Breaking down barriers of culture and nationality with its emotional charge, Maria Carretto's flamenco enthralled GUSTAP and JEROO IRANI at the Corral de la Moreria, Madrid...

Her dark eyes flashed and then smouldered like the embers of a dying fire. Her raven-black hair gleamed and her smooth olive skin was stretched taut over high cheek bones. Flamenco dancer Maria Carretero set the stage ablaze at Madrid's famous flamenco club, Corral de la Moreria, as much with her quintessential Spanish beauty as with her histrionics.

Maria swirled and spun in a skin-fitting red ruffled dress, frilled and cut at the bottom to showcase her fancy footwork. She held it up as she danced the flamenco (the traditional song and dance of the gypsies of Andalusia, in southern Spain), to exhibit her artistry. Meanwhile, the guitarists and singers switched from passionate to dreamy and lovelorn flamenco songs.

Sensuous

Maria and other high-stepping Spanish beauties danced and thrummed on the stage with their heels, flicking their wrists in what resembled the delicate mudras of Indian dance, sinuously raising their arms while holding their torsos rock still. We got caught in a maelstrom of emotions though we did not understand the language of the songs. The performance cut through all barriers of nationality with its sheer emotive quality that bordered on the melodramatic.

The 32-year-old flamenco dancer exuded the grace of a thoroughbred as she stepped off the stage and took some time off to speak to us in a quiet corner of the restaurant. “Flamenco is my life,” Maria said huskily even as other dancers continued to thrum on the stage and the wail of guitars, claps and soulful singing was an unrelenting soundtrack to our conversation. “We empathise with the singer's lyrics and the clapping gives us a sense of rhythm,” she explained. Maria related how she practises flamenco daily and for hours which can be emotionally taxing. For every time she dances, she interprets a particular dance or segment differently.

Maria started learning flamenco when she was 9 years old and stopped at 14 years. But flamenco throbbed in her blood and she took it up again when she was 23 and launched out as a professional two years later. “Flamenco is an art, a medium of expression for me. When I dance, the real Maria comes out,” explains the dancer whose reed-thin body is like a pliant instrument that Maria herself plays, whirling and swaying like a blade of grass in the wind. While flamenco dancers continue dancing into their forties, it can be an all-consuming affair, for balancing family life and their commitment to the art can be a challenge.

Later, she went back on stage to be joined by a male dancer who leapt into the performance like a graceful gazelle. Glistening curly hair cascaded around his face like a dark halo and as he circled Maria, the duo resembled a bullfighter and a bull.

Briefly, they seemed to toss like ships caught in a gale, the man exuding an aura of leashed power as he stormed, strutted and swirled while the female dancers (who later joined the duo) in turn seemed to exhibit a tantalizing sensuality.

The club resonated with the anguished chants of the singers and the air was taut like a coiled spring as the women foot tapped, backs arched like taut bows, gathered their skirts and danced in waves of red and blue ruffles, exhibiting skilled footwork. Delicate arms wreathed up like whorls of smoke, emotions spiralled in a powerful assault on one's senses and it was as though the dancers were collectively grappling with the forces of evil within their inner being that were bubbling to the surface; epitomizing life's eternal battle. The entire performance coalesced into a vibrating whole, a multi-sensory extravaganza in the midst of which our gourmet dinner went almost untouched.

As we emerged in the cool night air, swept on a wave of emotion and jostled by Madrilenos and other tourists, we overheard someone talking about how a performance in Madrid could not match an Andalusian one. We pondered on what we had read about flamenco.

Accumulations

The traditional song and dance of the gypsies of Andalusia was finessed over the centuries and acquired Jewish, Arabic and even Indian overtones. When the Andalusian city of Cadiz was under the Phoenician empire, Hindu dancers were hired as entertainers. Hence flamenco dance has some elements of Indian dance - splayed fingers, out-turned leg positions, sharp angles of body and arms. It was only in the nineteenth century that it became popular as café entertainment.

We had seen one of Spain's best known forms of entertainment and felt almost singed by its raw flaming power. The following day, we witnessed a bullfight, the country's other staple.

Both types of entertainment crackled with a kind of electricity that dissolved all national and language barriers; both exuded an almost poetic intensity and seemed almost lyrically choreographed. At times the lines between dance and spectator sport were blurred; we did not know which was which!

While there are no direct flights between India and Spain a number of airlines fly to Madrid via their hubs in Europe

*The city has a spectrum of hotels that cater to all budgets.

*Its historic centre is compact and makes for some wonderful rambles especially if you are based at a strategically located hotel like Hotel Vincci Via 66 on the Gran Via, the main artery of the city.

For more information, contact the India representative of the National Tourist Office of Spain:spaininfo@tracrep.com.