So the other day I overheard a conversation between a local and their tourist friend. ‘Forget seeing Flamenco in Sevilla’, he stated curtly , ‘it’s all just for tourists these days’. And at this he suggested his acquaintance wander around the Corralón in Plaza Pelicano and eavesdrop on one of the many rehearsals taking place. But under no circumstances should she part with any cash and see a show.
It seemed a pretty bold statement. After all, Sevilla to Flamenco is like New Orleans to Jazz or Nashville to country. But was he right?
A litmus test to try out this assertion has turned out to be my most recent Airbnb guest. For a month of her life she had decided to come to Seville and live and breathe the whole Flamenco experience. Every night at about 8pm after she’d finished her classes, she’d head off out into the night. In passing I’d say, ‘Flamenco?’ and in return she’d nod enthusiastically. And I think she pretty much covered the gamete of Flamenco offerings in the city, from trusty favourite ‘La Carbonería’, tablaos ‘La Casa de la Memoria’ and ‘El Tabanco’ and Peña ‘El Niño de la Alfalfa’.
El Niño de la Alfalfa was the exception. Tucked away inside part of the Corralón on Calle Castellar, as a Peña, it’s like a social club for Flamenco enthusiasts, be they grizzly voiced, hard licker drinking purists ‘de toda la vida’ or fresh faced, Scandinavian flamenco ‘baile’ students. The point being that if you end up in the Peña, it´s because you´re probably very passionate about the art. Performances are usually on Friday and Saturday evenings at 10pm and often sell out, especially if there´s a dancer with a name on the programme.
Another Peña that has just reopened its doors after a summer of refurbishment is ‘La Peña Cultural Torres Macarena’, just the other side of the Almohad wall and well hidden away down a cobbled backstreet. For a while now it´s been plagued by complaints from a very determined neighbour and as a result only has performances on Wednesdays at 9pm. But it´s worth the trip as from the demographics of the audience – immaculately turned out, Sevillano couples, professional flamenco artists and only the occasional, particularly adventurous tourist – this is about as authentic as flamenco gets in the city. Don’t expect much information though on their website or Facebook Page, which haven´t been updated in months.
So while it’s true Seville is no longer a city where flamenco spontaneously combusts on every street corner, there are alternatives to splashing out a shed load of cash and watching it in a sterile atmosphere, with not an óle or ‘fin de fiesta’ in sight.
Peña Flamenca El Niño de la Alfalfa, C/Castellar 52 Acc C (Zona Plaza de San Marcos)
Peña Cultural Torres Macarena, Calle Torrijano 29