In El Centro Espanol-La Nacional in New York, you can get a taste and feeling of Spain at the heart of downtown Manhattan. El Centro not only has a small original Spanish restaurant in the basement, a cafe with Spanish and Hispanic soccer games, but the main hall has some of the best Flamenco performances in town every Friday and Saturday evening. On January 19, Nelida Tirado danced to the singing of El Pola de Sevilla, accompanied by guitarist Pedro Cortes and percussionist Peter Basil.
El Centro is one of the oldest Spanish social clubs in New York, established in 1868, at the time still in Bowery Street, and merged as La Nacional in 1929 out of several regional Spanish social clubs. It is one of the typical social clubs where immigrants found a little bit of home, and support in the new homeland of America. What makes a visit to El Centro worth while is simply this community atmosphere imported from Spain and being influenced without a doubt in the later years by new Hispanic immigrants. One of the successes of American immigration policy wihtout a doubt is the self-supporting role immigrants had to play due to the lack of interference by the government, and up to today you find many active national social clubs, like for instance El Centro Espenol or the Polish Home in Brooklyn. These social clubs offer a great opportunity to experience performances and shows of the foreign cultures in New York.
Flamenco is one of those folk traditions which carry a mystique of their own, but despite of the natural appeal of the dance and music, my interest never exceeded beyond a few peaks when I was younger and learning to play the guitar. Frustrated that I would never learn to orchestrate ten fingers independently from each other while keeping a beat sufficient enough to be a classic guitarist, I quickly dropped interest in the classic guitar tradition and switched to modern alternative music. Later, my impression of flamenco was that of a dance for older people, by far not so interesting to view or learn about as modern dance, and in a way this simply holds true. Even most of modern flamenco focusses on learning from the great masters and the centers of the tradition in an almost scholastic fashion. So you won’t find me quickly at the Lincoln Center in my evening dress for a flamenco performance.
What makes flamenco a fascinating dance is the combination of traditions, ranging from Andalusian, Gypsy, Arab and even sub-Saharan influences. Certainly the most present personality on the stage for me was Antonio Urban Ruger (El Pola), who on one hand seemed to warn those who had come to the performace too light-heartedly, on the other hand accuse those whose thoughts weighed too heavy on their hearts. As his feet shifted back and forth to find support for the altering posture of his body and regain a balance that threatened to be lost, the weathered tones of his heart rose up from his throat like wavering winds on the rythm of Pedro Cortes’ pounding scuttering of his fingers dancing their own on the Spanish guitar that rested like a solid stone on his thigh.
El Pola and Pedro Cortes found it easy to play together and create a natural harmony. That harmony did not directly dominate the relationship on the stage with either Peter Basil or Nelida Tirado. It barely distracted from the performance however, as Basil’s percussion was set too far on the background in a timid place, and as Nelida Tirado’s performance stood too much on her own, to ever fall too the side. Tirado’s performance was perhaps also not under ideal circumstances, on a small stage that was hard to dance on, and her efforts to concentrate easily escalated into overconcentration on the technical perfection and interaction with El Pola and Cortes who play together more naturally. But still, Tirado’s performance at El Centro Espenol added to the experience of the evening.
Visiting a flamenco performance at El Centro Espanol-La Nacional is a total experience without any pretention but with the high level of performance. Not only will you meet a personal warmth of an original Spanish-Hispanic community center, but also authentic cuisine and flamenco. So whenever you are in New York, make sure to visit.
Alegrias en la Nacional – The Benevolent Spanish Society known as El Centro Espanol-La Nacional
La Manda Carlos (preview) [ram]
La Epidemia (preview) [ram]
Flamenco – theory of flamenco at Wikipedia