How can you tell when you’ve experienced a top class flamenco show? There’s a little secret, and Seville has the answer.
It was in Seville when I first felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up while watching a flamenco dancer hammering her thick black high heels down on a wooden stage. The speed of the loud taps, sweat flicking from her brow, and passion in her stern face, gave me goose bumps.
‘Congratulations,’ said my Spanish girlfriend. ‘You’re feeling your first duende.’ A duende is a physical or emotional reaction to music. For me, the electrical rush is uncontrollable and normally hits me when the flamenco dancer stands proud, holding their final stance, at the end of a decent performance. That’s when I know I’ve seen a great show.
Many cultures have influenced flamenco since the 15th century, including Moorish, Byzantine, Sephardic, but the Gitanos, Gypsies, are the most famous. When I first came to Seville I thought only Gitanos performed flamenco, like a mafia protecting their prize possession. Recently, however, payos, people from Andalucía that are not Gitanos, are also becoming popular.
To find the best flamenco Tablaos (place where you can see live shows) and ensure you experience a duende; you need to trace the trickles of gypsy blood that line the windy streets of Seville. Here are a few of my favourites.
That first duende was in La Carboneria. Whenever relatives or friends visit I take them to the well hidden bar just behind Barrio Santa Cruz, not only because it’s free, and jugs of sangria are a mere €8, but because the flamenco dancers and guitarists don’t get paid and are performing for love of their art. The best way to find La Carboneria is to head to the Levies tapas restaurant (15 San José Street) and it’s just round the corner. Once inside, grab a beer, sangria, or something stronger Agua de Sevilla (a mix of pineapple, cava, whiskey, cointreau, and mint) and take a seat, either on the low wooden benches at the front if you want to be able to catch drips of flamenco sweat, or up on the raised area to get a better view. If you’re early, or stick around after the performance, there’s a covered garden out the back where you can chill. The shows get packed so arrive before 10pm for a front row seat. The performance starts at 11pm and lasts an hour; plenty of time to feel that special duende. I’ve been over twenty times and have always felt the passion.
In the heart of the Jewish quarter on Plaza Santa Cruz is another popular tablao, Los Gallos. The area is one of the most romantic in Seville and it’s worth getting there early to stroll round the Jardines de Murrillo or grab some exquiste Spanish cuisine in La Albahaca before seeing one of Seville’s most prolific flamenco shows. Los Gallos is much easier to find due to the mustard yellow building and brightly lit terrace above the entrance in the corner of Plaza Santa Cruz. Inside is much cosier too. The beauty of Los Gallos is that they keep the audiences quite small, about 100 per show, and you can see from any of the individual seats. The walls are covered in photos of famous flamenco dancers and Flemish paintings, which allows for decent eye wandering during the short breaks. If you can afford €30 (including a drink), the shows are spectacular. Over the two hours, male and female flamenco dancers, as well as solo and group guitarists, dazzle you with their natural abilities. Shows start at 20.00 or 22.30 every night, book in advance at weekends. www.tablaolosgallos.com
The Auditorio, on Alvarez Quintero is just up from the cathedral. The price is €17 (€15 students) for an hour’s worth of Flamenco entertainment in another cosy Tablao; 90 is the maximum capacity. The actual performances are almost as good as Los Gallos, plus there's a great art gallery. Doors open at 20.30 and the show starts at 21.00. You can book in advance. www.alvarezquintero.com
Duendes are easy to come across in El Arenal, between the bullring and Maestranza Theatre. It was voted as being the best place in the world to feel the emotions of flamenco by the New York Times. The novelty of being able to dine before and during the show was fun, but expensive. I chose a few tapas dishes with the show which was €59. The full menu was €72, and just the show and one drink was €37. Dinner starts at 19.00 and the first show is at 20.00, the second show is at 22.00. www.tablaoelarenal.com
Apart from these Tablaos, I’d recommend the Museo de Baile Flamenco if you want to brush up on your knowledge. It’s a short walk from the cathedral and is worth the €10. There are four main sections: an 18th century basement where you can have dance classes, the main patio where you can chill out and if you’re lucky catch up and coming flamenco dancers perform, a pretty fountain area, a flamenco shop, and a knowledge area where you can learn more to intensify your duende. www.museoflamenco.com
Flamenco música es algo que va en la sangre - something that’s in the blood. Maybe you’ll never feel the same passion as the Gitanos performing, or even understand their songs and lyrics, but in Seville you’re guaranteed to find that magical duende.
Where to stay
Hotel Las Casas de los Mercaderes is in a great spot just across from the lively Plaza de Salvador and 100m from the cathedral. The rooms are spacious and service is excellent. My parents wouldn’t stay here if it wasn’t.
If you want terrace views of the cathedral, and love the sound of Los Gallos that much you want to be a 5 minute walk away, then the new Fontecruz Sevilla is an excellent choice. The rooms are modern and clean and you’ll be right in the centre of the Jewish Quarter.
For something more economical you could try Hotel San Francisco on Alvarez Quintero. It’s just up the road from the Auditorio and you can get discount for the flamenco show if you stay here apparently.
Where to eat
Las Columnas is my favourite tapas bar in Seville on Mateos Gago. It’s an old fashioned bar where the waiters still write your order with chalk on the bar top. Beers are just over €1 and tapas between €1.50 and €3.
If you want to splash out then try La Albahaca. It's just next to Los Gallos in Plaza Santa Cruz and you can get great fish and meat dishes. If you go around 8pm you can hear the live flamenco show while you eat and then go and see the show at 10.30pm.
As mentioned before, Levies is a decent tapas bar with a wide range of dishes. It gets busy so try to get there early and put your name down if possible. You can sit out on the patio and try to spot potential flamenco dancers on their way to La Carboneria.