Gypsy brings flamenco to the masses

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The Independent Online
Madrid - Joaquin Cortes, 26, is a gypsy flamenco dancer from Cordoba whose glance has been compared to the slash of a knife. He has been slaying audiences in Madrid and Barcelona, where tens of thousands of fans have been falling over themselves to catch him before he starts his two-year world tour next month.

As if arousing mass adulation for his stage performances were not enough, Cortes has in the past few months modelled clothes for Giorgio Armani, appeared in television advertisements for a Seat car (the Ibiza Passion) and romanced the film star Marisa Peredes in Pedro Almodovar's latest movie, The Flower of My Secret.

He differs from most in his line of work, not so much for the explosive energy of his footwork and his love affair with show business but for the sobriety of his dress. In a milieu where kitsch is king, Cortes dresses austerely in black, and dispenses with a shirt on stage .

A dancer since the age of 12, and a star of Spanish National Ballet at 17, he formed his own company at 20 specialising in the fusion of classical ballet with gypsy passion. His latest stage show, dressed by the Italian fashion designers Dolce e Gabbana, is lit with a blaze of whirling psychedelia more reminiscent of a Pink Floyd concert than a gypsy campfire.

The dance purists purse their lips both at his bold mixture of ballet and flamenco and at his naked torso. Cortes confesses that his "personal vice" - since he doesn't smoke or drink - is fashion.

He has struck up a partnership with Giorgio Armani, for whom he has become the muse for the designer's summer jeans collection, which Cortes modelled for Italian Vogue. Last autumn he performed at a fashion show in the Piazza Navona in Rome. None of this would be taken particularly seriously were it not for Cortes's formidable technique, both as performer and as choreographer.

In spite of his multi-faceted success, he comes across in interviews as a level-headed young man, articulate and relaxed. Though he is from a family of gypsy dancers, his background is prosperous and educated; he has never experienced the racism which gypsies often suffer in Spain. "Just because I'm a gypsy it doesn't mean we all go round with a goat and a barrel organ," he said. But he added, "The gypsies are a race who have been greatly persecuted."

His mission is to take his art to the masses. Asked whether he risks cheapening the product, he says: "I have the greatest respect for traditional flamenco, but I want to pull audiences who have never seen it," he said. "One thing is the commercialisation of something bad, the other is to give the world public the opportunity to see something of quality."

The high point of his stage show is a stamping whirling solo lasting 20 minutes, that prompts the thought that he will surely burn himself out before long. "You don't have this physical strength for long. I've got to exploit it while I've got it. I live for the moment, because you don't know what tomorrow will bring. It's a very gypsy way of thinking." He smiles, blinks, and the blade swishes.