Flamenco was born in the south of Spain as an expression of a longing for freedom among the gypsies when the Catholic monarchy put laws against them.
Maria: My dance is about how you look for your own way and say, “I have the right to be free.” Because this was flamenco. Flamenco was born here in south of Spain. It was in the 18th century, just when the Arabian empire left the Andalus. Granada, a part of Andalus, was the last Muslim state before the Catholics conquered the area. There were Arabs living there, but they were converted. The Arabs and Sephardi Jews played their music here in Granada, and there was also the Gregorian chant from the Catholics. Then, from India came the gypsy people. From India, the gypsies were coming through an exodus. In every part of Europe the gypsies stayed, they created music, but in the south of Spain, where there was such a concentration of different sounds, they were very inspired. Then, there came a moment of social pressure on the gypsies.
Flamenco was born in a situation where gypsies came to south of Spain and suddenly there were laws against them, because they were different. They were not inside society and they liked to be in the countryside. When the Catholics put a law against them, it was like a bomb that created flamenco. Flamenco comes from the kathak dance, the dance that originated among the gypsies in Rajasthan, so you would be able to see the softness from the kathak dance. In kathak, they usually dance barefoot; it is symbolic that they put on their shoes in flamenco, because the shoes are reflecting the reality in which they have to go into the society in Spain. While the kathak is very soft, they have to put their shoes in flamenco. That is why in flamenco, they are in pain and angry, and they are using dance and music to express that they are repressed! Flamenco is beautiful and it’s so powerful, because it comes from those looking for freedom and dignity through the music. This is the spirit of the gypsies. They used flamenco to celebrate life for them; performance on the stage comes later. Today, we go to the psychologist and take a pill if we have a problem—but no, in flamenco, you sing and dance to be healthy. In flamenco, I am free to be different from the others.
It is very important because in flamenco the people in the audience says Ole, Ole. For me it was very strange the first time I performed in a theatre in Holland, because people in the audience were quiet the whole time and I thought they don’t like the performance. Actually, they liked the performance a lot, but they waited until the end to applause! For them, it’s not appropriate to shout in public in the middle of a performance. For flamenco it’s very important the public and the people are part of the performance: Ole, Ole! That’s why it’s very beautiful and alive. Here in flamenco, Ole from the audience is to say “I am with you, I am with you all the way!” Because flamenco comes from family and in the family we help each other, so Ole is a way to say “You can count on me! You are dancing, but I am here with you with the clapping, I am supporting you!”