Authenticity in Seville

May 23rd, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

Before we left Seville, everyone (and all the guidebooks) said we had to do two things: visit the Alcazar and see a flamenco show.  We obliged, and what follows is my take on them.

Arches, while pretty, do not afford much privacy between rooms

The Alcazar is an old Moorish palace/fort conquered and added to by Christian kings, and is now the official residence of the Spanish royal family when they are in Seville. In contrast with the Alhambra, the majority of the Alcazar was commissioned and built according to the wishes of various early Spanish rulers, though they maintained the Moorish look and feel in many places. Think of it as Walt Disney’s Moorish palace. The upshot is that you still have the beautiful plasterwork, tiling, and arches. While they also have all that (and more!) at the Alhambra, what made the Alcazar a more interesting visit (in my opinion) was the pristine condition that everything is in. Since the Alhambra sat in ruins for hundreds of years, much that could be carried off was removed, including all the things that make a royal palace seem royal (i.e., artwork).

Also missing from the Alhambra is all the history of the royal residents. Since the Christian rulers are well-chronicled, the tour of the Alcazar included information about events from history that occurred in each room.

While the Alcazar is undoubtedly less interesting architecturally and historically, the borrowed Moorish culture is on better display here than 4 hours east at the Alhambra.

The other must-see on our list, Flemenco, was also available within a few yards of our hotel. We saw the late show, and for the first 15 minutes it was just a guitar player and a singer playing together in a way which made it impossible to judge how much was improvised and how much was planned. While they were good, I was obviously expecting more dancing.

The next portion — the part with the dancing — was not at all what I expected. The only was to describe it would be as a mix of:

1. Improvised guitar strumming

2. Wailing Spanish vocals

3. Periods of furious rhythmic clapping

4. Stomp, the musical

Obviously, this last part was the most shocking. On the raised wooden platform, the rhythms were dictated in part by the dancer, and picked up by the singer, the guitar player, and the non-dancing dancer (who mostly just clapped to keep time). The time signature was a 12-beat crazyness with accents on the 1, 4, 8, and 9th beats (or some such). The performance was apparently very authentic, and not too boring (I find all dance performances longer than 3 minutes at least somewhat boring). Contrasted with the for-tourists castanet-heavy multiple-dancer version, is it superior? Maybe, but isn’t pleasing more people (be they kings or tourists) kind of the point?

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