Ruben Puertas was inspired by his grandfather to learn dancing at an early age. His father discouraged him, believing that it was not a paying profession, but Mr Puertas was adamant that dance was all he wanted to learn. He attended a six-year course at the Amor de Dios conservatory, where he learnt flamenco and other forms of dance. Now 31, Mr Puertas has several international flamenco dance performances to his credit. Dawn caught up with him while he was in Islamabad to perform.
Q: How is flamenco associated with the gypsy music?
A: Almost four centuries ago, flamenco music and art came to Andalusia, the southern part of Spain, after travelling through Asia and Africa, and the Middle East in particular. It integrated with different societies. In other words, if you follow the roots and history, flamenco is a mix of gypsy music and traditional Spanish music. Flamenco music is a [combination of] Muslim, Jewish, gypsy and Christian culture in Spain.
And that too from the southern part of Spain only. When we perform in the northern part of Spain, many Arabs come to us and say they loved the performance as it sounded like Arabic music to them.
Q: How did flamenco music come into existence?
A: Flamenco music has evolved a lot since its birth. It started from home, when mostly poor people suffering from poverty, joblessness, atrocities of the rulers and hard labour used to take out their frustration by yelling at each other [as form of catharsis]. It was limited within friends and families.
At a later stage, singers started to communicate their broken hearts in the same medium. In the 20th century flamenco became popular in cafes in Spain where singers and guitarists would meet and listen to each other. Now it’s a professional form of art popular all over the world with much transformation with age and time. It is said that there are more flamenco academies in Japan then in Spain all together.
Q: Flamenco is not just about vocals; other factors like guitar playing, clapping and dancing also play a vital role in a performance. How does it all work together?
A: Flamenco is a form of song, dance and music and during the performances one can see all three elements.
The dancing is forceful and passionate whereas, the melody is mostly a painful expression. People only think of the dance, when in reality, the singer and the guitarist are equally important components. They have to be connected.
You have this level of constant awareness about each other. During a performance the audience sees an individual, a dancer ripping his heart out, but what is not visible is that his entire existence up to that point is dependent on his team members. When we practice for a performance, we create musical codes with each other and our eye expressions work as a queue when changing the rhythm during the performance.
The dancer, the singer and the guitarist have to be on the same wavelength. I generally pick my own team and I have been working with the same team for a long time. Changes make the job a bit harder, as it’s all about teamwork and most importantly chemistry between the three.
Q: Flamenco art is a very vast canvass to cover. How do you choose what style to perform?
A: Yes, there are more than 50 styles or what we call in Spanish palos in flamenco music. I perform mostly on solea, which is also considered as mother of Flamenco styles. Although it’s a very basic of the palos, many times modern flamenco music is added on to the basic traditional solea, and the fusion is successful.
Solea is usually accompanied by one guitarist only. When a singer sings [in the solea style], they normally choose different stanzas with different melodies and combine them accordingly to the inspiration of the moment, thus making it a very difficult task for a dancer to perform.
Q: How much practice goes into your routines?
A: I am a freelance performer so I don’t have a regular job. This has advantages as well as disadvantages. As a freelancer I choose my own performances and have also travelled around the world. If I had been a regular employee at any dance academy, I would not have had so much freedom and exposure.
I practice two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening on a daily bases excluding the time I am performing. For an event, I practice for at least one month rigorously and at that time there are no hours. I have to satisfy my soul, because I cannot be dishonest to this art, it’s too close to me and I am very emotional about it.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2018