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Gerhard Steingress

The appropriation of the heterogeneous. The Andalusian genre and the school of gypsified dance in the Paris of romanticism (1833-1865).

Steingress, Gerhard: "The appropriation of the heterogeneous. The Andalusian genre and the school of gypsified dance in the Paris of romanticism (1833-1865)", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

1. Introduction

This report is based on my investigations in several departments of the National Library of France in Paris in 1999. Its results will be published soon by the Council for Culture of the Andalusian government. Here, I only can sum up some of the data and conclusions made upon it.

2. General aims of the investigation

My intention is to stress the significance of the arts as an independent variable within the process of cultural development in modern society. For that reason my purpose consists in demonstrating the mutual relation between the art forms and related aesthetics of the European romantic ballet and the emerging flamenco dance. Based on reliable data I will reconstruct this process, to which Spanish and European bolero dancers were exposed in consequence of their increasing appearance on stage in the most prestigious theaters of the French capital since 1833 and until 1865, when the enthusiasm for the Spanish dances ceased considerably amongst the public. Based on numerous documents, basically reports and commentaries made in the local newspapers and theater-reviews of that period, we can conclude that it was a question of quite a bilateral relation between the French and Spanish dancers, based on their effort to convert themselves in a kind of artificial Gypsies in order to satisfy - by means of an artistic metamorphosis - the foreign public, subjected to a romantic vision of Spain, seen as a country and a culture of supposedly Arabic origins. Hence, we find ourselves in view of a new dance-style in order to respond to the expectations of a new kind of audience in the emerging bourgeois society and its claim for mass-culture. It was particularly the Spanish dance-style which became a quasi-natural expression of the exotic people beyond the Pyrenées, its supposedly voluptuous women and its mysterious customs. For these reasons it is my aim to demonstrate how far the later flamenco dances (which appeared with this name only after the 1860's) were the product of repeated fusions of the traditional and popular Spanish dances with the choreographic styles and tendencies developed within the emerging international art-field, especially that of Paris.

Salient of these introductory observations, my opinion is that the history of flamenco, especially of its dances, is based on a process of continuous diversifications which might be analyzed from the theoretical perspective of transcultural hybridization. It is thus surprising that heterodoxy, that is the non-conformist attitude to incorporate the "other" in its own concept, also worked in the case of flamenco and characterizes its artistic and aesthetic development. Based on empirical data, I would like to emphasize that Flamenco not only produced and keeps on producing musical and dance-hybrids, but it was rather created as a hybrid: it is an artistic and also a cultural hybrid. The repeated essentialist efforts in flamenco history in order to conserve it by freezing up some of its aesthetic models considered as authentic or pure, are therefore considered non-artistic manifestations motivated by attitudes and interests which do not belong to flamenco itself.

The main consequence of an empirical-sociological interpretation of flamenco-hybridization consists in demonstrating the peculiar social and cultural background or infrastructure which made possible the creation of the flamenco-style in Spanish popular dance and song as the effect of the transformation of the ritualized interpretation of former traditional dances in objects of artistry. This was the decisive step to reconsider what “authenticity” really means, that is, the substitution of collective identity by individual identity based -instead of the faithful repetition of the traditional model- on virtuosity and personal expression. For that reason, "authenticity" is a rather polemical concept due to a rather romantic vision that vanishes in the misty past; it is an artificial construction that hides itself in the artistic expression, taking advantage in that way of the mystery flamenco counts with. This attitude is well known and ascribed to the cultural dynamics of19th century nationalism, based on the glorification of the popular and primitive as the supposed primary. It exploited certain uprooted elements of the disappearing traditional popular culture and established them within the context of the emerging mass-culture and leisure industry.

In the following I will explain some of the key elements of the early hybridization in the flamenco origins based on reliable data basis. First of all, I would like to underline two facts with respect to the ambiguity of the artistic construction of the so-called popular culture in 19th century European society.

a) Since the French Revolution, the representation of music, dances and dramatic works have definitely ceased to be an aesthetic aperçu of the aristocratic life-style and patronage and became an object of the market, producers and the upcoming business industry, mainly related with the public theater, the café-chantant and the music-halls. Due to their mainly urban and bourgeois character, these new institutions directed themselves to a new kind of public composed of members of all social classes that shared two common characteristics: to be a consumer and adherent of certain products, namely art-forms. Considering the new socio-cultural conditions, the dancers and other artists were obliged to work and express themselves under the guidance and protection of the every day more complex organizational network of theaters and stages which extended its activities all over Europe and created homogeneous conditions to the artists independently from their national origin.

b) The parallel construction of the romantic imagery, both in Europe and Spain itself, stimulated the commercial appearance of the new music and dance styles. As the case of Paris shows us, it was mainly the consequence of the systematical appropriation of the aesthetic of the "others" and this kind of artistic reproduction found its most remarkable expression in the presence - during more then 30 years - of the so called Spanish national dances. And as the opposite case in Spain demonstrates, European romantics could count on a broad, benevolent attitude from the side of the bolero dancers, somewhat surprised, but notwithstanding eager to leave Spain after the long period of isolation after the war with France. Their desire to dance in Paris, in the most prestigious theaters of that time, makes it understandable that there must have been not only a strong demand on aesthetic diversification but also the desire to invent new dances in order to respond to that desire and maintain it as it was a reliable source of income. It is no wonder that those supposedly original Spanish dances were mainly the product of artistic imagination and the tendency to adopt them in accordance with the taste of the public.

