Passions flare in fight for flamenco's future

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The Independent Culture

A battle is raging in the world of flamenco which is almost as passionate as Spain's most quintessential art form.

Purists are fighting to stop the dance and music from being "ruined", as they see it, by modernists introducing new influences. The battleground for the spat is Seville's 14th Flamenco Biennial.

Organisers of this year's event, which started this week, have tried to reflect how danceis undergoing a historic change. Leading dancers, including Eva Yerbabuena, Israel Galván and Andrés Martín are to perform.

Domingo González, director of the Biennial, told the Spanish daily El Pais that a new generation of dancers was changing flamenco to a form never seen before. "We're witnessing a significant generational leap," he said. "This is not just your regular progress brought about by age. This revolution is particularly noticeable in dance."

But this has raised the hackles of fundamentalists opposed to any hint of a threat to the art's style. José María Segovia, head of the Seville flamenco club federation, said: "I think this year's programme lacks classical singers. What we are going to see is fine, but we cannot forget where we came from. You must be able to tell when you are listening to a soleá [a flamenco style]."

In recent years, the world of flamenco has seen some artists blend the form with more modern music. In Spain, a type of pop music with flamenco influences has emerged called flamenco chill, whose most famous champions are the band Ojos de Brujo. Even the locations in which flamenco is performed has changed. It used to be found in peñas or dances with a few friends gathered round. But with its growing popularity, big stars like Sara Baras are more often to be found performing in large theatres, dancing or singing on the same stages as pop stars.

But Professor Rafael Infante, an external adviser to the Biennial, believes the roots of the art are being forgotten in pursuit of financial gain. "In Andalusia we don't give flamenco the importance it deserves, not just as a first-rate cultural asset but as a potential source of revenue," he said. "But I don't think we should let ourselves be guided by purely monetary considerations."

Modernists such as Carlos Marset, Seville's cultural councillor, disagree. "We must move on from spending a night enjoying a wonderful production that can only be seen at the Biennial, to producing shows that can be exported around the world."