Juana Amaya is considered by some to be the most charismatic and virtuoso female Flamenco dancer today and she appeared with her company at the Theatre de Grasse, in Southern France, for two performances as part of that theatre’s regular programme of Flamenco dance. The performance opens with Amaya, her dancer daughter and the three singers seated at a long black table. Fingers are clicking, fists are knocking, pounding on the table top as if summoning up the ‘duende’, the dark, creative and magical force of Flamenco. Finally Amaya mounts on to the table- top, heels clacking, drumming to a climax and then ‘black out’. Garcia Lorca writes of the ‘duende’ as ‘a force surging up through the soles of the feet’. 

The musicians and singers of Amaya’s ensemble, all of whom come, as she does, from traditional gypsy families from the region around Seville, have no resemblance to those of earlier Flamenco performances; gone are the high-waisted trousers and the bolero jackets, the slicked back hair; these youngish men are in loose black shirts and trousers and have probably been trained in the best music academies. Gone also are those elderly Flamenco singers, their croaking voices transporting us to the sun-baked plains and their cave-dwellings in Andalucia. These voices, still rough and plaintive, seem to come from a time further back, calling from the Moorish roots of the music, and this is further embellished by a set of North African drums played by the percussionist. Juana Amaya is also in black, sometimes with black and white polka dots and finally in a flounced, layered, floor-length dress which she dramatically discards, layer by layer, the shawl, the scarf, the bolero, leaving her rounded, sensuous body encased in black lace.

The programme is built around her prolific technique and powerful personality. She struts ands stamps, the feet beating impossibly fast and complicated rhythms while snarling and scowling at the audience; playing with her skirts, she twirls and twists her hands with impossibly long, supple fingers swirling like sea anemones, rewarding us only at the end of each scene with a wide, glowing smile. Despite all the excitement, my favourite moment is the encore, with the full company joining in to dance; the percussionist and the singers, despite short, thick legs and tubby waistlines, show their inborn ability to bring this dance to life; their necks and shoulders proud and elegant, their feet and legs naturally beating out the rhythms and unexpectedly whipping around with a pirouette. Together they exit, as a group – dancing, playing, singing as they go and leave us with a reminder of the magic, of that special gypsy quality which has survived not only so many hardships, but even modern day life, to remain alive and vibrant.