Slim-hipped Oscar de los Reyes emerged from the shadows and took his mark within the circle of light on the small wooden stage. Clad entirely in black, he stood ramrod straight, arms held rigidly at his sides. His black eyes glittered, reflecting sparks from the single spotlight as he stared straight ahead, oblivious to the expectant audience. The world renowned Flamenco dancer’s body was a mere ten feet away but his essence was galaxies away, drawing power and inspiration from some higher power.
A cantaora abruptly pierced the stillness with an anguished wail that wandered up and down the scales, drawing the audience into the power of her song. De los Reyes responded with lightning-fast footwork, his nail-studded boots a blur as he tapped out complex steps. I watched with rapt attention as his arms reached outward in a plea, up in jubilation, inward for a self-protective embrace. His long black curls spewed droplets of sweat with every twirl until, saturated, they plastered permanently to his forehead. For the next 30 minutes his passions, his heartbreaks, his joys were laid bare. It was the most electrifying, sensual performance I had ever witnessed.
I left the performance on a natural high, my feet barely touching the pavement. This was the kind of energy I had expected to encounter in this popular Spanish city, but over the past few days I’d found it difficult to connect with Seville. I had poked my nose into lushly planted inner courtyards and toured ancient stone churches. I’d hopped aboard a horse-drawn carriage for an hour tour that provided a broad overview of the city’s most important sites, including the Real Alcazar Palace, which is still used by the Spanish monarchs when they come to town, and the ornate Plaza de Espana. Cat Gaa, a fellow travel writer based in Seville who publishes the Seville-centric blog Sunshine and Siestas had met up with me for a delicious vegetarian lunch at Habanita Restaurant. Still, something wasn’t quite right. Though Seville was gorgeous, with the exception of tourists it seemed a tad lifeless.
That evening, still filled with adrenaline from the Flamenco performance, I meandered the cobblestone streets until well after midnight, and I finally understood. After dark, Sevillanos flock to plazas bathed in the soft golden glow of streetlamps. Kids bounce up and down on teeter-totters and scramble around neon-painted monkey bars, while moms and dads stand in line for ice cream. Singles cluster around waist-high tables pushed out onto the street, munching on tapas and draining carafes of fruity Sangria. Music blares into the streets from cafes and retail stores displaying the newest fashions throw open their doors. I wandered willy-nilly around town for hours. Each time I thought about calling it a night I emerged into yet another plaza brimming with exuberant people who were simply and quite clearly enjoying life. The energy of Seville by night prickled the hair on the back of my neck and sent shivers down my spine. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. In the same way that I’d felt the “duende” – the soul – of Flamenco, I finally connected with the duende of Seville. Both are magnetic and energizing, and both must be witnessed by night.
Note: Unfortunately, the establishment where I attended the Flamenco performance, Casa de la Memoria, did not allow photos or filming during the performance. However, the following video from YouTube is an excellent example of an Oscar de los Reyes Flamenco performance: