The Red Butterfly, Part Four – Just An American Fantasy
The music faded and the lights dimmed. “Ahora vamos,” said Pablo as two men stepped on stage from behind heavy curtains. They were both trim and dressed in black. One man was just shy of middle age, with a dark beard, curly hair and heavy brow. He was the singer. The other man was younger, with shoulder length black hair draped over his eyes, and a guitar in hand. They sat down on chairs at the rear or the stage.
The singer began with las Palmas, setting the tempo, accenting the beats at odd intervals, alternating volume, high, low- rat-ta-tataTATtatata. Then the guitar joined in. The young man played sinewy lines, running his dextrous fingers with speed up and down the fret board. He alternated melodic runs with minor key chordal accents and percussive taps and slaps on the body of the instrument. It was as if he was playing the cajon as well as the guitar. A low moan came from the singer. His eyes were closed and a sheen of sweat appeared on his face. A song about passion, and love lost. A story told in an old bar, someone dying and someone born. War, always war. Spain has been mired in war for two millennia. From the Romans, Muslims and Moors, los Reyes Catolicos, the inquisition, Morocco and the rise of Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco. And finally, the civil war. The bearded man’s voice was a low rumble. His faux crying and vocal tremolo was emotional, powerful. The tablao had filled with people- extranjeros, foreigners. This was beyond them, it was alien and mysterious and frightening.
The dancer entered the stage from behind the curtains. She was young, maybe twenty, maybe older, with dark Andalucían skin, a round face, blue-black hair and large dark eyes. She wore a long, heavy, completely red dress, and a black vest. She held her hands out together before her, as if praying. Her head was down at a slight angle and she shuffled her feet, stirring up dust from the black painted stage. She played las Palmas, quietly with the singer, sometimes alternating the rhythmic accents, other times emphasizing them, playing contra-punto. Then, slowly, she stepped forward onto the center of the stage, lithely stepped to her left and raised her arms above her head and crossed her wrists. She performed delicate arabesques and spun gracefully while simultaneously tapping the wood floor of the stage with her abotinados.
She spun and spun, and tap-tap-tapped and arabesqued. Her face was damp with sweat; there was no illusion of ease. Esto es muy duro, this is very hard, this is difficult. Es duende. The intensity building and building. It was theatrical yes, but not contrived. We were sweating with her, we were suffering with her. She spun again and again and again and stopped and faced me breathing heavily. The Dancer saw me. Looked into my eyes and I into hers. I sat there stupidly and stared at her, then she turned away. But she saw me, and I knew I had made a mark. But maybe not. Maybe just an American fantasy.
There was more dancing, and more singing, and at the end, an ensemble performance. But her light dimmed after her solo. It was as if her wattage had been lowered so as not to overwhelm us. When they were done, and they bowed, I saw her glance my way and I smiled and caught a shadow of a smile in return.
“La Mariposa Roja,” whispered Pablo into my ear.
next chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Five – Vamos A Candela
previous chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Three – That Is Why You Are Here
all chapters: The Red Butterfly
more by SERGIO REMON ALVAREZ