What is it with the Flamenco that inspires the British? Juan Ramirez has no simple answer. It is the most sought after word on Dulwich OnView and a Viva Flamenco’s evenings at St.Barnabas Hall in Dulwich is an event that now is in its seventh sell-out year.
“Maybe it is because it is just the most exciting dance form in the world. It does not tell a story, it’s purely about emotion,” says Juan sipping his very English cup of tea.
“There are over 60 different Flamenco styles, some sung accompanied by guitar and some danced. And it is an evolving art form, never static, and as such it brings in new influences, but it always harks back to its roots, to its authenticity yet it has to have a commercial element in order to survive.” Juan also explains that Flamenco is a mixture of East and West. “The hand movements are very similar to those of Indian dancing and the music has clear Arab influences. In the last sixty years or so Latin American music has also had an impact.” Juan’s enthusiasm is evident and his elegant guitarist’s hands are never still.
“It is the rhythm and timing that shapes Flamenco, the compas and also, Flamencois one of the few dance styles in the world where the music follows the dance rather than the dancer dancing to the music. The flamenco guitarist does not read music in order to perform, he must play everything by heart and most important, feel everything from within. So when you learn from your teacher, you must copy assiduously from him and then you can develop your own style of playing.”
Juan and his company of dancers and singers travel not only around London, as he has just been asked to contribute to a programme to be shown in Madrid, “talk about bringing coals to Newcastle,” says Juan and smiles proudly.
Flamenco has been Juan’s passion since he saw his first performance. “I knew instinctively that this is what I wanted to do.” He had worked at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for several years, but Flamenco was what he really wanted to play. He found a guitar teacher who let him sit in while he accompanied the dancers, “absolutely the best way to learn.”
The company was set up in 1977, in its original form it was a small troupe. Now he has up to twelve musicians and dancers in the company and can tailor any event to suit the client or the occasion. His principal dancer Juani Garcia studied in Madrid and has been with the company for many years and like Juan she also teaches. They have both seen an increased interest in Flamenco. “Maybe it’s because people have been more exposed to it, holidaying in Spain.” Or they could have been inspired by Viva Flamenco as they topped the bill six years running at the big Olympia Show ‘Viva Espana’.
So what can we expect on 31 March as Viva Flamenco yet again takes to the floor in Dulwich? “There will be four dancers, one singer and me on the guitar. The singer is Manuel de la Malena, from a well-known Flamenco family with gypsy roots. Lola Rueda, one of the dancers, also sings. She has made a name for herself by singing a rumba with Sir Christopher Lee, the famous actor.” Juan then explains that he has made three records with the actor and even wrote that rumba called ‘Carmencita’, which got to number six in the Spanish charts.
At his show in Dulwich the East Dulwich restaurant Barcelona Tapas will serve their wonderful food and the audience can bring their own wine. Asking for some tapas tips, Juan praises the pulpo and calamares. This is not the first time Barcelona Tapas and Viva Flamenco have co-operated, most Fridays you can hear Juan beguiling the audience with his fiery guitar playing.
Juan Ramirez has lived in South London for many years and he has a special place in his heart for Dulwich Picture Gallery. “It is a unique place and I love its architecture, and, of course, the Murillos, but my favourite painting is Carlo Dolci’s St. Catherine of Siena, it brings a tear to my eye!”
Saturday 31 March, 6.30pm at St Barnabas Parish Hall, Dulwich Village.
Tapas will be on sale and guests may bring their own wine
Tickets cost £17, £15 for Friends and children under 16 cost £10
Tickets can be brought from the Friends Desk at the Gallery or by phone 0208 299 8750 10-12.00 noon.
This event is organised by the Friends of the Gallery.