I am a huge fan of Flamenco. Wikipedia tells me that it is an art form native to the Spanish regions of Andalucia, Extramadura and Murcia. However, I first witnessed the drama and passion of Flamenco in Barcelona while backpacking around Europe. In an underground basement style theatre with chairs packed around a stage, I fell in love.
While at a Flamenco concert in Canberra recently I was reflecting on the relationship and intimate connection between the guitarist and dancer on the stage. Flamenco is extraordinary as an art form because it is very improvised. While groups rehearse together, there is also a lot of unpredictability, often with the guitarist not knowing what the dancer will do, when she will turn and when she will stop. They are in tune with each other, communing and communicating. I heard a Flamenco guitarist speak of the language of the music and how guitarists speak to the dancers through rhythms, arpeggios and strumming patterns. The dancers respond through their body language, a glance and the rhythm of their feet or hands. What the audience witnesses is a virtuoso conversation.
Reflecting on this interaction made consider my relationship with God in a new light. I imagine God as a Flamenco guitarist playing with passion and joy so that I might be able to dance to His tune and find joy in the life He created for me. I see Him playing that beautifully fast paced, complex music, fingers strumming, relaxed and passionate about His music like He is about all of His creations. While at the same time, He is intent, avidly watching my dance moves, the turn of my head, the swish of my skirt, the clap of my hands. We have an intimate relationship, an ongoing conversation and find joy and laughter in our joint roles as creators.
Flamenco concerts often have active audiences who at different junctures, at the end or during a particular impressive part of the performance will call out enthusiastically: ‘olé!’ Elizabeth Gilbert in her 2009 Ted talk explains that this exclamation’s origins are from North Africa where people would meet for moonlit sacred dances. She describes moments of ‘transcendence’ where the dancer would ‘no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.’ In these moments, the audience would chant ‘Allah, Allah,’ acknowledging the presence of God within the dancer. This tradition was brought to Spain with the Moors and was shortened to ‘olé.’
How joyous it is to see my relationship with God in this light. One of the most beautiful parts of our Catholic faith is the intimate relationship we have with Him. Despite the largeness of Him and the fact that we cannot hope to understand all that God is, we have this one on one relationship. He created us all individually, deliberately and miraculously loves us in the same way. Like the guitarist he plays an active role, shaping the events of our lives but still allows us the freedom to choose our dance moves. And sometimes while bathed in His grace, He is recognised by our brothers and sisters who cannot help but respond: ‘olé!
Genevieve Nicoll is a Canberra writer who works in Government.