This summer I visited Spain with my dear friend and Musical Bridges Board President Dr. Awilda Ramos and her family. I was the fifth in our group – I was the Daughter of the Regiment.  Half way through our trip Awilda’s family went on tour to Morocco. Awilda and I chickened out and went to Barcelona instead. Awilda and I have similar interests when it comes to historic sites and together we saw Malaga, Gibraltar, Seville, and Granada. But when it came to other things, we had to come to an agreement. We both love art museums, but I love great food and wine and Dr. Ramos loves dance. Occasionally Awilda would threaten me that she would not leave Spain without seeing Flamenco. In order not to lose her to the Spaniards, we made a pact: she goes with me to the wine tours and I go with her to the Flamenco.

Spain comes to life at night and the time for Flamenco show in Barcelona is 10pm as it is for most other entertainment. Barcelona was at the end of our Spanish adventure and by then we somewhat adjusted to the Spanish style of life and did not blink at the late hour of the show. Palacio del Flamenco is a little theater perfectly suited for tourists with a tall stage and large seating area, pints of sangria on every table and a very loud sound system. As soon as we walked in, I got a queer feeling that this evening is going to be wasted. The music was so loud that I felt a need to protect my eardrums. I rolled pieces of paper napkins into earplugs in a desperate attempt to save my hearing. The show started somewhat mediocre, with a bunch of people screaming into the microphones and a lot of tapping.

Then suddenly there was HE, the Paganini in heels of Flamenco shoes. He took control of the audience the minute he appeared with his composed movements, long hair and possessive gaze. He was masterfully teasing us by building tension, building crescendos with his heels, masterfully swirling his body and gliding through the air with his sensitive hands. The tension level was off the charts… He looked like a hawk on a night hunt, like a hurricane. He was not human – he was from the other side! He mesmerized me, I forgot about my eardrums, bad sangria, late evening and everything else and, along with the other tourists, was screaming my lungs out like a little girl at every move he made.

I am sure you have guessed what happened next. Yes, Awilda and I went backstage to meet Jose Manuel Alvarez after the show! Expecting to face a grumpy middle-aged seasoned artist we instead found ourselves standing face to face with a very friendly and very young man with the ponytail. After the initial introduction and compliments we asked him how long he had been dancing, “since I was 7,” he said while rolling his handmade cigarette in his fingers. We exchanged our information and hoped to see him in other shows before departing to Madrid. To make a long story short, we are bringing Jose Manuel – the Paganini of Flamenco – to San Antonio to perform for Musical Bridges Around the World in January 2014!

I got hooked on Flamenco and saw quite a few shows since then. I know why I like some dancers better than others now. It is the tension that counts and that needs to be measured with the “passionometer”! I like minimal movement and minimal expression on the surface. The movement has to happen when the dancer cannot keep it inside anymore. So what we see happening on the stage is like a tip of the iceberg, a small segment of the passion that is hidden inside, under the surface, underwater. What we see is a spill out, something that cannot be contained any more; it has surfaced despite the effort to stay cool, it comes out like a force of nature, like an eruption of a volcano. IT has a mind of its own, IT has its own time, IT is passion in its purest form… Flamenco!