This means that one gave what the other expected from him, but all that occurred in a denaturalized atmosphere of interested and even risky actions nurtured by a strong claim for exotic and erotic stimulation. In spite of the mainly asexual aesthetic of the French ballet, with its boring, classicist choreography, unerotic dress and mechanical expressiveness, Spanish dancers represented virility and voluptuousness, colorful ambience and exciting actions. For that reason, the main-agents of this game (the producers, the critics, the artists, and the public itself) felt no scruple in presenting any pastiche or bricolage as an “authentic” popular dance. It was the trend which imposed the rules and when its decay became evident immediately after 1856, rules were changed and the Andalusian genre abandoned the main stages of the French capital and found its new refuge in the cafes, the cabarets and music-halls.

3. Periodization and steps in transcultural hybridization

With respect to the data collected we propose the following periodical structure which reflects the different steps of hybridization and cultural transgression in the evolution of the Spanish dances.

3.1. First step: the bolero school and the “national dances”. Towards the end of the 18th century an artistic synthesis of traditional and popular dances took place and responded to the growing demand of a pleasure-seeking, gipsyphile, anti-French youth-movement whose attitude is well known as majismo. The forthcoming "national dances" rapidly became very popular and submitted to further diversifications and vulgarization.

3.2. Second step: the French boleras in Seville. As a consequence of the French invasion of Spain in 1808, the first French dance-companies arrived in Seville where the French ballet and the Spanish bolero were mutually assimilated by both dance-schools based on imitation, improvisation and fusion of both styles as the result of artistic cooperation of French and Spanish dancers. After the withdrawal of the Napoleonic troupes, the French dancers left Seville with the new, hybrid, French-Andalusian-choreography in their bodies.

3.3. Third step: the fandango-fashion and the French Gipsy-dancers. Between 1813 and 1833 most of the famous theaters in Paris became very inclined towards Spanish dances, especially fandangos and boleros, which they included in their programs as sensual attractions and a response to the increasing fashion for the Spanish and Andalusian. In those years their choreography became a mirror-image of national stereotypes. The triumph of European gipsyism became the ideological superstructure of a veritable gold-mine exploited by eager businessmen and theater directors.

3.4. Fourth step: first appearance, exit and climax of Spanish dancers in Paris. As we can see, the period between 1833 and 1865 was full of highlights of Spanish dance in Paris which stimulated a very intense artistic communication between the French and Spanish so-called “Gipsy-dancers”. The presence of “real” Spanish dancers in Paris, like Dolores Serral and Mariano Camprubi, Rosa Espert and Pepita Oliva, aroused a strong trend toward the imitation and recreation of the Spanish dance-style among the dancers of different national origins and choreographic orientations. The most famous of that period were Austrian Fanny Elssler, Italian Maria Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi y Maria Fuoca, French Marie Guy-Stephan and Irish Lola Montes. The Spanish dance-fever reached its climax in the period between 1854 and 1856, when several Spanish companies, namely that of Petra Camara, Manuela Perea “La Nena”, Pepa Vargas and Christina Mendez, acted at the same time on different stages. Since then, it seems that the Spanish dance à la façon de Paris entered into a process of decadence and even the performance of famous Lola de Valencia, portrayed by Edouard Manet in 1865, could not conceal that the genre itself had lost much of its former attraction.

But there is even less doubt that it was exactly then when the BoleroSchool became relieved by the emergent FlamencoSchool

When toward 1860 the first flamenco female dancers or bailaoras became popular, the kind of Gipsy-like dance they executed in public was the product of a series of aesthetic hybridizations which not only fused different national and regional dances from Spain but also accepted the influence of the foreign (European) choreography, as the case of Fanny Elssler’s cachucha demonstrates. The key element of this aesthetic configuration or synthesis, which allows us to distinguish the traditional popular dances from the latter "national dances" and finally the flamenco dance, is in the analysis of the artistic contributions made by the professional dancers of that period. Although the aesthetics of flamenco dance was originally a popular one, it was transformed constantly as it became an object of transcultural artistic performance (Andalusian-Spanish, Andalusian-Gitano, Spanish-French, etc.) and consequently a new, modern ethnic dance genre related with the dance academies, the theaters, the cafés and even taverns, where it became an object of both: leisure and artistic virtuosity.

That is why one of the most decisive impulses in flamenco evolution was and still is both the foreign view of Andalusia and the Andalusian view of the foreign. In postmodern culture, the construction of place and identity has rediscovered the romantic view, full of topics and stereotypes, but also smooth and affectionate, and Flamenco artistry claims for this sensual and emotional access in order to understand why it is imitation, at the same time as imagination and fantasy.

Mr. Gerhard Steingress



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