Carmen Alvarez - Flamenco Dancer & Teacher

Written by Durita Holm, anthropologist from the Faeroe Isles, based on an interview with Carmen

“This is so strong, so passionate; it makes the hairs on my body stand on end. It fills me with longing, an indefinable longing for the passion that she expresses – perhaps it is simply a passion for life… “ 

This was my German friend Maria’s comment on seeing Carmen Alvarez perform flamenco dance. I had brought Maria to see Carmen’s performance because I knew she was always hunting for inspiration for her painting. After the performance Maria said that this had made her want to do a series of paintings with flamenco as the theme.

 -Tell me about your past, Carmen?

 -My mother brought me to the local flamenco school when I was four years old, and then I just continued. In Andalusia it is very common for little girls to take flamenco classes, but when they get a bit older and discover interests of their own, most of them give up dance. But I just couldn’t give up dancing - something inside me just had to keep dancing.

When I was fourteen I went to the Dance Conservatory in Malaga and stayed there for eight years. When I finished I went to an audition in Madrid and the opportunity arose to go to join a dance company. At that time I was working as an aesthetician, and all the money I earned went into paying for dance lessons. But when this opportunity arose I said to myself: “Why should I work hard in other things to be able to do what I love, why can’t I make my living from the dancing itself? And that’s how I started my professional life with flamenco.  

I sold everything I owned and went to Madrid with this dance company with which I toured South America. When I returned to Malaga after the tour I started to receive classes in contemporary dance, and before long I was dancing with a contemporary dance company. This was something so different from flamenco! You have to be very agile – in one choreography we danced on top of big oil drums and I fell off so often I was completely covered in bruises! But I also really enjoyed this totally free form of expression, and it has had a lasting influence on my flamenco dance.  

After a year or so I decided it was time for a change again – I wanted to go to England. I wanted to learn another language and I wanted to go on my own to dance. I stayed in England for about a year, first in London where I did some well reviewed performances and then in Liverpool. Next stop was Seville – I wanted to learn more and Seville was where many of the big maestros were. One evening I saw Israel Galvan dance in the Bienal festival. He was dancing Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and I realised that what I was seeing truly was a metamorphosis. I said to myself I need to dance with this bailaor, and in the next Bienal two years later I was part of his company. My next move was here to Granada, and when I had finished with him I decided that I had been inspired enough for now. The time had come for me to begin to develop my own flamenco art.

Why did you decide to stay in Monachil?

 I have always been drawn to the “flamenco of the streets” the flamenco that arises spontaneously and in small intimate places, and when I saw this cave in Monachil I knew that this is where I wanted to base myself. The experience of living in a village like Monachil has made me see the beauty of simplicity. I don’t want to have a big fashionable flamenco school; I want something small and personal, something different. I don’t want the big scale commercialisation of flamenco but something more honest. I don’t mean that everything has to be like in the old days - I have no objections to modern flamenco, to experimentation and fusion. Flamenco is evolution and it has to change to stay alive.
How do you feel flamenco?

Nowadays there is a lot of competitiveness in flamenco, a lot of stress and jealousy. But for me flamenco is tranquillity. This may sound strange as flamenco is so passionate, but when you feel a deep inner peace there is much more intensity there than in stress or ambition. When I stop thinking about how my dancing is going, or what other people might think about it, and just lose myself in dancing until I don’t know where I am, its then that I really feel the energy and passion of flamenco. I hope that when people see me dance they receive something of this, or at least a good feeling. I have no wish to be a flamenco star. I’d prefer to be a channel, so that the people who see me dance or who learn with me can feel the purity and profundity of flamenco. On the basis of this I am very fond of improvisation when dancing, without having any idea what I’m going to do. Flamenco dance arises from improvisation.

 … And how do you feel your dance?

 My focus in the dance has never been so much the technical side of it, but more the emotional aspects of expression. I think that it is in this direction that my dance has been evolving over the last few years. I am always searching for the heart of the music and the dance – the soul. I like to transmit those emotions that I find in the music and the dance, which for me can be a powerful transformation. Flamenco is all about transformation. When you dance flamenco you are transported into another dimension of yourself. What comes out of there is new, something you had never noticed was there. It’s like going to another country and discovering aspects of yourself you had never suspected were there. This is very liberating, it pulls you out of the conceptions you and other people have about what you are. Sometimes when I dance, for a few moments I seem to disappear – there is no fixed, defined Carmen. This is how I understand the possibility of a real metamorphosis.

 Do you like teaching flamenco?

I really enjoy teaching flamenco, especially to beginners. This is something that is generally regarded as boring because you repeat simple things over and over again, but I find a lot of inspiration in beginners. They bring with them so much enthusiasm, and then to watch as they learn something completely new, the joy that gives them, that is a great inspiration for me. Being with beginners also makes sure that I myself don’t lose that feeling of the beginner, the feeling that there is a whole world out there to be discovered.

 A year has past and finally I have the opportunity to see my German friend Maria’s flamenco paintings. What can I say? It’s Carmen dancing – it’s pure passion! 

Carmens CV