In Intramuros, two dancers in traje de flamenca costumes whirl their skirts and stomp their shoes with wide flamenco heels on the specially crafted wooden floor. To the strains of 1957’s passionate A Tu Vera by Lola Flores, the clapping advances in tempo and crescendos as the dancers spin faster and kick higher.
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca described a highly spirited flamenco dancer as someone who could fall into duende, a trancelike fugue where the dancer enters a flow state, invaded by what he called los sonidos negros or “the dark sounds.”
Back in Intramuros, the dance reaches its peak and all of a sudden, like fire sparking, the performers reach that state of duende, ecstasy marking in their movement and expression. The crowd is silent in awe. Then the room bursts into a standing ovation.
Meet Anne Gomez and Ysabela Gomez, the Flamenco Sisters reviving this dance for a new generation at the Escuela De Flamenco. The young sisters, 26-year-old Anne and 23-year-old Ysa, perform during weekends to a packed crowd at Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant in Intramuros.
The young women have been training in flamenco since they were five years old, under the tutelage of their grandfather and dance maestro Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera, arguably the foremost proponent of flamenco and the Sevillanas dances in the Philippines as well as the most senior academic director of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española. It is to honor their abuelo that the sisters perform his choreography whenever they dance during the lunch rush at the Intramuros restaurant, the popular heritage cuisine site owned by Senor Gomez’s good friend Barbara de los Reyes.
In between their two sets, the sisters also try to teach the audience the basic clapping technique and the emphases on the beat of the cadence, making their dance interactive and delighting the children in the audience.
Flamenco itself is based on the folkloric traditions of southern Spain, a dance associated with the gypsy Gitanos or the Andalusian Roma people. These wandering clans could trace their migration to the Iberian Peninsula from Rajasthan in northwest India as far back as the 9th century. As the Romani travelled, they assimilated the cultures of the Sephardic Jews and the Maghreb Moors, taking in their arts into their own repertoire, including their instruments—tambourines, bells, and the wooden castanets now deeply associated with modern flamenco.
During the Spanish centuries of rule in our archipelago, our folk dances of Hispanic origin grew mostly out of flamenco like the cariñosa, fandango sa ilaw, and even the tinikling.
For the Flamenco Sisters, dancing goes beyond simply performing their grandfather’s arrangements to songs like Arabica and España Cañí, moving into territory that the poet Lorca declared as a dancer conversing with both the audience and God through movement.
Below is PhilSTAR L!fe's exclusive interview with sisters Ysa and Anne.
You guys started pretty young. Do you still remember what that earliest spark was that made you fall in love with performing flamenco?
ANNE: Absolutely! It was an awe-inspiring moment when we witnessed our grandfather's friends, flamenco dancers from Spain, perform with incredible spontaneity and expressive fervor. I was immediately enthralled by the raw passion and authenticity that emanated from their performances, and that's when I knew I had to explore flamenco further.
YSABELA: It was during my teenage years that I truly grasped the depth and beauty of flamenco. As I matured, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the art form itself. It was during this transformative period that I formed a profound bond with our flamenco community, and my love for this art form deepened immensely.
Compared to modern dance, how hard is it to learn this folk dance, to perform it on a level that gives it justice?
YSABELA: Flamenco is a dance form that demands precision and purpose in every movement. The footwork itself is intricately intertwined with the rhythm and melody of the music.
ANNE: It requires a certain gravitas in performance, as flamenco is a deeply emotional and expressive art form. So, while it can be challenging, the reward of truly capturing the essence of flamenco is immeasurable.
What was the hardest part about learning?
YSABELA: There are a couple of dances that have five times the movements and steps. And they require a lot of stamina and energy. To overcome this, we make sure to do warmups and to train consistently to perfect the dances.
Aside from the shoes, make-up, and the costume, what else is required for your performances?
YSABELA: Aside from the visual elements, a crucial component for our performances is the floor itself. We need a high-quality hardwood floor that provides the perfect balance and sound resonance.
ANNE: These types of floors are often referred to as "tablaos." They consist of hardwood with a layer of wooden or metallic studs, which enhance the rhythmic sounds produced by our footwork. The floor becomes an essential instrument in creating the distinct flamenco soundscape. And, of course, we can't forget the audience! A vibrant and participative audience adds an incredible energy to our performances. We love inviting them onto the stage to learn some steps and feel the beat alongside us.
YSABELA: As we drive to our performances, we also listen to the specific music we'll be dancing to that day. This ritual serves as a mental preparation, allowing us to align ourselves with the piece we are about to perform. We find great inspiration in revisiting video archives of our grandfather's classes, shows, and flamenco performances.
ANNE: The true catalyst that propels us into the creative "zone" is the power of flamenco music. We immerse ourselves in the vibrant energy and rhythmic pulse of flamenco melodies. The music acts as a conduit, guiding us into a heightened state of connection and allowing us to channel our emotions and energy into the performance. Prior to performing, we also engage in extensive stretching to prepare our bodies.
Any particular sources of inspiration in your performances, whether modern or antiquated?
ANNE: Our grandfather, Guillermo Gomez y Rivera, has been our greatest source of inspiration in the world of flamenco. He never stopped dancing and teaching flamenco, even during our playful childhood years when we were more interested in play than dance.
YSABELA: In each step we take and every movement we make, we honor our grandfather's teachings and express our deepest gratitude for his unwavering support. His passion and devotion have shaped us as artists and as individuals. Our grandfather is not only a remarkable dancer but also an exceptional teacher. His teachings went beyond the technical aspects of the dance, encompassing the deeper emotional and cultural dimensions inherent in flamenco.
ANNE: We firmly believe that flamenco is an art form for all. One of the most beautiful messages flamenco conveys is its inclusivity. We've had the privilege of learning and dancing alongside people from all walks of life. It's an art form that transcends age, gender, and background.
YSABELA: Through our performances, we aim to not only showcase the beauty and power of flamenco but also to inspire others to embrace their own passions and preserve the timeless artistry of flamenco.