flamenco is, in its style, the dance I get the most pleasure out of.

Does one have to have the gitano (gypsy) spirit within them to be a true flamenco artist?

I don't think it's necessary; flamenco is a universal art, so I believe we can all feel and interpret flamenco in the way we ourselves identify with it. All human beings have a lot in common. Flamenco expresses the primary character of our existence. For this reason it's accessible to all individuals. It's an open and evolving art, so for it to be performed and experienced all over the world is a good thing.

Is flamenco a way of life; a philosophy of life?

Quite so. Flamenco is a way of life, in that art and the urgency of living in the present moment prevail. Having said that, not all flamencos (someone for whom flamenco is a way of life) are artists, nor are all artists flamencos.

Since UNESCO named flamenco a cultural heritage in 2010, have you noticed any changed or developments in the world of flamenco?

Personally, I was very happy about this fact. I think that as an institution flamenco is now more well known, although I suppose that this was being achieved little by little; I consider UNESCO naming it a cultural heritage more of a recognition of the path already realised (and a support for what remains to be done).

Do you think Andalusia owns or has authority over flamenco in any way?

Flamenco began geographically in Andalusia as a consequence of the cultural exchange there, among other factors. The art of flamenco possesses, in its origins, a lot of Andalucian culture as well as other traditions, and of course, it's an art that's constantly evolving. I don't consider Andalusia to have concrete authority, but, yes, there is a part of Andalusia in flamenco.

The University of Sevilla inaugurated its first Professor of Flamencology in February 2012. What are the advantages of the study of flamencology?

I think this is really positive and necessary, as flamenco started in a 'clandestine' form and now it's been universalised; it's important that there are studies and investigations that look after the history of this art so that we continue to grow and evolve knowing our origins. That flamenco has entered in the University is yet another demonstration of the relevance of this art.

Antonio Férnández Díaz, in his inaugural lecture at the opening of the Chair of Flamencology, said that he “sings what cannot be said”. Is dance the same?

It's the same, and it's because of this that dancing enriches me so much, it's a language that liberates you, you release very profound and very serious emotions. For me it's a pleasure to be able to show such emotions.

What has the reception been like when you have performed to people abroad who had never seen flamenco before?

When abroad, I always feel respected and admired. For me it's a privilege (and responsibility) to take flamenco to different countries. I find many grateful fans, even in audiences that don't know flamenco. I think back to an anecdote, in which a man apologised for his ignorance, telling me he did not understand what I had danced, but he knew that what it expressed was something sincere that I really felt in that moment. I told him that this is exactly what flamenco is, that he had understood its essence.

What is your advice to those who would like to start learning flamenco dance?

First, I would express gratitude for their interest. As advice, I'd say to approach flamenco without fear and with respect, and always look for what is inside you.

Carmen regularly performs in Seville and gives beginners and intermediate flamenco dance, theory and castanet classes throughout the year. See http://www.carmeniniesta.com for updates.